Campaign to Preserve Assabet River Bluff

Assabet River Bluff in red.

Campaign to Preserve Assabet River Bluff

Tucked in a bend of the Assabet River in West Concord, Assabet River Bluff consists of 6 acres of oak and pine forest and riparian habitat that we are now close to permanently preserving. The Concord Land Conservation Trust and Sudbury Valley Trustees have been working successfully to raise $1.2 million in private donations to save this site from development and to ensure that the picturesque trail along the top of the bluff can be enjoyed by everyone.

The project also includes the reservation of 1 acre of the property for five affordable dwelling units. Because land for affordable housing is a rare commodity in Concord, the purchase of the entire 7 acre property for the asking price of $2.8 million has been a cooperative effort among groups that see this as a unique opportunity to meet the Town’s twin priorities of open space and affordable housing:

-the Land Trust,
-Sudbury Valley Trustees (SVT),
-Town of Concord,
-Concord Municipal Affordable Housing Trust (CMAHT),
-Concord Housing Foundation (CHF) and
-Concord Housing Development Corporation (CHDC).

 
Assabet River Bluff from the rail trail. Photo by Hannah Chevalier

Together, these groups have been working to secure a total of $2.9 million by July 2022:  $1 million to support affordable housing and $1.9 million to support open space. The goal includes the $2.8 million purchase price, plus an additional $100,000 to cover project-related expenses. Any amount raised in excess of what is required to purchase the property and pay for related expenses will be set aside in a stewardship fund to support the long-term management of Assabet River Bluff.

Months of effort came together in a rush with positive votes at Town Meeting, good news on a grant application and a groundswell of fundraising support.

On May 1, 2022, residents at Concord’s Annual Town Meeting overwhelmingly approved the Community Preservation Committee’s recommended funding of the Assabet River Bluff project with a grant of $1 million for land acquisition: $700,000 for open space and $300,000 for affordable housing. This funding is critical to the success of this project and we are tremendously grateful for the outpouring of support, thank you!

But probably the most significant factor in the campaign is the neighbors, Land Trust and SVT members and friends — all who value this land and our open space throughout Concord — who stepped forward so generously to support this effort. Combined with CPC funds and monies already committed from housing sources, an additional $1.2 million has been sought from private donations; this includes an additional $100,000 to cover project-related expenses. The Land Trust in partnership with the SVT has met this fundraising goal, thanks to a remarkable outpouring of support!

Additionally, in late April, the Natural Resources Commission learned that their application for a Land and Water Conservation Fund grant had received a favorable review from the State and would most certainly be awarded, probably in 2023. This $500,000 grant will be used to acquire the open space parcel of Assabet River Bluff. (Town Meeting authorized the Town to borrow $500,000 in order to accommodate the conditions of this grant; as a reimbursement grant, the Town needs to ‘spend’ the money in acquiring the land before it can be reimbursed.)

With all of the funding sources pooled together, we will be able to purchase Assabet River Bluff and preserve the land in perpetuity!

THANK YOU!

 
 
Image of the conceptual plan. Parcel A will have up to 5 permanently restricted affordable housing units and Parcel B will be permanently conserved and protected from development.
View from Assabet River Bluff. Photo provided by SVT

Project Background

How did this project come about?

Beginning in summer 2021, conservation and housing interests in Concord began working with the seller of the properties at 2B Upland Road and 406 Old Marlborough Road (an existing, two-family home), to purchase the “Assabet River Bluff” properties. The sellers agreed to keep the land off the market through 2022 Town Meeting so that funding from the Community Preservation Act, in combination with private donations and possibly state grants, could be secured to purchase the land for $2.8 million by July 2022.

In the absence of a successful campaign, the owners will sell to another buyer, likely a private developer, who could build up to 11 units under a Planned Residential Development, or 6 units as a Standard Subdivision. Public access would not be guaranteed.

Together with residents in the Upland Road and Old Marlboro Road neighborhood, conservation and housing interests have been working toward a plan that includes a substantial portion of permanently conserved open space and a portion of the site to be set aside for limited, permanently restricted affordable housing. After many iterations of the plan, the one shown above was selected – with 6 acres for open space and 1 acre for housing – with an allocation of costs as shown in the pie chart, below.

 
Looking up the river with Assabet River Bluff to the left. Photo by Hannah Chevalier

What are the conservation values of the Assabet River Bluff?

The Assabet River Bluff is a simple landscape of a plateau, a very steep, 20-foot high bank and the Assabet River. The underlying soils are permeable glacial outwash that supports a community of white pines, and red and black oaks. Black locust, highbush blueberry and sweet pepperbush grow in small areas of the property. The vegetative cover helps protect water quality, fish and amphibians in the Assabet River. Across the river are floodplain wetlands owned by the Town’s Natural Resources Commission. The bluff on the outside of the curve and the wetlands inside the bow create a unified and scenic landscape.

 
River view from trail. Photo by Hannah Chevalier

Recreation.  A network of well-used neighborhood trails traverses the site and will be preserved and open to the public once the property is acquired. The main trail along the top of the bluff affords lovely views of the river. This trail currently continues as an informal path on private property for 500 feet across four house lots and then meets the sidewalk at the Pine Street Bridge.

Since its opening in 2020, the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail has abutted the Assabet River Bluff property, creating an opportunity to make this property even more accessible.  The Bluff has the potential to act as a quiet detour off the rail trail and to provide a scenic, natural corridor for the 1,000 foot-long segment that abuts the rail trail.

 
Great Crested Flycatcher. Photo by Raj Das and provided by SVT

Habitat. Concord native and world-renowned naturalist, Peter Alden, spent his formative years cultivating a passion for birding on this land and in the surrounding area, and he has spent his adulthood looking across at the Assabet River Bluff from the windows of his home while writing more than 15 books on wildlife, including the National Audubon Society’s Regional Field Guide Series. Peter has noted a variety of birds that pass through and can be seen and heard during different seasons, including Great Crested Flycatchers, Broad-winged Hawks, Wood Pewees, Warbling Vireos, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Pileated Woodpeckers and Great Horned Owls. The riparian landscape supports Hooded and Common Mergansers, other ducks, Great Blue Herons, and even minks and otters.

 
On the banks. Photo by SVT

Wild and Scenic Rivers. In 1999, Congress designated 29 miles of the Assabet, Sudbury and Concord Rivers as Scenic and Recreational Rivers under the national Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, including the segment of the Assabet River next to the Assabet River Bluff. The designation protects against adverse projects that are federally funded or permitted (and so would not pertain to a residential development as might occur if this campaign is not successful). The relevance of the designation is that all the participating towns – including Concord — supported the goal of protecting the values for which the rivers were designated: their scenic, recreational, wildlife, cultural and historic character, and signed on to a management plan to accomplish that.

 
Intermittent stream. Photo provided by SVT

What protections are afforded under the Wetlands Protection Act?

The Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act and Concord’s own wetlands bylaw regulate activity near wetlands and rivers. The Assabet River Bluff has a narrow band of vegetated wetlands and flood plain along its shore, but is primarily protected as a Riverfront Area. As such, the first 100’ of setback from the river is protected from development while the second or outer 100’ is susceptible to some development: up to 5,000 sf or 10% of the parcel’s buildable acreage within the 200’ Riverfront Area, whichever is greater. Here, that would be about 13,000 square feet or 1/3 of an acre. Once permanently conserved, none of the outer Riverfront Area would ever be developed.

There is also an intermittent stream which follows the south property line of 2B Upland. In accordance with the Natural Resources Commission’s “No Build Policy,” no development can take place in the first 50’ setback from the stream; however, limited development could be considered in the second 50’, pending NRC approval. A successful campaign will guarantee protection of the full 100’ buffer.

 
 

Native American Presence

According to the archaeological record, Indigenous groups were present at this location during the Late Archaic Period (ca. 6000 – 3000 B.P.). In the collection of Adams Tolman (1862-1920), a Concord historian and collector of Native American artifacts, were two artifacts from “near the O.C.R.R. [Old Colony Rail Road] bridge” which local archaeologist, Shirley Blancke, infers to be on or near Parcel B (2B Upland Road). One of the artifacts is a Mansion Inn Blade and is “very significant” according to Blancke. These medium to large triangular stemmed points are associated with burials. The other artifact is a small projectile point of the Small Stemmed Point tradition (also called Narrow Stemmed Tradition), and were ubiquitous throughout southern New England.

 
 

 About the Campaign

This is an ambitious project. To succeed, we have needed to raise a total of $2.9 million, requiring substantial investment by Land Trust and SVT members, neighbors, the Town of Concord, and others, such as recreational users of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail. The good news is that we have been meeting our milestones and permanent preservation of Assabet River Bluff is within reach!

 
 
White pine seedling. Photo by Hannah Chevalier

Town residents voted in favor of Concord’s Community Preservation Committee’s recommended $1 million in CPA funds, $300,000 of which will be allocated toward acquiring one acre for future affordable housing and $700,000 toward open space preservation. Concord Municipal Affordable Housing Trust (CMAHT) will allocate $650,000 and Concord Housing Foundation (CHF) will donate $50,000. Together, the CPA, CHF and the CMAHT will contribute $1 million which is about 35% of the cost. This will help purchase 1 acre or the Old Marlboro Road (Parcel A) lot. The Concord Housing Development Corporation, which will own Parcel A, will work over the next year to identify a builder for the affordable housing and expects to eventually have five units of permanently affordable housing, accessed from Old Marlboro Road.

 
Spotted wintergreen. Photo by Hannah Chevalier

With $700,000 in CPA funds, combined with over $990,000 in private donations and the expectation a recommendation of $500,000 in funding through a Massachusetts Land and Water Conservation Fund grant, the funds needed to be raised toward open space to help purchase and permanently protect Assabet River Bluff have been realized.

THANK YOU!

 
Warbling Vireo. Photo by Joan Chasan and provided by SVT

Concord Land Conservation Trust is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and donations to it are tax-deductible. Any amount raised in excess of what is required to purchase the property and pay for related expenses will be set aside in a stewardship fund to support the long-term management of the Assabet River Bluff property.

For questions, please send an email to info@concordland.org or call the office at (978) 369-6526.

 
Sun setting across the bluff. Photo by Hannah Chevalier

Project Timeline

January:  CPC recommended the Assabet River Bluff acquisition for $1 million in CPA funding ($700K toward open space and $300K toward affordable housing)

March:  The Purchase and Sale agreement is fully executed. Donations are now being accepted.

April 22, 2022:  State recommends this project for $500,000 in funding through the Massachusetts Land and Water Conservation Fund Grant. Next step is approval by the National Park Service, which may take as long as a year to receive.

May 1, 2022:  Warrant Articles 25 and 26 pass at Annual Town Meeting. Thank you for your support! 

July 1, 2022: Pledge payments are due, except where alternative schedules have been predetermined.

July 29, 2022:  Closing date. 

 
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