Hanover Gets Details on Dana Pasture Property

Hanover — Consultants hired to evaluate the natural resources on a disputed mountaintop property reaffirmed what the town and abutters already knew : it’s a valuable piece of conservation land.

The 132-acre parcel near the summit of Moose Mountain, known as the Dana pasture, is owned by the town and two brothers. The two sides are entangled in a complicated legal wrangling over how the property should be divided. They have until May 15 to reach an agreement, otherwise it will fall to the courts to resolve the issue

The town and brothers Dana and John Robes each have a 50 percent stake in property. The town’s deed, however, includes a conservation clause that dictates that the land only be used for “forestry, outdoor recreation and conservation, and for no other uses.” The brothers, whose deed has no such restrictions, have said they would like to build a seasonal home on the property. Hence the desire to divide the property between owners.

The town hired a consultant to evaluate natural resources and sensitive areas on the land so that officials would be aware of them as they negotiate the land subdivision. The study cost the town about $5,000, Town Manager Julia Griffin said.

“For somebody like me who isn’t a wildlife specialist and my Board of Selectmen, it was really helpful to have us focus on what attributes are really valuable ,” Griffin said.

The Robes brothers also are considering placing a portion of the land that could be awarded to them into a conservation easement, and the information provided in the study would help them prioritize, said Brad Atwood, the Robes brothers’ attorney.

Consultants Elise Lawson and John Severance of Whitefield, N.H.,-based Watershed to Wildlife Inc. spent two days walking the property. In addition to being wildlife habitat, they concluded the area is also a high-quality recreation area.

“It’s so nice to see a large chunk of relatively undeveloped land,” Lawson said. “It’s so wonderful.”

The consultants identified four priority areas and determined Mill Pond was the most important. The pond is a wetland surrounded by softwood buffers and is home to a beaver family.

The property was once grazing land for cattle, and abutter Elisha Huggins has spent the past 40 years using a push mower to keep the pastures open. Lawson and Severance said those open spaces on the southwestern portion of the property add to the parcel’s high value.

Vicki Smith, a senior town planner, added that the open fields on the property are the only pasture-like areas that she’s aware of along the ridge line that runs from Lyme to Enfield.

“It was amazing to see this park-like look at this high of elevation,” Lawson said at Monday’s Selectboard meeting. “It’s really a unique area and a valuable spot.”

The consultants also put a priority on vernal pools and dense softwood stands, which provide a winter home for wildlife.

Kay Shumway, an abutter to the property and owner of the Moose Mountain Lodge, said after reading the report that she was even more convinced that the land should stay in conservation.

The report acknowledges that the “relatively shallow soils and steep slopes make much of the property fragile and prone to erosion without careful management.” It adds that if motorized vehicles are to be used on the property, then it needs to be approached cautiously.

Shumway said nothing in the report surprised her because she and her husband, Peter, often hike the property and were aware of the pond and vernal pools.

Shumway said the property should be equally divided between the brothers and the town in terms of value and view, which could prove difficult, she said .

“It’s an incredibly important piece of land. We enjoy it all the time,” Shumway said.

Griffin recommended at Monday’s Selectboard meeting that board members read the report and then revisit the issue after budget season. Griffin recommended having a community input session in mid to late March.

Huggins, one of the abutters, already has an idea about how the parcel should be divided. He sent a letter to the Robes brothers’ attorney and to the town suggesting the backside of the property, without the view toward town and the Connecticut River, be given to the Robeses because it would leave many of the trails and open spaces untouched.

In order to create an access road to the property, the Robeses would have to use an unmaintained Class VI road that could affect a beaver dam or cross the Huggins’ property. If the Robeses accept the back half of the property, Huggins said he’d allow the Robes to cross his property to reach it.

Ultimately, how the land is divided will be determined by the Selectboard and the brothers, Selectboard Chairman Peter Christie said at Monday’s meeting.

“At the end of the day, if we can arrive at some sort of agreement, it’s the Selectboard’s job to do that,” Christie said. “But we’ll have significant public input.”

Atwood, the brothers’ attorney, is hopeful that the town and his clients can come to some kind of agreement by May 15.

“When you have a trial on a piece of land, the court can decide any which way they choose,” Atwood said. “They don’t have to go any particular way that the parties have advocated.”

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.