BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — More than a dozen residents are rallying to “Save Whipple Hill,” fearing it is about to be developed.
The wooded hill off Hobart Street is part of a 27.9-acre parcel that includes St. Mary of the Annunciation Cemetery. About half the land is used for the cemetery, and the rest is untouched. Residents have written to the Archdiocese of Boston hoping to forestall any development, and on Tuesday night the neighbors showed up at the selectmen’s meeting asking for help.
However, town officials say no plans have been filed to subdivide the land or build homes there. The only thing the town has before it is an engineering plan showing where the wetlands are located. The wetlands map is scheduled to go before the Conservation Commission for a public hearing tonight at 7 p.m. in Town Hall. The map does not show a plan for house lots, only the existing wetland conditions, but Senior Planner Kate Day said a wetlands delineation is usually the first step in a development proposal.
Nancy McCann, a Danvers attorney who is representing St. Mary’s, was unavailable for comment yesterday, her office said.
Bayberry Road resident Sally Connolly told selectmen Tuesday night that neighbors are concerned about the loss of the natural beauty of the woods, increased traffic and a new burden on town services and schools. They also worry that new homes will worsen water problems for existing homeowners downhill, given there is a brook that runs through the property.
“Whipple Hill should stay green,” Connolly said. “Please make saving Whipple Hill a priority.”
The church parish property is assessed in town records at $525,300. Much of the lowlands to the east of the hill have homes on them. The hill commands views of Brooksby Farm in Peabody in the distance.
“What they are doing now is their due diligence,” said Susan Fletcher, assistant director of Planning and Human Services, who said the land has not been sold, but such steps are usually taken to figure out what a piece of property is worth. The Conservation Commission will determine the extent of the wetlands where it has jurisdiction, Town Manager Wayne Marquis said. The board will conduct a site visit to see if the map is accurate.
“At this point there is no subdivision plan,” Marquis said. The parcel is known as the “Park-to-Clark” connector in the Open Space and Recreation Plan, Marquis said, because it links Endicott Park with Clark Farm, which is owned by Selectman Bill Clark. The town owns the development rights for this family farm property. Parcels listed in the open space plan are those the town is eligible to buy to prevent development.
“Our primary concern is that this particular piece of property is probably the last pristine forest type area left in the town of Danvers,” Bayberry Road resident Normand St Cyr wrote in a letter to the Boston Archdiocese and Cardinal Sean O’Malley, asking for assistance to keep the property as open space.
“I think a lot of people on Bayberry Road have trouble with water,” St Cyr told selectmen this week. He said he was the first homeowner on Bayberry Road 44 years ago, and the problem of a spring running under his basement cropped up soon after he moved in. He said he knows other homes in the area are also dealing with water from an underground spring.
If the property is developed, access to the land would most likely be from Sandpiper Circle, an offshoot of Bayberry Road, St Cyr said.
Selectman Dan Bennett said he heard this past winter the church was planning to sell a portion of its cemetery property, but so far there is no concrete information.
“Unfortunately, it’s their right to sell the land; they own it,” Bennett said of the church.
“‘Save Whipple Hill’ sounds like a good flag to get behind, so keep going,” Bennett told the residents.
“I’ve lived and played in those woods all my life,” said Clark, whose family farm on Hobart Street abuts the cemetery, and who said he has heard there are plans to put 15 homes on the hill, which he said has been untouched for more than 60 years. He described the land as a linchpin parcel, forming an emerald necklace that links with other open-space parcels in the neighborhood, including Endicott Park to the west.
The town has limited bond authorization left to buy open space, about $1.8 million, Marquis said. He said he spoke yesterday with Planning and Human Services Director Karen Nelson about having the Open Space and Recreation Advisory Committee meet and give him advice on potential uses of the land.
Marquis said if selectmen were to discuss purchasing the property, it would meet in executive session to protect the town’s interests. The Open Meeting Law permits such private discussions when considering real estate purchases.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.