About 4 years ago, I received a call from a landowner in Hampden about a possible donation of some land next to Laughing Brook Wildlife Sanctuary. We talked about the process and the costs involved. It was helpful information for the landowner to have, though not the right time for him to act.
In the middle of March this year, I got another call—it was the right time!
Despite the challenges of working from home, with limited ability to travel and do site visits, the landowner and Mass Audubon agreed on a donation of seven acres, leaving him with his house on three acres.
Mass Audubon liked the property because of its location next to Laughing Brook, the buffer it provides between a residential neighborhood and a nature trail, and its ecological significance with Prime Forest, and Priority Habitat for rare and endangered species. The property will provide a place for the wildlife of Massachusetts to adapt to climate change.
We agreed to try our best to close before the end of June. There was scant time to get a survey plan and prepare deeds. We had to move quickly, but the landowner who had been so responsive and helpful was suddenly silent. Time was ticking away, and the ability to close before June 30 was fast disappearing.
I was concerned about the landowner because the silence seemed so abrupt and it was spring 2020 with the threat of COVID-19 always in the back of our minds. I was relieved to finally hear that while the landowner had been in the hospital, the reasons were not related to the virus and had been remedied.
We were back on track with scarcely a month to go, and we needed an approved subdivision plan. The Hampden Planning Board had not had a meeting in a couple of months. I pleaded with the Planning Board Administrative Assistant. She let me know when the Board agreed to meet on June 24.
Meanwhile, I overnighted documents to the landowner— deeds and affidavits and a closing statement for signature. Signature in front of a notary! Another hurdle, but fortunately, a kindly notary met with our donor and witnessed the signings as required. A self-addressed stamped envelope came back to me in a couple of days with all the original signed, witnessed documents.
I tuned into Zoom at the appointed time on June 24 for the Planning Board meeting, explained the reason for the subdivision, and the Board approved the Plan. Now to get it recorded!
I picked up the signed copy, left for me by the Board Administrative Assistant in the Town Hall foyer (no contact), and sent it overnight mail to the Hampden County Registry of Deeds (no in-person visits permitted, no electronic recording, and certainly no curbside pickups). Finally, I provided the original deeds to our attorney for electronic recording as soon as the Plan was on record. All was completed with two days in June to spare.
Thanks to the cooperation and help of the Hampden Township Planning Board, the Hampden County Registry of Deeds, the notary, the lawyer, and the landowner, a special 7-acre parcel of land has now been added to Laughing Brook Wildlife Sanctuary.
The landowner, who wants to remain anonymous, is "very much interested in wildlife preservation and a believer in Mass Audubon's mission."
We're fortunate to have such dedicated supporters helping to protect the nature of Massachusetts for people and for wildlife.