Peabody council approves 80-acre open space purchase

City spends $7.2 million to block proposed development.

PEABODY — The City Council on Thursday voted unanimously to approve Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt, Jr.’s proposed $7.2 million purchase of two parcels comprising roughly 80 acres of open space on Sherwood Avenue and Spring Pond Road.

After hearing a report of both the Legal Affairs Committee and the Finance Committee, subcommittees of the council each made up of five councilors, councilors voted unanimously on three motions tied to approving the purchase. The land now oned by the city sits adjacent to Spring Pond, Cedar Grove Cemetery, and the Meadow at Peabody Golf Course.

“You have the council’s full support on this,” Councilor-At-Large Anne Manning-Martin told Bettencourt during the Legal Affairs Committee meeting.

During that meeting, Bettencourt presented details of the acquisition, seeking approval to send out legal documents finalizing the purchase, conducted as a friendly eminent domain taking. Because the land is being used for a public purpose, the city could employ eminent domain.

Under the terms of the agreement reached between the city and the owner of the property, Osborne Hills Realty Trust Paul DiBiase, the agreed price cannot be contested in the future, according to Ward 6 Councilor and Legal Affairs Committee Chair Mark O’Neill.

Bettencourt announced his intention to purchase the properties during his State of the City address earlier this year, doing so to block the proposed construction of hundreds of units of housing on the property. Because of the property’s location adjacent to existing open space owned by the city, a total of 244 acres of open space in the area is under city control.

The proposed development would have gone up on the Peabody-Lynn line and the Peabody-Salem line, Bettencourt said.

Under the plan, the city used a combination of community preservation funds, state grants, and proceeds from the city’s recreation enterprise fund to complete the purchase. No funds from the city’s operating budget were allocated for the taking.

In a video statement released earlier this week, Bettencourt said he “did not feel comfortable” allowing the proposed development to go through because of a perception that it would create “traffic, congestion, a strain on our city services, and depletion of our open space.”

“We believe this is the right move for the city to purchase this property, for the quality of life of our South Peabody residents, and really for the whole city of Peabody,” he added.

Bettencourt noted that the purchase represents the single biggest land acquisition by the city since the purchase of the land that is now home to Brooksby Farm.

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