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A story in this week's Chariho Times detailed a petition drive organized by a group of Charlestown residents to encourage the town to buy a 27.7-acre piece of property on the eastern shores of Watchaug Pond formerly owned by the Ocean Community YMCA. After press time on Wednesday, the petition drive was suspended when the land was sold to a private buyer.
The petitioners aim to appropriate up to $600,000 from the town's undesignated surplus for the purchase.
Under the town's Home Rule Charter, residents of Charlestown have a right to petition that such a referendum be held to authorize the purchase of real estate if 400 signatures are gathered. According to an announcement of the petition disseminated by one of its organizers, former town councilor and current candidate for town council, Jim Mageau, the plan was to present the 400 signatures to the town clerk prior to the July 23 special town council meeting.
"The group involved with the petition drive believes that the property should be purchased outright by the town for the exclusive active recreational use of Charlestown residents," the released announcement reads. "Charlestown does not currently have any existing freshwater access recreational properties."
The town council approved an allocation for the 27.7-acre property at the Feb. 13 meeting by a vote of 3-1. Councilman Daniel Slattery recused himself from that vote because he is a neighbor to the property in question, and Councilwoman Lisa DiBello cast the only dissenting vote, stating she did not see it fit to allocate taxpayer money for something the taxpayers did not vote on.
The allocation was for $475,000 from the town to the Charlestown Land Trust to assist in the purchasing of the property. The town would have also been gaining a conservation easement for the property, which would protect the land from future development, in that original deal.
However, at the June 4 town council meeting when the council voted unanimously to adopt the Fiscal Year 2013 budget, the council also voted to withdraw the $475,000 allocation form the budget bottom line to go back into the general surplus. That vote, which passed 4-0 with Slattery also recusing, brought the bottom line of the town budget down from more than $26.3 million to $25.96 Million.
For more information, pick up a copy of The Chariho Times.