Piper Farm Conservation Land

Published June 5, 2014 | Sudbury | Updated October 2, 2017

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Frequently Asked Questions about Piper Farm:

Q: What is Piper Farm and where is it?
A: Piper Farm is is a 70 acre landscape of fields, woodlands and wetlands located off Rice Road, which is a spur off of Route 27 about a half a mile east of Town center. It is tucked back off the roadway and is part of the wooded gateway into Sudbury. See the map below.

Q: Why should I want to preserve Piper Farm?
A: Piper Farm is a crucial link in the town’s effort to create a broad recreation and wildlife habitat corridor linking the Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge on the East side of Sudbury with newly created the Assabet Wildlife Refuge (formerly the Fort Devens Annex) on the west side of Sudbury.

Left in its natural state Piper Farm provides three types of services to the Town:

  • recreation
  • education
  • quality of life.

Recreation: Piper Farm is a core property in a network of trails that traces a path from the Sudbury River to the Town Center, from Route 27 near the Sudbury River to the Frost Farm Trails Conservation Land north of Route 117, and from the Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge to the Assabet Wildlife Refuge. As conservation land these trails will be open to the public for walking, hiking, cross-country skiing, wildlife watching, etc. The fields and clearings will be available for picnicking and light camping.

As a link of the Conservation Commission’s Sudbury Natural Areas Project residents will eventually be able to walk, jog, or cross-country ski the entire length of Town through a continuous green corridor.

Education: Wondering through the varied landscape you and your family can explore the human and natural history of Sudbury. Old fields, orchards, and stone walls tell stories of life in New England 150 years ago. Artifacts from colonial times and Native America are buried in the land. The interplay of plants and animals in the woodlands and fields makes each visit to the property an opportunity to see and discover new aspects of Sudbury’s natural heritage.

The complex of lands that surround Piper Farm form a “Science Museum” outdoors in your own backyard.

Quality of Life:

Development — civilizing the land — is chipping away at that charm. Fragmentation of wildlife habitat is the danger.

As a wildlife corridor Piper Farm allows Sudbury’s wildlife populations to shift to the rhythms of the seasons in their searches for food, water, shelter, and breeding space. For example, vernal pools on the property provide breeding habitat for amphibians in the spring, much needed water for forest mammals, birds, and reptiles in the summer, and food for migrating animals in the fall. The woodlands offer roosting sites for Great Horned Owls and Red-tailed Hawks while the fields and old stone walls offer up a bounty of field mice and other rodents for them to feast on.

Yet Piper Farm is much more than a simple travel corridor through which wildlife quickly shuffle back and forth across town. It is an essential “genetic highway” that allows subpopulations of species spread across the region to mix genetically and thereby maintain a robust gene pool. For example, Eastern Cottontails from the Sudbury River area and others from North Sudbury and beyond the Assabet River area will slowly drift through this landscape, staying for several seasons or even years. They will feed, mature, and breed and in this way avoid the dangers of inbreeding — an serious threat to isolated populations of wildlife. This is why so much undisturbed space is important.

How much would this purchase cost?
The Piper family wants the property to remain in its natural state forever. They are offering it to the Town for $3 million, significantly below its market value, on the condition that it be permanently preserved as conservation land.

The SUDBURY FOUNDATION considered this open space purchase so essential to preserving the Sudbury’s character that it has offered $500,000 toward the purchase. Thus the final cost to us is $2.5 million, which would add about $35 per year to the average property tax bill in Sudbury — which is really $25 per year after federal income tax deductions.

An independent appraisal conducted for the Town arrived at a market price of $4.4 million for the property — $1.4 million more than the price set by the Piper family for Town purchase!

Developers, hoping to build about a dozen super-homes on the site, have already offered to purchase the property for amounts substantially greater than the $3 million that the Piper family is requesting. And the bidding continues. Some developers claim that the property is worth about $6 million for development purposes.

Do the math yourself: there are somewhere between ten and sixteen buildable lots on the Piper Farm property. Building lots in Sudbury are presently $425,000 to $450,000 and rising. Thus, the bulk development value for Piper Farm is between $4.25 million and $7.2 million.

By comparison, lots on the abutting Sears property sold for $375,000 apiece almost 2 years ago. That developer claims those same lots today would sell for over $425,0000 apiece. Similarly, the nearby Hill property, with 13 buildable lots, is being sold for $5.2 million.

Anyway you look at $3 million for Piper Farm is a bargain. But the price of preserving Piper Farm will only continue to rise if we do not act now.

Why, then, is the Piper family offering the property to the Town for only $3 million? Civic pride is certainly a part, but there is also a more personal element: the family was horrified by the scale of scope of development on the neighboring Sears property and do not want to see the land they have owned for a century similarly devastated. Here, preserving a family trust — their land — and a generous civic gesture go hand in hand.

One of the saving graces of purchasing land for conservation is that there are no annual operating costs — no buildings to heat, no staff to pay, and playing fields to repair, mow, seed, etc. The purchase price is the full cost. Trails and fields on conservation land are maintained by local volunteers.

Preserving natural areas such as Piper Farm is an unequalled investment in Sudbury’s future. It ensures that 10, 20, and 50 years from now Sudbury’s residents — perhaps including your children and their children — will still be able to marvel at the sight of a family of broad-wing hawks soaring above field as the parents teach their young how to hunt, have a chance to hear the ethereal trill of American toads singing for mates, and enjoy a surprise encounter with fox trotting down a hiking trail.

Couldn’t we allow “limited development” on a portion of Piper Farm to reduce the pruchase price for preserving the rest?
The Conservation Commission’s first preference has always been to find ways to preserve natural areas and wildlife habitat without the town having to purchase the land. Conservation restrictions and limited development are useful tools when the situation allows for them. For example, when development was proposed for Hill property ( which abuts Piper Farm to the north) the Conservation Commission was able to use its regulatory authority under the Sudbury Wetland Bylaw to protect the ecologically meaningful areas, while development moved to less significant parts of the property. Similarly, development on Sears property (due west of Piper Farm) was shift to an ecologically insignificant area away from the field and vernal pools. Thus 20 acres on the Sears property, including a vernal pool, and about 10 acres on the the Hill property (with another vernal pool) were protected at not cost to the Town. [One draw-back of this approach, however, is that these lands, however, are not open to the public.]

Unfortunately, Piper Farm does not allow for this kind of creative solution. The configuration of the property, its topography, and its geology mean that the construction of even 2 or 3 homes on the site would produce so much clearing and disturbance at the center of the landscape that it would effectively destroy the property’s ecological and wildlife values. Moreover, the presumed saving of $750,000 by selling these lots for development would produce a savings of only about $7 per year on the average tax bill.

In sum, limited development would ruin the property and save you less than the cost of one night alone at the movies.

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