Burrillville Land Trust launches $2.2 million campaign to buy Sweet’s Hill

Burrillville Land Trust launches $2.2 million campaign to buy Sweet’s Hill

A historical photo provided by Pamela Cardin shows Sweet’s Hill when it was a working farm. The Burrillville Land Trust is hoping to raise $2.2 million to purchase the property.

BURRILLVILLE – Members of the Burrillville Land Trust are hoping to find an “angel” to help them save a 150-acre parcel that’s been described as an icon of the town’s rural life.

Sweet’s Hill, also known as Indian Acres, is a historic former farm located between East Avenue and Black Hut Road. The farm was once used to produce milk, eggs, corn, hay and vegetables and is named for the Sweet family that owned it in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

“Whatever people wanted, that farm pretty much provided everything to the local folks here during that time,” said Paul Roselli, president of the Burrillville Land Trust.

The property has faced various development proposals over the years, including a mixed-use development and a solar farm, with a denial of the first leading to a drawn-out lawsuit with the town. More recently, it’s been the subject of a conservation plan as a “mitigation property” for Invenergy’s Clear River Energy Center off Wallum Lake Road. Per the federal Clean Water Act, companies proposing development on wetlands can ask to preserve another property in place of the developed land.

“The ratio in this case was 15 to 1. For every acre that Invenergy was about to destroy, you had to provide 15 acres for a mitigation property,” explained Roselli.

The Invenergy project was ultimately denied by a state board, largely due to opposition by the Burrillville Land Trust and other town groups, and the possibility of development is once again back on the table for Sweet’s Hill. Richard St. Angelo, current owner of the property, told The Breeze he’s open to selling it to the Land Trust but has entertained offers from other buyers.

“We have had several offers,” he said. “I think that it seems to be heating up with people wanting to buy property. There’s nothing current that would be binding at this point, we’ve entertained a couple of offers within the past month.”

The Burrillville Land Trust is now looking to raise $2.2 million to meet the asking price for the property. In a video accompanying the announcement, members of Land Trust described its long history in the town. The farm was once the largest in Burrillville and comprised more than 1,000 acres. During World War I, chestnut trees on the property were used to build keels for ships.

Today, the remaining parcel abuts the Black Hut State Management Area, making it an ideal target for preservation. Roselli said they’re open to state and private open space grants, but are hoping to find a private donor that will help them purchase the property free from government constraints. Though the town of Burrillville has worked with the group to help develop plans for land preservation in the past, Roselli said the COVID-19 crisis weighs far more heavily on the town’s priorities at the moment.

“I don’t think at this point the town would be willing financially to go after a parcel of that size and with that price tag. This is not on their high priority right now, and I don’t see it being on their priority, on their radar, for many, many years,” he said.

At the same time, he said, landowners have continued to see a spike in property values as the pandemic drives new interest in rural land.

While they’ve had several conversations with St. Angelo about a possible purchase over the years, the group could be working under a deadline. The landowner said his main goal is to sell the property, and he’s looking for the best offer.

“For me, it’s going to be who comes with the best offer first,” he said. “Do I really want to wait any longer? No, I really don’t.”

Comments

Where do we send donations? Be sure to include that information.