EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 26, 2013

Former Salem tree farm to remain undeveloped

Town grants conservation easement

By Doug Ireland

---- — SALEM — For nearly 80 years, the 7-acre wooded parcel at 115 Bluff St. has been a part of the Banks family’s lives.

It’s where Robert Banks helped his father, Alden Banks, sell Christmas trees for years. The elder Banks, a handyman, inherited the land in the 1950s from a local minister for whom he worked.

The former tree farm is one of the few remaining undeveloped large parcels of land left in a town of approximately 28,000 residents with a large commercial base, including numerous shopping plazas.

The land will remain undeveloped after selectmen voted unanimously Monday to authorize a conservation easement for the property. The town’s Conservation Commission agreed to the easement Nov. 6.

That means there will be no housing developments, shopping plazas or other large structures at the corner of Bluff and Millville streets — just the workshop and home where Robert Banks, 80, has lived for 42 years.

Alden Banks and his wife, Gladys, are long gone, but fondly remembered by their son. Robert said yesterday his father used to tap maple trees on the property and make his own syrup.

The couple died in their mid-90s — Alden in 2000 and his wife in 2005.

Robert said he had to subdivide the land, which was once 9 acres, to settle the estate costs after his parents died. He doesn’t want to see something like that happen again and said he will continue to live there as long as possible.

“I want to preserve it in honor of my parents,” he said.

Alden maintained the property and did other chores for the Rev. Frederick Heywood for more than 20 years until Heywood died in the 1950s.

He willed the land and an old home, torn down in 1970, to his loyal caretaker. Heywood was a minister at First Congregational Church in Methuen.

“He was a very handy handyman,” Robert said of his father. “He did everything.”

At a time when large tracts in Southern New Hampshire are being scooped up by developers for big bucks, this is a rare instance where a property owner isn’t selling off his land, according to Salem planning director Ross Moldoff.

Robert contacted the town in August, saying he just wanted to preserve the land.

He isn’t receiving a large sum to keep the property as conservation land. The town is spending several hundred dollars to pay for the conservation plan and legal expenses required for the easement, Moldoff said.

The easement will not cover the three-quarters of an acre where the house is located, he said.

“We’re helping him accomplish his goal of preserving the land,” Moldoff said. “He wants to make sure it’s not developed after he’s gone.”