LITTLETON — On Friday, the town took out a short-term loan, using itself as the lender to become the owner of 7 prime acres in the center of the community.

In a 109-29 ballot vote during the second session of a special town meeting at the Department of Public Works garage, residents approved the temporary expenditure of $120,000 toward the purchase of the 7-acre parcel in the river district that will be turned into a public commons area, a key piece in the ongoing redevelopment of the district that began nearly a decade ago.

A total of 138 voters participated, with one casting an absentee ballot.

Town officials were expecting 250 to 300 voters, but the snow might have kept some residents at home, said Selectman Milton Bratz.

The morning turnout was heavier than the afternoon, which was incredibly slow, said Art Tighe, who was appointed by selectmen to serve as moderator for the special town meeting.

Because the ballot had only one question it was able to be printed in-house, therefore reducing the cost of printing ballots, he said.

Friday’s ballot count, unlike town meeting counts and federal election counts that are done by the AccuVote ballot tabulator machine, were instead counted by hand by Tighe following the closing of the polls at 7 p.m.

Instead of placing the ballots in the machine, voters placed them in the traditional brown box.

Although the machine was not used and a lower turnout was expected than at regular town meetings, the town of Littleton, under New Hampshire election laws, still had to run the balloting like a standard election with the same number of voting booths.

“It has to be laid out like a regular election in March,” said Bratz. “All of the voting booths had to be out.”

Twelve town officials, staff, and elections volunteers, some staying for the full 11-hour voting duration as well as setting up beforehand and removing tables and chairs afterward, were on hand, even though they served just 137 walk-in voters.

The special town meeting was approved by Grafton Superior Court on Dec. 23.

In anticipation of court approval, the town held a deliberative session on Dec. 10.

Groundwork for the two-part special town meeting got going in November, and the work had to be fast to meet a Dec. 31 deadline for the town to close on the property, which was owned by Ron Murro, who in January 2019 entered into a purchase-and-sale agreement with the town.

During the intervening three years, the appraisal of the property was delayed more than once because of what turned out to be strict requirements to satisfy a grant from the New Hampshire Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is providing a $200,000 grant toward the total $450,000 purchase of the land that is on the south side of the river by the Littleton Area Senior Center and Cottage Street bridge.

At town meeting 2020, voters gave the green light to $175,000 in taxpayer money toward the purchase.

Along with a $155,000 donation formally accepted by selectmen on Dec. 13, it left Littleton with $330,000 toward the purchase, which was $120,000 short because the grant would not be awarded in time for the Dec. 31 closing deadline.

Once the town receives the grant, expected early this year, the $120,000 for the temporary town share, which was held in an escrow account until Friday’s vote, will be returned to the town’s general fund.

The local taxpayer share remains no more than $175,000.

At a selectmen’s meeting in November, River District Redevelopment Commission Chairman John Hennessey said the total project is actually a 7-1 to match for the town because Littleton is looking at a total $1.4 million development project that is paid for mostly through grants.

Riverfront Commons Park will be made into a public commons area providing space for events and recreation.

Nearby will be more parking, which has become a rare commodity in a town seeking to add more spaces, as well as a welcome center and restrooms in the adjacent red barn that will be renovated.


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