DERRY | Town Councilor Janet Fairbanks is raising questions about the town's open space purchases, saying that three properties acquired in recent years and another the town is looking to buy are close to Conservation Commission members' homes.

Fairbanks, who represents residents in the southwest corner of Derry, wants the Town Council to have a more hands-on approach with the commission because the properties being protected sometimes abut or nearly abut the commission members' homes, which could result in higher property values and a better quality of life.

But commission members said any decisions they make about which conservation properties the town should buy are only suggestions.

"We can't purchase any land without council approval," commission Chairman Paul Dionne said, noting that the council has the final authority on spending money.

Fairbanks said her concerns date back to 1998, when Derry bought 76 acres of land on Young Road | now known as Broadview Farm | for $500,000. At that time, Fairbanks objected to the purchase because then-Town Councilor Paul Doolittle and his father, Albert Doolittle, a member of the Conservation Commission, did not make it known that their land was next to the Young Road property.

Other properties purchased in recent years include the 85-acre Corneliusen Farm on English Range Road and the Caras property on North Shore Road.

The Corneliusen Farm, purchased in 2002 for $900,000, is about a mile from Dionne's home. The 95-acre Caras property, bought by the town two years ago for $1.5 million, is within a mile or so of the homes of Dionne and fellow Conservation Commission members John Dooney and Margaret Ives.

Fairbanks said she thinks the commission's practice of buying properties near members' homes continues with the Sawyer property in the southeast corner of town, which is being eyed by the commission as wetland mitigation for the proposed Exit 4A project. That property is near Conservation Commission member Dennis Wiley's home.

Dionne disputes Fairbanks' accusations. He was not chairman at the time of the Broadview Farm purchase, but he said it is well known that Wiley lives near the Sawyer property, and if the commission buys it, Wiley would recuse himself.

Though recusing themselves from voting on land purchases anywhere near their homes would be going too far, Dionne said he would request that commission members recuse themselves on land purchases that directly abut their properties.

In addition to a possible conflict of interest, Fairbanks is concerned about the pattern of open space purchases because it seems that all of the land the town has been buying is in the part of Derry to the east of Route 28.

"It's like night and day," she said of the difference between the east and west side of the road.

When the new Wal-Mart Supercenter goes in on Ashleigh Drive, the project will break a conservation easement to install the driveway. But Fairbanks said the $100,000 the retailer will pay to break the easement will go toward a pending land purchase on Orchard Drive in East Derry.

"West Derry will lose the land from this construction, and (the commission will) spend the money in East Derry," she said.

Fairbanks said she believes the western part of Derry has plenty of property that meets the commission's criteria for preservation | a list of a dozen reasons the commission cites when preserving land. The criteria includes water quality and wildlife protection, buffering existing preserved land and imminent threat of development.

But Dionne argued that Derry is one town, and the commission doesn't consider whether a parcel of land is on the east or west side of town when it determines what it should buy.

"There's no more East Derry," Dionne said, citing the failed East Derry secession movement and the closure of the East Derry Fire Precinct several years ago.

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