Philanthropic housing concept pitched to Sanbornton


June 10, 2009
SANBORNTON — The dozens of residents who came out last Wednesday night to hear about plans for a major housing development were urged by the project developer to seize the opportunity to build multi-million dollar, "Rockwell-ian" homes.

Sandwich resident Douglas Brackett, founder of the Isaac Adams Project, LLC, presented the history behind the project and concept for 460 acres near Steele Hill.

He talked about prominent Sandwich resident Denley Emerson, who was named a Conservation Commissioner Emeritus for life. Buying many pieces of property to conserve land in the town, Emerson's dream was to one day create a school for agriculture, forestry and horticulture in Sandwich. Brackett said he knew Denley well and that they shared the same dream.

Even before Emerson's death in 2008, Brackett has worked to make this vision of a school come true. One way to reach that goal financially would be to utilize land Emerson owned on Hopkinson Hill in Sanbornton to help fund the school. His concept for the property is to construct a "Rockwell-ian village" of upscale homes with a New England flair.

The center would consist of 24 rowhouses (townhouse style homes attached on two sides) with post and beam architecture. There would be a store, meeting house, open air market place, 50-seat theater built for town use and a fire sub-station to assist in calls on that side of Sanbornton. The buildings' design would maintain the character of the 1800's.

"It will be a very nice setting," Brackett assured the crowded room. "People will want to use (the facilities) in this town."

Surrounding hillsides with views would be the site for 12 Georgian and 12 Federal-style homes. Village homes would sell for $1.5 million with prices reaching as high as $5 million for the hillside homes. Two hundred acres of this property would remain in conservation trust to be farmed, harvested for cordwood or used for recreation. Money from sales of the homes would be used for the school in Sandwich.

"This money isn't going to buy a yacht for anyone," he said. "We are trying to have a school to keep kids passionate about agriculture and forestry."

Selectman David Nickerson was concerned about the price of the homes in today's housing market. Brackett assured him he has already been approached by people from all over the country who have heard of the project and are very interested. There are many people, he said, who can still afford such homes.

"Houses under $500,000 are being affected by the economy," Brackett told the selectmen, "but those who have more money are still out there spending it. There is an interest."

Chairman Andrew Livernois voiced his concern about the aesthetics of large homes protruding on the horizon, which many agreed with.

"What troubles me are mansions on ridges and hilltops," he said. "People love the idea of seeing the top of Hopkinson Hill like I do every day. That's a cost to all of us that we can't get back. A mansion up there troubles me."

Nickerson cited examples in Waterville and other towns where homes stuck out on the hilltops, saying this was not something he would like to see in Sanbornton. Brackett assured all he would work to make the skyline "as invisible as possible."

"We are willing to follow the direction of the Town Fathers here and work with you and involve you in this project," he said. "I want it to be participatory. We want to bring the community into this."

Local contractors would be utilized as much as possible, he told residents concerned over out-of-state builders taking on the construction. Jobs would be created with landscaping, repairs, maintenance and other needs of the homeowners. The village, called Emerson Brook Forest, would be an open community, accessible to all.

As a further gesture of goodwill to the town, Brackett said they would offer a scholarship over 10 years to one student from Sanbornton each semester to attend the Sandwich school.

Most residents at the meeting seemed pleased with the potential tax relief Emerson Brook Forest would bring to the Town. Brackett said the taxes provided by these homes would assist with infrastructure improvements and allow for additional fire and police officers if needed. Plowing for the village would be at the town's discretion, whether it be done by the village association or the town. In his estimation, Brackett felt that only 12 of the homes might have school-age children who could impact the school at some point.

Don Foudriat of the Zoning Board of Adjustment pointed out that concessions on lot sizes and other specifics to this type of housing would have to be made in order for the plans to go forward. He thought the board would be willing to work with Brackett and Emerson Brook Forest to accommodate them as much as possible, however.

State House Representative Liz Merry of Sanbornton said she was very pleased that the project seemed to fit within the town's 20-Year plan. She was very excited, she told Brackett, about the possibilities this could bring the town but hoped it would not become "elitist."

The homes and village would utilize solar power and possibly wind energy in the form of a horizontal windmill structure to generate energy, a new concept just coming into use. The goal is to keep the village as "green" and visually attractive as possible.

"This project," Brackett said, "is a new paradigm in philanthropy. People like Ray Burton and (others) are looking at this as a pilot program. Sanbornton has the chance to show the world a new concept in living. It's an opportunity- we just need to seize it."

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