WALPOLE, N.H. -- A resident has decided to challenge the way his selectmen plan to sell the Hooper Golf Course.
Stephen J. Varone filed a petition in 8th Circuit Court Probate Division in Keene a couple of weeks ago in hopes a judge will tweak the selectmen's proposal for the land and force the elected officials to get the best possible price for it.
Varone, who has lived in Walpole for 25 years, told the Reformer his petition was in response to one filed by the selectmen asking the court for permission to sell the golf course.
"When I read the petition, they were asking for more than just permission to sell -- they were asking for permission and to put some sort of conservation easement prior to the sale," he said, adding that a conservation easement, which prohibits any development on land it applies to, would devalue the property. "They want to sell the conservation easement and then sell the property itself and the sum would be what it is worth, supposedly."
He said the entire property has an assessed value of roughly $1.8 million and a stipulation of the trust is to get the highest possible price for it if it is ever sold.
"(The selectmen) should offer the property without any type of hindrance on it. That's when you're going to get the greatest value," Varone said, mentioning that he agrees with the selectmen's overall goal but thinks they are going about it incorrectly.
According to the petition filed by G. Jeremy Hockensmith, the town's attorney, the property is the legacy of George and Mary Hooper, who were longtime residents of Lowell, Mass., and owned real estate in Walpole for many years. The petition states George Hooper had a passion for farming, botany, horticulture and forestry and believed Walpole's young men and women should be encouraged to pursue those fields both educationally and as a career. The Hoopers, during their lifetimes, planned their educational vision for the town and George's will provided that, if the town raised enough money to construct an institute building upon his death and that of his wife, they would transfer real estate and funds to the town for the purposes of such an institute. George Hooper died in 1916.
The town generated sufficient funds in 1925 and developed the institute building and the Hoopers deeded the land to the town in trust, as long as it was used for the pursuit of teaching agriculture, forestry, botany and environmental sciences.
Varone, 55, said the trust's purpose is to focus on education, and the land is "just there" to produce income, via the golf course, to carry out that purpose. He said his children have benefited greatly from the educational programs at the Frederick H. Hooper Institute, and he imagines his granddaughters will when they are old enough. He said there are two facets to the trust -- one is the operation of the school and the other is to provide college scholarships to study sciences that deal with nature and the environment.
Varone said the issue has become politicized because George Hooper put the selectmen in charge of the trust, instead of a bank officer.
Hockensmith had no comment on the matter and Chairwoman Jamie Teague did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.