Tomasso property back on market after forestry foundation option lapses

Shawn Cunningham
© 2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Tomasso property represents about five percent of Chester’s area. Courtesy NEFF

The 1,800-acre property in Chester that was the focus of so much attention and excitement as a possible “community forest” that would offer a number of recreational opportunities including hiking, mountain biking and expanded snowmobiling in addition to hunting and fishing is back on the market.

Robert Perschel, executive director of the New England Forestry Foundation, confirmed on Friday that his organization’s contract with the Tomasso family, who owns the property, has lapsed and that the property is for sale again. LandVest is listing the 1,811 acres for $3.75 million, the 131-acre plot with a compound of houses and other buildings for $990,000 and together for $5.5 million with a caretaker’s house included. Dubbed the Smokeshire Valley Preserve, the land has been for sale since at least 2010 for as much as $14.5 million.

The Tomassos effort to sell the property to NEFF began around March when the parties reached an agreement on price and time frame, according to Keith Ross of LandVest, who spoke with The Telegraph on behalf of the Tomasso family.

New England Forestry Foundation Executive Director Robert Perschel explains the vision for a Paul Tomasso Memorial Forest.

Chester first learned about the opportunity when the forestry foundation approached the town in August to talk about its efforts to the purchase the land for $3.5 million, creating the Paul Tomasso Memorial Forest, which it would own and operate as a sustainable, working forest that would be open for public use.

“It was a good fit,” said Ross. “The foundation is aligned with the Tomasso family in terms of their stewardship of the land.”

Peter Jones, NEFF major gifts officer, says he got to work on the feasibility study for the campaign in June, contacting a local Realtor, two foresters and abutters to the property. “Everyone was very positive.”

“We were reaching out to get a sense of the Chester community,” said Jones, “and it became obvious that we really needed the support of the Town of Chester. David (Pisha) and Julie (Hance) were glad to sit down with us and were very helpful.”

At a Sept. 5 Select Board meeting, Perschel and Jones told town residents that the Tomasso family wanted the foundation to complete the sale by the end of 2017. Perschel also announced that there would be an “open house” at the property in October.

A load of visitors begins the trip up into the Tomasso family’s forest at the Oct. 14 open house. Telegraph photo

On Oct. 14, upwards of 80 people visited the property to tour it and hear about NEFF’s plans during which Perschel told The Telegraph that the foundation was just at the earliest stages of fund raising and admitting that “it’s a tight schedule.”

“But it takes time to build support” said Jones, and the agreement lapsed.

“After a period of time, they had to evaluate this effort compared to the many others they work on,” said Ross, “the foundation does a lot with a small staff.”

“We’ll continue to work for a conservation solution,” said Jones. “Projects have a way of coming back and we remain optimistic.”

“We’re hopeful that we can get back on track,” said Perschel, adding that he could not discuss how the campaign went due to an agreement with the property owners.

Jones said that there are no specific actions planned by the foundation. “You can’t raise money without an agreement.”

Said Ross, “We had a number of inquiries during the agreement with NEFF, and we’ll be following up on those in the next few weeks. But we would still love to do something with the foundation.”


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