NORTH ANDOVER — The future of Stevens Estate — a picturesque wedding venue with more than 150 acres and public trails — is being debated by the Select Board.
The board manages the town-owned property, but North Andover wants to end that responsibility. The board has accepted proposals from private organizations to manage the property.
The board has interviewed one candidate extensively — Fireside Catering. Jed and Zack Webber own the catering company and five sister restaurants, collectively known as the Webber Restaurant Group.
In its proposal for Stevens Estate, Fireside Catering has promised to renovate the property and provide at least $150,000 to the town annually.
For more than a decade, North Andover has discussed turning the estate over to an event-management company. That nearly happened in 2019, but town voters rejected a proposal to lease the estate to Elegant Banquets, a Connecticut company that proposed using the property for wedding receptions and other high-end social gatherings.
Fireside Catering is a Massachusetts-based company that works with seven similar venues in the state, including Crane Estate in Ipswich. There, Fireside Catering works with a local nonprofit that maintains the property.
In addition to Fireside Catering, the Webbers own Gibbet Hill Farm in Groton, where they operate a restaurant and event venue.
“Our family stepped in and bought the land from the developer and I lead the conservation effort where we partnered with the state, the town, and a number of private organizations to put over 450 of the acres into permanent conservation,” Zack Webber said about Gibbet Hill Farm.
Webber said Fireside Catering is looking into potential partnerships to help with land management for Stevens Estate.
Former North Andover Select Board member Tracey Watson said she supports the Fireside Catering plan.
“While the Stevens Estate is often referred to as a ‘town gem,’ and albeit I tend to agree on some level, it is also a drain on town resources both directly and indirectly,’’ Watson said. “It has been for many years. For me, the time for action on this property is long overdue. It is time for the professionals to take over this site and hopefully make it the gem we all want to see it be.’’
The town is also considering a nonprofit that would focus on preservation of Stevens Estate for educational and cultural purposes. A Massachusetts-based land conservation group known as Trustees for Reservations has submitted a letter proposing a conservation plan for the property, including “year-round public programming, particularly related to the North Andover Public Schools and youth engagement.”
“The Trustees’ youth, education and public programs cultivate a sense of wonder and a knowledge and appreciation of Massachusetts cultural and natural history,’’ Robert Warren, managing director of conservation for Trustees for Reservations, wrote in the letter. “We currently operate seven summer camps and 50 school vacation week programs across the state, and intended to feature similar outdoor activities, school field trips, community celebrations and other experiences to engage North Andover residents with the special resources at the Stevens Estate.”
“Our submittal was based on the general information provided to all interested parties,’’ the letter continued. “During the negotiation process we would have undertaken a more detailed assessment of the needs of the property and created a detailed enterprise plan including identification of a private events partner.’’
The Select Board will review the proposals for Stevens Estate. Any partnership for the estate must be approved by town voters.