By Nancy Arsenault
In a discussion that became heated at times, the Board of Selectmen last night put the brakes on any further spending on capital projects until a new group can be formed to oversee all three projects as a whole. Additional topics included a group of business owners looking for support to bring water to Lower Village and the presentation of a parcel of land for sale near the town center.
The Fire Station Building committee was given a firm “no” from the Board of Selectmen last night after what they hoped would be a supportive nod to continue fine tuning their proposal in time to present to voters at May Town Meeting.
The Selectmen were unanimous and firm in their directive that no money be spent from the remaining $12,000 left in the committee’s fund. While all felt the project is worthy, as is the Library and Community Center, the Board and Town Administrator Bill Wrigley were adamant that a completely new approach must be taken if these projects hope to gain approval from voters.
Rather than following the same path of each project being championed by its own building committee, the Selectmen are favoring forming what they called a “Super Committee”; an oversight group consisting of individuals with many backgrounds, municipal interests and areas of expertise, and most importantly, not a strong vested interest in any one of the projects.
“We need one committee that takes the long range view,” said Selectman Jim Salvie, who hopes the group can be formed as soon as possible, looking at all municipal buildings and land and future plans. “We need the three building committees to hold off until we can form that committee.” The work of that committee would result in a list of priorities that will most likely include these projects, within a particular order that would help voters make an educated decision.
Ross Perry, of the Fire Station Committee, felt that his group has done extensive due diligence and needs just to respond to residents’ concerns raised at Town Meeting, finding ways to cut costs and still build a useful facility; a revised project that could win voter approval. Selectman Chair Charlie Kern felt the issue was not that simple.
“After Town Meeting, I heard that voters were presented with too much, too soon. They haven’t yet felt the tax burden from the Center School project. We need to put together a reasonable plan that minimizes the tax impact,” he said. Jim Salvie added, “I heard clearly, that next time, voters want to see a coordinated plan. The model using three independent building committees did not work. Next time, voters need to see the big picture.”
Perry felt that the fire station project has already won wide support from the residents and is closer to having a voter-ready proposal than the other two projects. “I don’t think you need to create another layer, with another committee. I think we already are that group,” said Perry. Salvie countered, “Well, we tried that and it didn’t work. It will be much more effective to have a single presentation through a coordinated effort of all the groups. We really want to take a different approach, with more oversight.”
Chief McLaughlin urged the Selectmen to work quickly to form this committee. “We are eager to build a new fire station and we want to do this the right way.” The Selectmen voted unanimously to work to form this committee, with discussion of its charge taking place at the next meeting on January 22.
Lower Village Businesses Taking Charge
As the lack of a public water system cripples the growth of businesses in Lower Village, several property owners have banded together to create a plan that they would fund, to place a well in that area that could service all of the businesses on the south side of Great Road. They have already spoken to water company operators and engineers and are now taking proposals that will help put a dollar figure on the project.
Rich Presti, owner of the former Erkkinen Buick/Steppingstones building is leading the charge. “I am not asking for your money. I am asking for your support,” he told the Selectmen. This public well, privately owned and managed, would need to be located on town-owned conservation land on nearby Heritage Lane; a distance from the businesses that would allow all of them to fully utilize their square footage without having to allow for a well head protection area.
Presti said if the Conservation Commission, the voters, and ultimately the Massachusetts legislature could approve this use on that land, the whole direction of the town’s commercial district could change. “I would develop my property into 20, 30 or 40,000 sq. ft of space for retail, restaurant and other things that right now, we all go to Maynard for,” he said.
Presti spoke about a 100-seat restaurant and cigar bar that was very interested in locating at his corner, especially since one of the restaurant owners is a Stow resident. As Presti worked to pursue this water issue over the past several months, the restaurant owner could not wait any longer, and informed Presti last week that he will instead build in Sudbury. “We need water to turn things around there,” pleaded Presti.
Bill Wrigley and the Selectmen gave Presti their support and pledged to speak with the Conservation Commission, who are voting on this proposal at their next meeting. “If the town approves this,” said Bill Wrigley, ”I don’t foresee a stumbling block with the state.”
Town officials are hoping to have an article concerning the water ready for voters at the May Town Meeting. “I really don’t think voters will be opposed to a well being placed on conservation land if it finally means water for Lower Village,” concluded Wrigley.
Land Banking on the Table
The Planning Board alerted the Selectmen to a parcel of residential land now for sale, in the center of town, encouraging the Selectmen to consider its purchase. The property at 323 Great Road covers 8.5 acres, with an existing well and 6-bedroom septic system, and frontage on Minister’s Pond. According to the Planning Board, it could be used for a variety of municipal uses. The land was once the site of a large antique home which burned in a massive blaze, two years ago this month. The property is listed for $369,000.
“It is not often that land suitable for municipal uses becomes available; therefore it is important that the Town seriously consider this property in terms of short and long term plans/goals for municipal buildings and infrastructure,” wrote the Board in their report. Chairman Lori Clark added that while the property itself is not unique, its location in the center of town makes it a unique opportunity, along with an attractive price tag. There is an abutting 2.8 acre parcel under the same ownership, which is not officially on the market, but has been represented to sellers as a possible additional sale parcel, according to the Board. This parcel would improve the access from Great Road.
Selectman Jim Salvie asked Clark what current municipal problems the property would solve, while Charlie Kern said to buy property without a specific use in mind, is land banking; a process the town has not supported in the past. This is not something Kern thinks voters would support considering the current economic conditions, paired with the requests for capital building projects still looming.
The Planning Board did say that such a low price and location makes the property attractive to consider as a site for a water source to serve municipal buildings, place affordable housing with the septic already in place, or even consider as a temporary site for the fire station while a new one may be built at Crescent Street. The temporary relocation of the fire station to various locations in town during the construction process, if approved, was already slated to cost more than the price of this land, according to the Planning Board.