Selectmen adding CR to Public Safety Building Article to preserve the Golf Course

by beth on March 3, 2017

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Above: Southborough officials will now ask voters to approve building a combined Police & Fire Station while preserving about 54 acres of the 60 acre St. Mark’s Golf Course. (photo by Katie Ferguson, posted with permission)

Selectmen want to build what they see as a much needed facility for Southborough’s emergency services. And they want to avoid private development on the 60 acre St. Mark’s Golf Course near downtown.

They decided the best shot at both is to bow to calls for a Conservation Restriction on the remainder of the parcel.

Last night, the Board of Selectmen heard from the ad hoc St. Mark’s Master Plan Committee. The committee has been meeting with a cross section interest groups and residents for feedback. Their final recommendation was to purchase the land and put a CR on about 93% of the parcel.

The report said that importance of the Town controlling the land was a “clear consistent message” heard from groups & individuals, “regardless of their desired future use(s)”.

The committee also determined that keeping the land open for potential additional municipal buildings didn’t make sense. They opined that the Town has better land choices for other possible facilities (e.g., community center, town hall, or library.)

That finding was partially based on a look at the course’s wetlands and slopes showing the most developable areas were on the Latisquama Road side of the course. Parcels that could work on the Route 85 side were more restricted than options at other Town owned parcels.

In addition, most constituents were purportedly in favor of saving the course or amenable to having buildings elsewhere in town. Finally, putting a CR on the land could allow the Town to seek funding assistance for the purchase of the restricted portion of the parcel. Options included Community Preservation Act funds or state grants.

Although selectmen pledged that the CR would be in perpetuity, the Article language they approved doesn’t currently include the term. 

Lisa Braccio, a member of the SMMPC, addressed selectmen in her capacity as Open Space Preservation Commission Chair. She pushed for including the term “in perpetuity”. Selectmen rebutted that Town Counsel advised them the words shouldn’t be included but that the CR would be. After some back and forth they conceded that Counsel should either add it in or provide an explanation.

When questioned, Braccio said the Open Space hadn’t voted a position on the revised Article. Selectmen asked her committee to take an official position. That vote will take place at their meeting on Monday.

Advisory member Karen Muggeridge, speaking as a resident, told selectmen that she disagreed with adding the CR to Article 1. She said that they were combining Articles 1 & 3. She saw that as taking away the choice from voters. She believed that future residents should be able to decide how to use the land if they need it.

Selectman Paul Cimino, participating by phone, responded that combining it offered their strongest chance for passing the article. He said that if the Article fails, the golf course wouldn’t be there in the future for use.

Once again, residents tried to pin down if the board would really refuse to negotiate with St. Mark’s if Article 1 failed and Article 4 passed. Selectman Dan Kolenda adamently stated there was “No Chance” of a renegotiation. No other members contradicted him.

Selectmen unanimously voted to approve an amended verison of Article 1 with the CR. Voters will be asked to approve it at the Special Town Meeting this Wednesday, March 8.

Editor’s Note: At this time, I do not have a copy of the amended Article 1. I will share it when I do. In the meantime, I can say that the updated language includes allowance for golfing and passive recreation on the land and that the sum to build the safety complex is now specified at $27,129,500.

1 Marnie Hoolahan March 4, 2017 at 11:24 AM

I just don’t understand why we always need to be making decisions so last minute? The BOS has only opened up the “robe” in the last 3 weeks and provided information that is accessible and not in “executive session”. Now, all of the sudden, they feel the threat of failure and so they pass a CR but will not include “in perpetuity” in the language? I struggle with understanding this Board, their decisions, their approaches and seem to consistently ask myself, would anyone in any ethical business allow this sort of behavior?

In my own experience in negotiating deals in the pharma/biotech sector, we hire bankers (3rd party objective), consultants and bring in the internal “experts” to hash through the details and assure the “best possible negotiated agreement”. The fact that we are relying on our BOS and our Town counsel already raises my suspicions about this being the best possible deal. They have deployed all sorts of scare tactics, threats, even lining committee meetings with police and fire employees, and having a policeman at the transfer station for their own intentions.

Tying up the land purchase, swap and the public safety building in own transaction raises so many concerns. Separate the land/swap and the public safety requirement. I wholeheartedly agree that we need to improve our facilities for public safety. Can we really afford a $24M facility? Does this facility really meet the specifications of our town needs? Where are the 3 RFP’s for site plan development and building- shouldn’t we have 3 different proposals (minimally) to choose from? So many questions, so little time. Thanks, once again BOS and Town Counsel for sticking it to the residents!

2 Concerned Resident March 4, 2017 at 12:51 PM

It is unfortunate that you see the police and firefighters attending meetings and taking an interest in this subject as threatening. I’ve seen police and fire outside my house a lot this week, making sure the public is safe and literally putting out fires. They did not hesitate and they were excellent. They also have every right to show support for a cause that is not only necessary, but should have been done a long time ago. I commend them for showing their support and taking the time to attend meetings and educate themselves when they didn’t have to.

As to the nature of this deal, its not the best deal ever made, but it is what we have. I believe the BOS and the respective committees who helped make this deal happen, did the best they could for the town. Can we afford it? Absolutely. It has been addressed in various meetings by members of various town committees and employees. You will see this addressed at town meeting as well. For me, the cost per year will be less than a third of what I spend at the grocery store in a week. To pay that to get our police and fire a facility they need and to conserve over 93% of the most desired land in Southborough is absolutely worth it.
Opinions of the BOS aside, if the town votes this down, the land will be gone and we will still need to address the needs of our police and fire. And the cost to do so will be much more than what we are looking at now.

3 Gloria Linden March 5, 2017 at 7:23 AM

Do we know approximately how much it would cost to buy the St. Mark Golf Course outright? Would the town be willing and able to afford to do that?

4 beth March 5, 2017 at 8:00 AM

There has been no assessment. And there has been no statement I’ve seen from selectmen saying what they think the land is worth. Although that could be information they discussed in executive session’s but didn’t share publicly as a negotiated the terms of the land deal with St. Mark’s.

The only estimate I’ve seen is a guesstimate by Al Hamilton and his letter to the editor posted on Monday:

What is the Golf Course Worth?

The parcel is 60 Acres of which 17 A are wetlands and another 5 or so are tied up in long term septic easements (Woodward school). This leaves about 38 develop-able acres. Leaving 10% for open space and 10% for roads and utilities a reasonable estimate is that as many as 30-35 single family homes could be built on the parcel. At $150,000 – per lot that would be $4.5 million to $5.2 million. If the land can be developed at higher densities it might bring more. The land is currently assessed at $5,223,000. I think this is a reasonable floor and a high end might be 30% more. (Note that the Millbrook golf course went for $5.5 million with a similar amount of develop-able land (higher density development with sewers). So, my semi educated estimate is that the value lies between $5.2 million and $6.8 million.

As for “Would the town be willing and able”:
I believe it would require cooperation of selectmen which can’t be forced. And Selectman Dan Kolenda stated that it would be fiscally irresponsible and no one on the board has an appetite to do that. He was adamant that they would not go back to negotiate buying the land without the swap. And nobody else on the board contradicted him.

5 D. McGee March 5, 2017 at 1:29 PM

For a transaction of this size for a small town like Southborough, I would certainly HOPE that the BOS obtained appraisals for both the golf course property AND the land to be swapped. Otherwise, how could the Board possibly determine whether or not the deal is fair to the town? To do anything else would be a breach of their fiduciary duty. Perhaps we will learn more on Tuesday, but I am not holding my breath.

6 Marnie Hoolahan March 5, 2017 at 5:03 PM

D. McGee:
You can find the “appraisals” here: One was commissioned by BOS 2/3/2016 and the other by St. Mark’s. I do hope that they spend time at Town meeting reviewing the numbers and educating the voters.

On another note, why have we not placed any property deed restriction on the “use” of the swapped land in addition to adding a “Conservation Restriction, greater than 50%”. Shouldn’t we protect ourselves and ensure that St. Mark’s cannot sell to 3rd parties or develop for non-academic purposes? The St. Mark’s Land Exchange agreement explicitly states what we can and cannot do with the Golf Course and I think we as voters need to ensure that reciprocal language shall be incorporated into this agreement. The Language on the St. Mark’s Golf Course states “6.2 Golf Course Property Deed. Notwithstanding the forgoing, the deed conveying the Golf Course Property to the Town shall contain the following restrictions, running to the benefit of St. Mark’s: (i) the Golf Course Property shall only be used for municipal purposes, provided, however that a municipal purpose cannot include the sale or lease of all or any portion of the Golf Course Property to third parties to provide revenue for the Town (this restriction does not include nor effect the Town’s ability to license or permit a third party entity from managing
the golf course facilities on behalf of the Town), and (H) at least fifty percent (50%) of the Golf Course Property shall remain as undeveloped land in perpetuity to the extent permitted by applicable law (the Restriction”).The Restriction shall be more particularly set forth in the Deed for the Golf Course Property and agreed upon by the parties prior to the Closing.

They have stated in the Land Exchange agreement that the Town has until April Town Meeting. I vote to delay this decision and spend the next few weeks getting the language PERFECT and legally reviewed before trying to get something through in a Special Town Meeting that will likely have multiple amendments proposed, confusing the voters even more and perhaps voting on something that may not have teeth!

7 SouthBorrow March 5, 2017 at 8:18 PM

Thank you for making this information available!

8 SouthBorrow March 5, 2017 at 5:15 PM

Do we know if a professional appraisal is available? I recognize the need for a new public safety facility, but I worry about the BoS tying together so many different fiscal and open space issues into one warrant. I wish the BoS would give us options about how they spend OUR money rather than changing warrants to push through their own agenda.

9 Marnie Hoolahan March 5, 2017 at 6:21 PM


From the Town’s Appraisal conducted 2/6/16:
0 SCHOOL STREET $150,000 (Town Stump Lot)
19-21 MAIN STREET $1,780,000 (Police & Fire Stations & property)
36 CORDAVILLE ROAD $3,165,000 (Golf Course)

From St. Mark’s Appraisal of Town property conducted January 2016
0 SCHOOL STREET $185,000 (Town Stump Lot)
19-21 MAIN STREET $1,165,000 (Police & Fire Stations & property)
Golf Course not included

I concur with your worry. The rush to get this approved is concerning- particularly since it will only get more complicated when citizens start proposing amendments to Article 1…..

10 Al Hamilton March 6, 2017 at 8:09 AM


I asked the assessor a few weeks ago and got a different, perhaps more updated answer regarding values:

“Stump dump = 342,000
Police, fire = 2,286,000
Golf course = $1,912,500 (Chapter Value), 5,223,000 (Market Value). Assessed value for this value is the chapter value.”

11 mark dassoni March 5, 2017 at 10:30 AM

If I had a vote I would want a public safety building at St. Marks just because it on a golf course solid ground, the course itself would be ok to use, golf is a seasonal sport, first responders are everyday-every second duty for all of town of Southborough ,voting no would hurt responders to update their space and if god forbid something tragic happens and town is understaffed and ill equipt to handle situations .golf is a seasonal sport, lives of citizens is first responders job to help them help you, think about it if you need them at your address to you or family members in that second of personal need, vote yes on question one fire-police needs this to happen, Mark Dassoni

12 Marnie Hoolahan March 6, 2017 at 8:27 AM

Thank you- I am a little surprised that this “new” assessment is not readily available on the website for public consumption. Was this a verbal discussion or did he actually provide evidence of an actual updated appraisal? Thank you!

13 Concerned Resident March 6, 2017 at 8:49 AM

Thank you, Beth for taking a deep look as well. So what you’re saying is that because both the town of Southborough and St. Mark’s would want to vacate the police and fire buildings that the real value of the property on Main Street is only $240,000? So in this deal, the town would be getting 63 acres of land for $4.5 million and the town would be swapping 3 acres at $240,000 and the stump lot.
If people are adding the value of buildings into the cost of the land swap, aren’t there two buildings currently on the golf course? Have those been assessed and added to the value? As I see it, neither the town or St. Mark’s have any interest in the two buildings on Main Street or the two on the golf course. If both parties want to tear the buildings down, they hold no value.

14 beth March 6, 2017 at 9:44 AM

As for the building on the golf course, appraisals appear to be based on the best fair market value the land can get. For 19-21 Main St the property is worth more with the buildings. For the golf course it’s worth more without it.

In terms of value of the deal, how much does it matter that the school wants it vacant? It does effect the value of the property to St. Mark’s. But it doesn’t effect the value of the property to the Town.

After all, if it was on the market, the Town would reject a low offer from someone looking to demolish properties if someone else offered much more to use the buildings through adaptive reuse. And many would say it is better to have those buildings reused than demolished.

So, you can’t just dismiss the adaptive reuse appraisal as irrelevant.

Meanwhile, since the best value of the golf course to someone who buys it is without the building – the demolition cost of the building is actually deducted from the land value in order to come up with the appraised value.

15 Resident March 6, 2017 at 8:50 AM

Wouldn’t it be nice to know the actual numbers offered voluntarily by the BOS instead of all of us having to guess and figure out which numbers are most accurate? Shouldn’t townspeople know this information ahead of a vote which significantly impacts us as taxpayers? Transparency is so important and yet so lacking.

16 mark dassoni March 6, 2017 at 9:41 AM

amazing cost in front of safety and all, guest nobody cares for police and fire responders ,human cost first always, monies can be paid and done with human lost is lost forever ,who there if family has a severe illness?, who there when a house or business is broken into? who there when in winter roads needs to be plowed? schools to open? safety building is what is needed and a must vote yes on question one. Mark Dassoni

17 D. McGee March 6, 2017 at 10:06 AM

I don’t think anyone is saying we don’t place an incredible value on the services provided by the fire and police departments, or that we don’t need to improve their facilities. That being said, there are financial limits as to what we can afford without putting the town’s finances in jeopardy. Obviously no one would suggest we should build a $500 million facility just to show how much we care. As long as there have been governments and taxes, there has been a balancing act between needs and funding. This issue is no different.

18 mark dassoni March 6, 2017 at 12:39 PM

i agree in part down to the being said part, financial limits fire – police know but it not limited to their training if it was they would be short handed and have under grade equiptment to use ,for government and taxes balancing act does go on , difference is in town growth . Mark Dassoni .

19 Marnie Hoolahan March 6, 2017 at 10:21 AM

To be clear, we are all in agreement that our police and safety need and deserve the best that Southborough can provide- that is not in question by me at all!

The challenge, unfortunately, is that our BOS and our Town Counsel have established that they cannot be trusted. They have repeatedly made decisions “on behalf of the Town” and yet have chosen to keep their deliberations, their evidence, and made choices to deflect answering questions posed in public sessions by citizens and committees making many voters skeptical of what are the facts, the actual intents and whether they are master town planning without the town’s involvement. We seek transparency and open access to everything generated in this process. As demonstrated by our own investigations and posts here, there are fundamental questions that remain unanswered and yet we are headed into vote on a very BIG deal in 48 hours.

Again, I suggest we as a town delay this vote until April Town Meeting and give our Selectmen the chance to write an appropriate CR (with SOLF and Open Space), update the land exchange agreement with a property deed on the stump lot and fire/police station to protect our rights, word the article appropriately and explain the process in the next 3 weeks. Then they may be in a better position to get approval.

20 mark dassoni March 6, 2017 at 12:48 PM

yes challenge is selectmen and town counsel is in a trusting or not trusting either way voters have to choose yes or no at town meeting ,transparency is a must, public-open policies should be paramount I been to park central meetings to know that trust was broken there, I be watching town meeting at home ,seeing if new meeting measures work out for a smooth flow,Mark Dassoni .

21 Publius March 6, 2017 at 11:35 AM

A conservation restriction is going to tie the towns hands with no ability to adjust for future town needs. A municipal run golf course will be another path that other municipalities have learned lead to perpetual ever increasing deficits. Golf is not a growing sport and the season is short. Not to mention course are very expensive to run. Hope the pensions are fully funded because between this and Burnett many dollars are being spent.

22 Resident March 6, 2017 at 12:18 PM

Have any of the site committees considered 150 Cordaville Rd? Seems to have many attributes – directly across from the DPW, site work completed, high bay building, would require minimal reconstruction, etc. Currently assessed at $3,427,200. Could be a lower cost alternative.

23 Concerned Resident March 6, 2017 at 8:01 PM

The assessor’s office in town has the tax value of the property at $5.2 million. But be mindful, the assessed value is not the market value. A developer can offer whatever they think is fair…even what they feel would exclude the town from being competitive.

24 beth March 6, 2017 at 8:23 AM

Thank you for bringing the reports to our attention and for pulling out figures. In looking at them today, I found you do appear to have one figure wrong. I don’t believe St. Mark’s assessed 19-21 MAIN STREET at $1,165,000.

My take was that St. Mark’s appraiser said the fairest assessment value was $985,000 based on possible adaptive reuse of the buildings. If the lot was sold as “if vacant”, the land would only be worth $240,000. It appears that you mistakenly added the two as being portions of the appraised value.

25 Marnie Hoolahan March 6, 2017 at 8:37 AM

Thanks Beth- yes, I did add the two up..thanks for double checking!

26 D. McGee March 6, 2017 at 9:25 AM

Beth, I think they should be added together. The appraiser refers to two separate parcels, one unimproved and the other improved. The highest and best use of the unimproved parcel (appraised at $240,000) is “if vacant”, and the highest and best use of the improved parcel ($925,000) is adaptive reuse. Since they are different parcels, they should be combined for a total value of $1.165 million.

27 beth March 6, 2017 at 8:42 AM

I don’t believe your presumption is correct. The figures are from the assessor’s public database. That database home page states:

The following information is provided as a public service by the Town of Southborough’s Assessor’s Department. The information contained reflects fiscal year 2017 assessments with a valuation date of January 1, 2016.

I would assume those values were based on the assessments done for property tax purposes. Since the appraisals weren’t all conducted on the same date, presumably those are older than January 1, 2016.

The appraised values posted by the St. Mark’s Master Plan Golf Committee were arrived at by consultants contracted by the Town and St. Mark’s for the purposes of the real estate transaction. Those reports list appraisal dates of mid-January and mid-February of 2016. So they aren’t older.

28 beth March 6, 2017 at 9:50 AM

But they aren’t different parcels. Both values are related to 19-21 Main St, not broken down by portions of that parcel. And the appraiser states:

s a result of this analysis it is my opinion that the highest an best use of the improved parcel is adaptive reuse. It is my opinion that the fair market value of 19—21 Main Street as of January 3, 2016 is:
($925, 000. 00)

Another value is given for the stump dump. And I didn’t question the value that Marnie Hoolahan listed for that.

29 D. McGee March 6, 2017 at 10:00 AM

Sorry, you’re absolutely right! The appraiser valued the same parcel on an “as if vacant” basis and “adaptive reuse” basis and came up with two separate values for the same parcel.

30 n March 6, 2017 at 11:49 AM

Was there an appraisal done of the golf course? Assessed value may or may not be close to fair market value.

31 beth March 6, 2017 at 11:54 AM

As Marnie Hoolahan shared below, the Town’s appraiser came back with $3,165,000 for that property. The school’s appraisal didn’t list any value for the golf course.

32 SouthBorrow March 6, 2017 at 1:10 PM

I’m scratching my head a little bit. Why are we paying $4,500,000 and swapping land for a property that the appraiser that we hired said is only worth $3,165,000? I thought the appraisal told us what the highest and best value for the property is supposed to be (recognizing that the actual market sales price may be slightly higher or lower than said market-value appraisal). It seems like we either got a bad appraisal or a bad deal…

33 beth March 6, 2017 at 2:41 PM

Good question – but it’s best directed at selectmen, not me! I didn’t even realize these figures were available until Marnie Hoolahan posted her initial comments about them last night. I didn’t get a chance to really look until this morning.

(That doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t discussed in public meetings and explained. There have been way too many meetings for me to keep up with.)

I have my opinions on why selectmen decided this is a good deal. But they are just supposition. I’m hoping they’ll have a clear answer for voters on Wednesday night.

34 D. McGee March 6, 2017 at 4:19 PM

It’s actually MORE than that! It’s $4.5 million in cash, PLUS the town property appraised at $925,000, so a total of $5.425 million in exchange for a property appraised at $3.165 million. Can’t wait to hear the BOS’ explanation of how this is a good deal.

35 n March 6, 2017 at 5:38 PM

Would someone share the link to the appraisal of the golf course? I can’t find it. All is see is a reference to the assessed value and no documentation as to how that was determined.

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