A high turnout of voters is expected at Wednesday night’s Special Town Meeting. And most of them will be there to weigh in on the Town’s big ask – approving the purchase of St. Mark’s Golf Course and funding of a Public Safety Facility on the site.
There have been a whole lot of meetings and forums leading up to the meeting. Frankly, there have been so many that I couldn’t keep on top of them all. And I consider that part of my job. So, how is the average voter supposed to know what’s up?
I’m going to try to help here by giving some updates, summing up some general facts, and providing links below. (Spoiler, there is “new” information on raising questions about the value of the land deal that has commenters concerned.)
That said – my advice is that you don’t need to be fully informed and have your mind made up before you go on Wednesday.
In fact, you should have an open mind. There will be officials making presentations and you can expect plenty of residents to comment and ask questions.
But the more people know before they go, the more informed they are to ask questions (or not need to). So, here we go.
The amended Article:
- Article 1 will be amended at Town Meeting to include a Conservation Restriction on the golf course and the sum required for the land and constructing a public safety building. The redlined updated draft is:
To see if the Town will vote to authorize the Board of Selectmen to acquire and obtain by purchase a certain parcel of land with structures thereon from St. Mark’s School of Southborough Inc. located at 36 Cordaville Road Southborough, Massachusetts, Assessor’s Map 45, Parcel 2, consisting of 60 acres more or less and being the same parcel conveyed to the Trustees of St. Mark’s School by Deed dated November 12, 1923 and recorded in the Worcester Registry of Deeds at Book 2318 Page 258, a portion of said parcel, consisting of 5 acres more or less to be acquired for a public safety complex with the remaining land to be preserved in its natural, scenic and open condition and to permit passive public recreational use, including golf course use and for general conservation purposes, authorizing the Board of Selectmen, in furtherance hereof, to negotiate, execute and place a Conservation Restriction upon the remaining portion of land above-referenced and pursuant to the provisions of M.G.L. c.184 Section 31 as amended, and further to authorize the Board of Selectmen to convey, transfer and sell the Town’s real properties located at 0 School Street consisting of 1.63 acres more or less and the parcel located at 19 Main Street consisting of 2.34 acres of land more or less to St. Mark’s School of Southborough, Inc. and to authorize the Board of Selectmen to execute a land exchange agreement to effect these transactions and further to vote to raise by borrowing, transfer from available funds, or otherwise the sum of $27,129,500 to pay for the acquisition and construction costs incidental or related thereto for the public safety complex.
The Town Clerk shall cause the following question to be placed on the ballot at the next annual election following the adoption of this article by the Town Meeting:
Shall the Town of Southborough be allowed to exempt from the provisions of proposition two and one half, so called, the amounts required to pay for the bonds to be issued in order to acquire land and construct a new public safety complex, and for the payment of costs incidental or related thereto?
- Prior to STM, selectmen could update that draft. They are waiting to hear from Town Counsel.*
The Land Deal:
- The Land Exchange Deal signed between the Town and St. Mark’s School means that (if ratified by voters), we will pay St. Mark’s School $4.5 Million and give them 4 acres of land. In exchange, we receive the 60 acres golf course at 36 Cordaville Road. Details include:
- The Town must preserve at least 50% of the land as open space (voters will now be asked to conserve about 93% as part of amended Article 1)
- The Town will be allowed to retain use of the current Police Station and Fire Station for up to 36 months without rent. If an extension is required, another 36 months is allowed, but at a rental rate of $10,000 per month.
- St. Mark’s School has given notice that it will demolish structures on the properties. If the Demolion Delay Bylaw is enacted, the Town will pay a $15,000 a month penalty for the delays.
- The St. Mark’s Golf Course Master Plan Committee posted a slew documents on the Town website. Among them are property appraisals from January and February of last year. Commenters have pointed out discrepancies between what selectmen have referred to as a discounted price and the appraised values posted on the Town website. If this isn’t explained in the presentation on Wednesday night, you can expect to hear questions on the floor:
- The Town’s appraisal valued the Town’s parcels at $1,930,000, while St. Mark’s School’s report valued them at $1,110,000
- The Town’s appraisal valued the golf course at $3,165,000. (There is no posted appraisal from St. Mark’s. But the Assessors’ office had a higher market valuation assessment on file of $5,223,000.)
- If the Town believes its own consultant’s report, they are asking voters to pay (between cash and property) $3,265,000 more than the parcel is worth.
- Even if they believed St. Mark’s lower assessment of Town property is accurate and that the higher value of the land in Assessor’s records is correct, they would still be asking voters to essentially pay an extra $387,000.
The Public Safety Building:
- Police and Fire stations are in terrible conditions. The Public Safety Committee determined that the Police Station can’t be renovated to meet needs and renovating the Fire Station would cost almost as much as building a new one.
- A combined facility would be less expensive to build than two separate stations. After researching possible sites, the only available spots the committee supported as viable were the current site (but with additional abutting land from St. Mark’s School that they have told the town they are unwilling to buy) or the location at the St. Mark’s Golf Course.
- The new facility was once estimated at $20.85M but grew to $22,629,500. The former chair of the Public Safety Committee (Al Hamilton) moved down to a spot as a member in order to voice his disagreement with the plans and budget. But the remaining members support the plan and budget as necessary.
*Based on questions from the Open Space Preservation Commission Chair at last Thursday night’s meeting, the Board submitted two questions to Town Counsel on amended Article 1:
- The current language referenced MGL c.184, s.31. The OSPC language references the same chapter, but s.31-33. What are the impacts of including these additional sections?
- The Board members are unanimous that the CR is to be in perpetuity, but the current language does not specify it. Can you amend the motion to include “in perpetuity” in the appropriate place?
Selectmen have their usual preparatory meeting scheduled for the hour prior to STM. At that meeting they could decide to make changes based on counsel’s answers.