Deerfoot Road parcel: Town may purchase land, preserve historic buildings, and/or restrict development (Would passing on first refusal mean a long term tax increase?)

by beth on October 4, 2017

Post image for Deerfoot Road parcel: Town may purchase land, preserve historic buildings, and/or restrict development (Would passing on first refusal mean a long term tax increase?)

Above: An historic barn and forest land are two of the things some committees/interests groups would like to see protected, purportedly while saving taxpayers money. Meanwhile, at least one Town official wonders if anyone other than interest groups cares. (photos from Google Maps)

Did something in the headline get your attention? If so, that was the blatant point.

Last night, the Board of Selectmen discussed options for handling the Town’s right of first refusal on 27.8 acres on Deerfoot Road. They indicated October 17th as their likely Go/No Go deadline for a November Special Town Meeting.

Selectman Brian Shea opined that the public doesn’t seem to have an interest in preserving the land. That was partly based on lack of commenters on this blog. As he pointed out, more than 60 comments were posted related to a line painted on Flagg Road. But zero comments had been posted on the story about 135 Deerfoot Road.

Michael Weishan, president of the Southborough Historical Society countered that people don’t respond to stories about Chapter 61A, an “esoteric” concept. He said if the headline was that the Town was going to increase future taxes [by allowing development] that would get reader attention. And if it focused on preservation, people would care.

So, I threw all the issues out there in this headline. Now, let’s see if anyone cares to comment.

If you haven’t been following the story, selectmen are considering giving Town Meeting the choice on the right of first refusal. Voters would be asked if they want to match a $1.9 Million offer for the land (also the site of a historic home and barn).

Advocating for preservation of the house and keeping the land from being developed, Weishan claimed that only homes that sell for $2 Million+ pay for themselves. Anything else just increases taxpayers’ burden.

Earlier, it was confirmed that the Community Preservation Act budget can accommodate funding a project (by bond). As pointed out in the past, that wouldn’t add to residents’ tax bills.*

The Open Space Preservation Commission voted it would support a multi-use project under the CPA. But it also agreed that it wasn’t opposed to the developer’s public plans for the land.

Chair Freddie Gillespie said the currently shared plans for six lots, including the old house and barn, would allow for plenty of Open Space. OSPC considered that a good deal, as long as the developer agrees to have his hands tied to it. 

Gillespie pointed out that once a developer buys the land, he has the right to develop it as far as zoning bylaws and 40B regulations allow. That could mean much denser development or future subdivisions.** The OSPC Chair said selectmen could have Town Counsel see if the developer would sign a deal where the Town gave up its right of first refusal in exchange for a deed restriction to six lots with no subdivisions, and preservation of the old buildings.

Selectwoman Lisa Braccio asked the Town Administrator Mark Purple to have Town Counsel look into that option.

Wearing her other hat as the Community Preservation Committee Chair, Gillespie assigned $8,000 of CPC funds to allow selectmen to research other options.

The funds, accepted by the board, will be used to hire a land use consultant with CPA expertise. The consultant would advise on potential uses for the land within CPA funding and provide information needed to draft a Warrant Article.

Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf and Gillespie hashed out the possibility of an Article proposing a general concept plan. Voters wouldn’t know precise details on future uses, but each development stage would require Town Meeting approval. Gillespie cautioned that wording would need to limit uses to ones allowed under the CPC.

Meanwhile, an abutter claiming to represent the Deerfoot Road extension neighborhood said they want the developer to purchase the land. Joe Landry said that neighbors trust the developer, Brendan Homes. Between the lines was distrust of the Town.

Landry’s wife Marguerite spoke at the last Planning Board meeting on this issue. She told the board that neighbors are worried that the Town would put a water tower on the land. Neighbors have already been at odds with the Public Works Planning Board over recommendations for a tower at Fairview Hill, overlooking their land.

Shea stated that the only resident letters and comments he has received have opposed the Town buying the land. Braccio said she appreciates neighbor’s concerns, but selectmen have an obligation to do their due diligence.

Gillespie reminded the public that the property has been in Chapter 61A. The taxes that owners avoided cost the rest of taxpayers money. That is to encourage preservation of open space worth preserving. She urged that means when right of first refusal comes up, there’s an obligation to look into it.

The owner’s attorney clarified that they will have to pay rollback taxes, but only going back a few years.

When selectmen reconvene on October 17th, they hope to have a draft Article to discuss. They also hope that the Recreation Commission and Southborough Housing Opportunity Partnership Committee will have voted on their recommendations for the parcel.

You can read more about the history of the buildings, potential uses for the land, and other details in the story I ran last month.

*As I’ve previously explained, money in the CPA funds comes from a % surcharge on tax bills partially matched by state funds. As long as Town Meeting voters don’t act to remove the CPA bylaw, the amount doesn’t change depending on what projects are or aren’t funded.

**The purchase and sale agreement has a condition between the buyer and seller that the land is for 6 perked ANR lots (including where the current buildings are sited). The owner’s attorney clarified – that agreement protects the purchaser by allowing him to pull out if he can’t get the perking or lots. It doesn’t restrict the deed. Once the the developer owns the land, he would be entitled to develop the land to a greater extent.

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Arborist October 4, 2017 at 7:58 PM

let’s go slow here folks, The new public safety complex is not on our tax bills yet, I think we have enough open space now, we can’t maintain what we have. Let alone purchase more.

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2 Southboro92 October 4, 2017 at 8:01 PM

Here’s a comment…Thanks but no thanks.

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3 Daniel October 4, 2017 at 8:34 PM

I would prefer the land not be developed. I moved to Southborough because I was tired of every plot of open space becoming a sub division or strip mall. Open space is part of Southborough’s heritage and it’s worth preserving.

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4 Southviller October 4, 2017 at 10:33 PM

No need for the town to keep this, build away!

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5 Southboro92 October 5, 2017 at 9:26 AM

And also – it certainly wouldn’t hurt to get some more houses to generate some property tax for the town. The private schools in town keep eating up houses and then we loose the tax money (yes I understand the schools pay their “fair share” with their annual payments). We have a lot of empty lots on our street – I know the town won’t consider buying that land for open space and it’s going to be built on eventually (just saying that – because I don’t want people to think I’m a NIMBY).

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6 beth October 5, 2017 at 10:12 AM

You should note that the Planning Board Chair previously said a report showed that new housing is like a conveyor belt to the schools and with roads and other services, adds to the tax burden more than the additional taxes cover. Weishan claims his information shows that only $2Million dollar homes add benefit.

Unless you have information that shows they are wrong, I don’t think the argument of allowing development to generate property tax holds much water.

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7 n October 5, 2017 at 11:22 AM

With all due respect, if someone makes an assertion that adding houses to the tax role below some value is a net drain on the town (what they get is greater than what they pay), shouldn’t they be able to defend and explain the value they note?

Would someone share the analysis that supports the $2 million value noted?

My humble view is that homes well above the median value (~$700,000???) contribute more and are a good thing as politically incorrect as that may be – all else equal.

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8 beth October 5, 2017 at 11:56 AM

I understand your point. My concern was that no one did contradict the statements. I certainly don’t have the ability to analyze the dollars.

I’m hoping that Planning can turn up their old report. I think that having a better understanding of where that line is of tax benefit vs tax burden of new housing would be of great interest to all of us.

9 M October 7, 2017 at 10:47 AM

This is information that I would like to see posted. A thorough analysis of the tax burden from increased construction of homes. This has been addressed previously in discussions about the private schools purchasing homes. But I would like to see where this $2million dollar benefit is defined. More importantly, where were the Selectman when the giant apartment complexes were being built? What does Park Central do to our schools and Town support services? Or Madison Place? Would we need a water tower now if it weren’t for these residences? Just want to stay informed.

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10 YY October 4, 2017 at 11:52 PM

I really think we, as a town, need to explore what Michael Weishan and Freddie Gillespie said.

Also, I think Joe Landry and the Deerfoot neighbors might be misguided if “stopping” the water tank is their reason for supporting the developer in this because I have heard a couple times that the town already own the land for the proposed water tank in that area. A quick look at the water tank report on DPW’s website and elevation maps suggests to me that the 61A parcels are in about same area but the 61A parcels are on lower elevations (so a water tank would have to be built taller/more expensive there).

I too think if the developer is willing to agree to restriction on how much they can develop those parcel(s) then it might be ok to not act on the right of first refusal. If we end up paying for it anyway in form of higher taxes due to additional town services provided to these potential new residents then I, personally, think we should at least consider what can the town do with the 61A parcels before passing up on them.

Are we going to end up paying for it with forever higher taxes to cover additional town services provided to these potential new residents? If we are, isn’t it at least worth considering the

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11 Sobo Resident October 5, 2017 at 7:16 AM

I support allowing the developer to purchase the land and do not think we should be purchasing this lot as open space. Yes, I like open space in town too, but this lot seems better suited to be developed rather than serving as open space given its location and general lack of accessibility to many residents in town. I agree that we might want to consider some form of deed restriction if possible in order to forgo our right of first refusal.

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12 Vern October 5, 2017 at 8:55 AM

I say no to development. What if the developer decides he wants to put in an apartment complex over there? Do we really need another mess like the Park Central development? Let’s face it, Southborough is a very small town and we don’t need more traffic on our already narrow roads. Part of Southborough’s beauty is having the Chestnut Hill farm and rolling meadows. If we want to develop the parts of Southborough closer to 9, I’m fine with that–as long as it is done properly.

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13 southsider October 5, 2017 at 10:33 AM

Let’s keep it as open land.
No one’s building $2miilion homes.

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14 Joe Landry October 5, 2017 at 2:05 PM

First, briefly responding to YY’s water tank comment (which I agree is beside the point): There is much more to the water tank location objection than NIMBY. Please read the detailed report from the two expert engineer’s who are representing the neighborhood. When a water talk last threatened the neighborhood, the Selectmen read our engineer’s report and agreed with it—that this was not an appropriate location, and that their were viable alternatives. Please compare the latest report to the DPW’s, and note that the DPW’s does not take neighborhoods into account.

More to the point—regarding the sale of Peter Dowd’s property: The developer Brendon Homes is proposing a modest development of five new homes and the preservation of the historic home and barn, with ample open space. To date, the suggestions by advocates of the Town’s purchase, involve more development, with possible greater tax burden, less respect for the historical home and barn, and the possibility of widening Deerfoot Road. Final proposals are being developed. If you support open space, historical preservation, and the preservation of neighborhoods, please read the counter proposals carefully.

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15 Arborist October 5, 2017 at 2:31 PM

seems like a lot of folks in southborough are against apartments being built, remember one thing , people need a place to live, when we all get old( no stopping that) and no longer can take of our own houses and property, let alone afford the taxes and live on a fixed income, living in an apartment isn’t a bad thing

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16 Dan October 5, 2017 at 3:42 PM

Moved into town just 5 years ago and have seen lots of new development already, not even considering Park Central. The more development, the more value all of our homes lose because the town itself becomes less desirable. Others may disagree, but my family came here in part because it still had open space. And if we okay a few more large developments, the next conversation here will be about needing a new school.

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17 em October 6, 2017 at 11:06 AM

Am I reading this thread right? Is it being suggested that we should oppose apartments but support building $2 million homes? Or that residents of homes above $700,000 would be marginally acceptable? That future residents should be reduced to their impact on our tax bills, with no regard for community? Yuck.

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18 beth October 6, 2017 at 11:29 AM

I won’t speak for other commenters. For my own comments – my point was simply that people shouldn’t support development on the assumption that houses would add to the tax rolls and therefore lessen the tax burden for the rest of us. If you support building less expensive homes, that should be for reasons other than that.

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19 M October 7, 2017 at 11:13 AM

ATTENTION: Comments on this blog provide direction to BOS in their decision-making?! There is an underlying story here.

I guess it is the same as holding a BOS meeting and seeing how many citizens show up with their concerns on a particular issue. It is easier to read about the issues here and comment, knowing that the elected officials are hearing us, than it is to take time to attend meetings.

Although I like this idea, I caution that it be weighted so heavily as to relieve the officials from their responsibility to thoroughly investigate issues, inform the public, and make balanced decisions based on a variety of input.

But I also have concerns that the assumption (as highlighted after previous TM voting) is that the silent majority doesn’t deserve the vote they take because they never commented in the blog. There will be many folks who attend TM and vote on an issue after absorbing the information and never commenting here,, but then are dismissed by those who say “Who are these people? They don’t care about the town? Town Meeting was packed by opposition organizers? Senior citizens came out of nowhere just to keep their taxes down! Environmentalists came out of nowhere,” etc. etc.”

There now. I have added my two cents. Just to show the BOS that I do care.

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20 M October 7, 2017 at 11:19 AM

I would support the purchase of the parcel only if we set aside a portion of the property specifically for building a number of affordable housing units in order to improve our percentage. It could be accomplished nicely if integrated with the historic buildings on site.

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21 Louise Barron October 26, 2017 at 11:22 AM

Get serious. M. We don’t have enough trouble with Park Central ??????????????

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22 beth October 7, 2017 at 12:37 PM

Someone keeps trying to comment without using a legitimate email address. It has slipped through my mobile account on sometimes on past occasions, encouraging him/her to continue. Those comments have been removed.

Since I can’t email you, this is the only way I can notify you that it is against blog policy.

Note: email addresses aren’t marketed or sold. They are used to follow up with commenters if there is an issue (and to discourage trolling and people commenting under different identities with the same account.)

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23 John Kendall October 7, 2017 at 6:17 PM

I say no. We have a public safety complex coming. We can’t keep spending!!!

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24 Louise Barron October 26, 2017 at 11:11 AM

STOP! Selectmens meeting OCT. 27, 2017 7:00 am. TOWNHOUSE. Topic Deerfoot Rd. purchase. Please attend. With 7 committees in favor of doing something with preservation of the Deerfoot Rd. property, and after the selectmen asked for input from the committees, it appears the BOS will meet to vote against the wishes of the other committees, and encourage another 40B project at the Deerfoot Rd. property. Put that in your pipe and smoke it

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25 Louise Barron October 26, 2017 at 11:13 AM

John The BOS will keep spending your money, til you stop them.

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26 David November 2, 2017 at 6:32 PM

How about if the town buys the Deerfoot parcel, then swaps it with the Park Central parcel. Doing so would solve the traffic problems posed by the current Park Central project.

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27 concerned_resident November 5, 2017 at 7:18 AM

Good citizens of S-Borough

First, i don’t any bias in this issue and frankly am on the fence with regards to taxpayer support to purchase private property to prevent development. I do prefer open space preservation, probably like most folks. This is especially true for historic property, large parcels in center of town or near public use land, etc. Just makes me feel better when i see a meadow lark chirping on a field stone wall, rather than a Police Take Notice sign next to an auto dealership.

however, our resources are limited and i worry about unfunded liabilities that threaten the financial viability of SB. BTW, what is on the horizon for civil retirement liabilities? (if demographics remain constant, what will we all owe to support civil servant retirees going out 5, 10 and 20 years?). So, ya, lots of fiscal issues to consider.

What is painfully obvious is a need for a consensus 10 year plan for our town. Where are we going, what do we value, can we afford to pay for it and what must we trade away to maintain our quality of life or improve upon it. A PLAN. I ask for it every election cycle and the only response i get is ….. crickets chirping [silence]. I’m not certain, but maybe they are meadow larks, not crickets.

BOS…. a plan, please? Candidates, your views?

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