EDC roundtable findings: Possibility of “investing” in downtown lot; investigating re-zoning and treatment plant options (Updated)

by beth on December 12, 2017

Post image for EDC roundtable findings: Possibility of “investing” in downtown lot; investigating re-zoning and treatment plant options (Updated)

Above: The Economic Development Committee raised possibilities for investing in packaging the corner of Main Street and Newton to be attractive to developers and businesses (image from Google Maps)

On November 30th, the Economic Development Committee held a workshop inviting residents to join roundtable discussions on issues around revitalizing downtown. It wasn’t a large showing that night, but there was a good turnout of members from other Town committees and boards.

The EDC is now sharing some of their takeaways from the meeting. One that may garner the most attention is the possibility of the Town investing in a land purchase.

That doesn’t mean that other discussion points aren’t worth looking at. Ideas floated that evening include:

  • Potential rezoning of some property in the area
  • Working with a nearby, privately owned treatment plant to help septic issues in the area
  • Looking at the Town’s “stump dump” for potential nearby parking

For those ideas and more, take a look at the EDC’s published notes from the workshop, here.

But, I’m guessing the idea of the Town purchasing more land with the purpose of developing it will be of the most interest. So, that’s were I’m focusing. . .

At the point where drivers westbound on route 30 turn onto Southborough’s Main Street, there is a lot that has lain vacant for years. It’s has frequently been lamented as an eyesore by blog commenters when stories come up about improving Main Street or the Downtown Business Village.

The vacant lot was a focus of the EDC’s roundtable on “potential investments”. Participants included committee member Julie Connelly and the Zoning Board of Approval’s Craig Nicholson. In a follow up to the room at large, they summarized the investment idea.

GIS map of properties referred to in the discussion

(click to enlarge)

Connelly said the EDC has long identified the Newton and Main St corner as the only “blank slate” for a new business to go downtown. She pointed to three other properties behind it as possibly open to selling. And she touted the available foot traffic for the area from St. Mark’s School and employees at Southborough Medical Group.

But she and Nicholson explained that there are currently too many obstacles for a business to pursue the location on its own. In addition to purchasing the land, they would need a developer, and they would need Town Meeting voters to approve a use for the land.

According to Connelly, the table discussed the possibility of pursuing the Town entering a purchase contract with properties in that area contingent upon a vote:

which would allow for all the other things that we need in place, like the rezoning and development of that area.

Nicholson confirmed that was the crux of their talk. He softened that it may not require the Town actually buying the property. But he said that in order to push developing that land, the Town was going to have to take a role, big or small. 

He followed:

having that kind of package. . . of incentives, things that could be done, and ways to streamline a process for a given lot or set of lots, specific to what we’re trying to accomplish is going to go a long way.

You can hear more on that idea and other topics by watching the meeting recorded by Southborough Access Media. While the individual roundtable talks weren’t audible, you can hear highlights from the panel introduction and wrap up

Updated (12/12/17 9:39 am): I fixed my directional mistake. The lot I was referring to is on the east side of downtown, first encountered by westbound drivers.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Downtown Resident December 12, 2017 at 7:57 AM

Beth, small detail but wouldn’t travelers be headed westbound when turning off Boston Rd onto Main St?
It would be wonderful to see that lot used for something but is it for sale? And isn’t there an issue with contamination due to leaks in the old gas station’s underground tank?

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2 beth December 12, 2017 at 9:37 AM

Yes, they would be – which occurred to me last night as I hit the sack. So, I jumped up and used my phone to edit the post. But it somehow didn’t take! Thank you for pointing out the typo.

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3 Mike Fuce December 12, 2017 at 9:48 AM

Why would anybody in town want to reward a guy financially who refuses to clean up the property at the corner of Main and Newton. Over the years I have read articles that the owner has been asked for years to do something with the property, I believe he refuses to do it, so the town should take it by eminent domain. It’s a good use of that law in my opinion.

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4 D. McGee December 12, 2017 at 10:40 AM

Using eminent domain would still reward the owner, as the Town would have to pay fair market value for the property under the law.

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5 concerned resident December 12, 2017 at 2:53 PM

Hi Mike,
I agree. How about our town counsel take some time, break a sweat, and file a complaint or something, rather than just writing ‘nastigrams’ to Mr. Parry about his voicing a complaint about something or other.

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6 resident December 12, 2017 at 2:16 PM

I agree with Mike that we should take eminent domain if the owner won’t take care of the eyesore it has become. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see a small bakeshop, or ice cream place there with some seating and flower boxes in the windows with upstairs either offices or apartments. Imagine how much better downtown would look.

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7 Mark Ford December 13, 2017 at 4:23 PM

If I remember right, there are septic issues with the property–or else it would have been developed years ago…

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8 Kelly Roney December 14, 2017 at 12:53 PM

I thought there was gas and oil contamination from the previous use as a service station. But I don’t have a link.

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9 beth December 14, 2017 at 2:18 PM

When this lot came up in a thread in February, I had recalled a toxic issue there, but couldn’t find anything to back that up other than a commenter with similar memory. Here’s what I did find:

  • In 2010, the Planning Board asked the owner (Southborough Crossings LLC, managed by Peter Bemis) to mow the lawn and fix the fence. They didn’t have authority to insist, just ask, and Bemis said he would consider it.
  • In spring 2015, Bemis requested an extension on an already extended “Order of Conditions” from ’05. Minutes state that Bemis “said he fully intends to move forward with his proposal when the economic conditions improve and project financing can be secured.” That permit expires April 12, 2017.
  • In August 2016, EDC addressed (not for the first time) the unwelcome sight downtown. Chair Dave McCay said that he would coordinate with then-member Bill Pezzoni to sit down with Bemis about an idea of a “pocket park” at the site as a temporary solution until land is sold or building built. But no follow up is mentioned in minutes posted for subsequent meetings.

Since then, posted EDC’s minutes showed no progress. January 2017 minutes (incorrectly labeled as 2016) stated that efforts to talk to Bemis had “been futile” and Pezzoni had resigned from the EDC. No mention has been made of the lot or owner in subsequent minutes.

(Meanwhile, Bemis has been in front of Planning and other Town boards recently as he pursues a development on Boston Road.)

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10 Kelly Roney December 15, 2017 at 9:36 AM

Thanks, Beth!

11 Al Hamilton December 15, 2017 at 10:34 AM

Kelly

I used to get my hair cut by Ernie the Barber who’s shop was across the street. He informed me that there was a significant leak in an underground gasoline tank. The leak was bad enough that there were fumes in his shop basement.

I do not recall if the leak was cleaned up. But if you can’t trust your Barber for the real story who can you trust.

The absolute last thing the town needs to own is another site with toxic waste issues.

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12 Allan Bezanson December 15, 2017 at 3:38 PM

So there you have it. This may not be resolved anytime soon. Just today, at the Dull Men’s Club, Ernie verified this. I stand by my comment below – put a cow and a pig on that patch. If not live ones, then statues.

Let’s have a design contest and do this with volunteer funding. If/when the lot becomes buildable the statue(s) could be relocated.

I`m serious about this.

13 Kelly Roney December 16, 2017 at 3:31 PM

Thanks, Al.

Most property transfers assign hazmat responsibility to the purchaser. Maybe that’s even required by law.

However, if the plume is under the Lamy Insurance building, it’s under the street. Does that mean the town and Lamy have a tort against the owner of the vacant lot? Or has the statute of limitations expired? Or…?

14 Al Hamilton December 17, 2017 at 12:02 PM

Kelly

The problem occurred over 20 years ago, I don’t know if it was cleaned up or if any residual problems remain. 20 years is a long time to sit on your rights if you have any and before we start talking about torts consider the Town’s track record in court over the last 20 years or so….

15 concerned resident December 12, 2017 at 2:58 PM

Open question for citizens:

if you had your druthers, what would you do, build, put in place on this site to make the downtown area more inviting, vibrant, useful?

for me, i say lets build an open canopied market for artists, craft makers, nonprofits, etc to display or peddle their wares. What say you?

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16 Downtown Resident December 12, 2017 at 10:45 PM

That sounds wonderful! Let’s add a stage for outdoor performances 🎢🎀

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17 resident December 13, 2017 at 10:21 AM

We have the gazebo and the stage at Neary for that

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18 Downtown Resident December 14, 2017 at 6:38 PM

Do you mean the gazebo in front of firestation? I wonder what will happen to that gazebo when St.Marks takes over that property?

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19 resident December 13, 2017 at 12:23 PM

This would be fun, but something that couldn’t be done year-round. It would require a lot of effort to continually run the market and find vendors. There are other spaces in town where this could be done, like farmer’s markets are done. Not sure there is room for this either (let alone a stage/crowd). We basically already do this with Southboro Summer Nights.

Permanent businesses that improve downtown would be much more preferable.

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20 Kelly Roney December 14, 2017 at 1:13 PM

I agree, resident. A permanent, profitable, taxpaying business would be best. We need something that brings more shoppers to downtown, steadily, not just for special events.

Before the improvements Vinny Patel made at Mauro’s (and is still making), I thought he should concentrate on liquor and lottery and that the corner of Newton and Main would be ripe for a better food market. But

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21 Kelly Roney December 16, 2017 at 3:32 PM

But not any more…

22 Allan Bezanson December 12, 2017 at 4:32 PM

I was wondering if the owner, until this is resolved, would be amenable to volunteers erecting a fence within which a cow and pig could reside. What would be more suitable for the center of Southborough than these icons from Deerfoot Farm, which, by the way, was nationally renowned and provided employment for half the town?

https://media.fotki.com/2v2uNyNyoxJayUD.jpg

https://media.fotki.com/2v2UjsErvxJayUD.jpg

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