Resident raises concerns about closed door meetings on a new Park Central project

by beth on February 14, 2018

Post image for Resident raises concerns about closed door meetings on a new Park Central project

Above: Last week, the Town Planner showed the public an outdated plan for a building on Park Central property that she believed is likely similar to a new proposal. In unofficial talks with the developer, Town officials have been discussing project issues including road access. (image cropped from video by SAM)

Mention Park Central to some residents and their blood pressure shoots up.

If it isn’t the most controversial development project the Town has ever had, it has to be pretty close. The residential development project inspired heated resident speeches at countless town meetings, several appeals (some ongoing) and counter claims, corruption allegations, and a variety of Citizen Petition Town Meeting Articles. And Town officials are still grappling with how to handle road safety issues if appeals are denied.

All of that is why a potential new commercial project on the site is guaranteed to attract attention. So, it’s not surprising that recent not-in-public talks about road plans drew passionate criticism on behalf of a potentially impacted abutter.

At last week’s Board of Selectmen meeting, resident Ben Keyes raised his objections. He decried the appearance that officials were “jumping through hoops” to help the developer co-opt land privately owned by others.

According to public updates by the Town Planner and the Town Administrator, developer Bill Depietri has been seeking feedback on the Town’s interest in facilitating a new project that would require variances. To do that, he has been informally meeting with Town officials prior to making any public presentations.

The project is for a 100,000 – 160,000 square foot office building on land between Park Central Drive and Route 495. Town Administrator Mark Purple publicly estimated the potential for new taxes as $200K-300K. He said the project was for a 14-year tenant now looking to expand.

It appears the Economic Development Committee coordinated at least one meeting on the subject. With mostly Town employees and no committee quorums, the meetings didn’t require posted agendas and open doors.

Keyes, who works for and lives at the L’Abri Fellowship, complained to selectmen about an option he heard was being floated around Town. It entailed building a road through L’Abri owned land.

Keyes told the Board of Selectmen he had been disturbed by all the rumors he was hearing when no one had approached the fellowship about their opinion. He said he wanted it on the record that they were not willing to sell the land. And he told the board that the meetings that were held had “a sinister feel”.

The resident showed up at the BOS meeting after being alerted by someone that the project had been discussed earlier in the meeting that night. As the board clarified, it was part of Purple’s public report to the board.

The Town Admin informed the public and board that the developer had reached out to permitting boards to “gauge the climate”, find out what the potential hurdles would be, and learn whether there was willingness by the Town to get over the hurdles. He summed up the project challenges in “one word – traffic”.

According to Purple, the building owner and Depietri had also reached out to the Governor’s office to see if there was any way to mitigate traffic issues. He said that a possibility entertained was another North-South road from the parcel up along 495, back out to route 30. 

Map of land from Park Central, north to Route 30Keyes told the board that would mean crossing L’Abri land. (In the map right, the proposed office lot is noted by the red marker. North of that, parcels are owned by Park Central LLC, until you reach parcels North and South of Lynbrook, owned by L’Abri. North of those, another parcel appears to be owned by residents of 164 Main St.)

Keyes indicated that he had also heard that a conversation with the Fire Chief included a suggestion that the L’Abri land could be used for emergency access to the land-locked Park Central parcel.

Purple told Keyes that he wasn’t aware the talks “has been going on long”. Earlier in the meeting, he told selectmen the first public meeting would be in front of the Planning Board for informal feedback. Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf advised Keyes to reach out to the Town Planner Karina Quinn to be alerted when the project is on that board’s agenda.

The night prior, Quinn made her public update on the project at Planning’s meeting.

According to Quinn, at EDC’s request, she attended a meeting last week to discuss the project with Public Works, the Building Department, the Conservation Commissioner, a couple members of the EDC, Purple, and the Asst. Town Administrator. Based on comments by Purple, Depietri appears to have also attended. Quinn explained the developer wanted to learn whether the project was viable or he would just be spinning his wheels.

The Planner said that EDC was looking to help the developer and the Town was looking for avenues to try and increase its commercial tax. At the meeting, Quinn invited Depietri to bring an informal presentation to the board, ask questions and get their feedback. She said he was receptive.

Based on the process Purple outlined, the developer would next pull permits. Those would be denied by the Building Inspector and forwarded to the Zoning Board of Appeals. If the ZBA approved variances, the project would then go to the Planning Board for Site Plan Approval and the Conservation Commission.

Planning Chair Don Morris explained to fellow members that the needed variances relate to plans for the building to be 4 stories and the restriction for the square footage allowed per the property’s curb cut.

Quinn’s update made no mention of any alternate North-South road from the project. Instead, she referenced the developer’s hope to connect to the 495 off ramp. As for other access to the project via Route 9 and/or Flagg Road she was uncertain.

Planning Member Meme Lutrell told Quinn the road access details would make a big difference in whether or not the Town would support the project. Quinn responded that was why she urged Depietri to approach Planning directly.

Selectmen got into more detail on the road issues during Purple’s update.

There was talk between Purple and selectmen of pursuing a MassWorks grant to help build a road. They would also take up the offer made by the Director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council during an earlier presentation that night. He had offered the board help advising on several issues, including dealing with difficult parcels. Purple said they could with them to brainstorm solutions.

They also discussed getting needed assistance from the state. Purple warned that any real help would likely be a decade away, meaning the Town was likely to “to need to carry the water” on some of the road issues themselves.

So far, no meeting agenda is posted for a discussion on the “2 Park Central” project. The next Planning Board meeting is scheduled for February 26th, but there’s no promise that topic will be covered.

The best way to stay posted on upcoming Planning agendas is by signing up for the Town’s e-alerts. You can opt to be emailed a link whenever a new agenda is posted for that board (and/or others).

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 SB Resident February 14, 2018 at 5:03 PM

Two things jumped out at me reading through this.
1) I think the idea of the developer connecting to the 495 on ramp is a great solution however I’d be surprised that 495N as the only egress is acceptable, so there would have to be more to it.
2) If the town is “looking for avenues to try and increase its commercial tax”, just a reminder that a split tax rate would accomplish this! Since the people have lost much of the benefit of tax write offs and corporations are saving in the tax plan, this is the perfect way of recouping that money.

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2 southsider February 15, 2018 at 4:58 PM

Here’s another vote for split tax rates.

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3 Louise Barron February 14, 2018 at 6:50 PM

Let’s review the matter. Check this out on tape:

See the 1.38.30 minute mark on the following link, February 6, 2018 BOS Meeting (YouTube, Southborough Access Media)

This is Mr. Purple’s rather lengthy description of the proposal – plus the possibility of a north – south roadway from Park Central to Route 30:

1.38.30 Minute Mark
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pARVOjDwdns

Compare this with his comments to the property owner later in the tape during the public comment section. Back peddling? Reader, you be the judge.

2.17.00 Minute Mark
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pARVOjDwdns

The property owner, Mr. Keyes, asks Mr. Purple, Mr. Kolenda, and the BOS how the conversation was initiated, regarding running a road from the north side of Park Central to Route 30.

He points out that it is “disconcerting” that these conversations have been taking place without contacting them, floating this idea of creating that access, i.e. creating access for a private developer using taxpayer money (??!!) over property owned by a private landowner (??!!). He asks how did the idea / discussions get started — this reportedly is through a request from EDC to the Town Planner.

(BTW, EDC — if you are looking to take lessons on how to recuse yourself due to CONFLICTS OF INTEREST because your partners(?) / firms(?) work for the developer(??!!), you might look for advice from members of other boards who have had experience filling out these forms — oh no, wait a minute, did you forget to fill out the forms??)

Mr. Keyes also points out that they are “not interested in this at all” and that “the property is not for sale.” (and PS – the road would be going through a POND!! Does it get any more moronic than this? Oops, forgot to check that one out before running around.)

Mark Purple states that he is “not aware that the conversation has been going on for long. . . not at his level. . .” (Now, get ready, hold your nose. . . )

Contrast that statement with his rather lengthy description earlier in the meeting about the idea, and the possibility of a MASS WORKS GRANT (??!! TAXPAYER MONEY ??!!) to possibly fund the roadway. Really? Who, what, when, where, why? Where and when did those discussions get started – and by whom, including whom? Check out the 2016 BOS tape below!!)

Contrast that with his disavowal of any knowledge later in the same meeting this past week and that this is merely an update from Planning Board at the 2.17.00 minute mark.

NOW, unbelievably, . . .compare all of this with the tape of the June 28, 2016 BOS meeting at the 23.06 minute mark:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmIpKcSHzzg&t=3003s

This is a conversation between Carolyn Dykema, BOS, Mr. Kolenda, and Mr. Cimino laying out in detail “creative ideas” including a proposed north south road(??!!) cutting through L’Abri land (that Mr. Kolenda suggests “would require some easements”).
Interestingly, Mr. Kolenda shrugs his shoulders at the latest February 8th BOS meeting giving the appearance of not knowing what Mr. Keyes is talking about, yet back in 2016 he is regurgitating access possibilities and how to pay for it (i.e. “expensive”) using taxpayer dollars(??!!)

NOW, contrast that with Ms. Dykema’s earlier comment warning the Board that it would be “virtually impossible” to find a technically feasible option based on discussions with MA-DOT at a 2016 meeting she attended with the developer and Mr. Cimino due to the “proximity” to the I-495 ramp. (BTW, that was supposed to be a meeting to include the public, but Mr. Cimino did not allow the public to attend the meeting. How about that Mr. Keyes!)

NOW, contrast that with the site plan posted behind the BOS at the this past meeting on February 6, 2018. This plan depicts a proposed roadway from the proposed office building right ONTO the I-495 on-ramp(?). Say what??

MEMO TO MR. KOLENDA ET AL:
• Stop having these meetings and conversations behind the taxpayers’ / public’s back. It skirts the whole purpose and spirit of Open Meeting Law.
• You have lost major voter support (and your mind) if you think the taxpayers (through a grant or otherwise) is paying for a private developer’s roadway.
• Butt out: stop using taxpayer’s money, BOS’s valuable time, the public’s valuable time, and town hall resources, before any developer has figured out their own access and infrastructure issues. NOT OUR PROBLEM!

TO THE VOTING PUBLIC:
• Stay alert, stay aware, and hold these characters accountable in adhering to TRANSPARENCY in government and accountability. This mostly happens at the voting booth.
• PS — Some winter reading folks: have you ever heard of the book by Al Franken: “LIES AND THE LYING LIERS WHO TELL THEM. . .” I am not a fan, but I think the title is hilarious.

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4 Todd February 14, 2018 at 8:44 PM

BOS, EDC, ZBA, Planning Board, Mr. Depietri, and Mr. Purple– the town does not want this. We have covered these same traffic and safety issues with the initial Park Central development proposal which is hopefully being stopped. Please listen to the town which has already been very vocal on this topic.

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5 Marnie Hoolahan February 15, 2018 at 9:57 AM

BOS, ZBA, EDC, Planning and Mr. Purple. Enough is enough. Let the courts decide the action let’s not try to move mountains for a developer who made a bad investment on a land purchase with no secondary egress. The land has accessibility issues and it is not our job to try and make a developer whole. Think about why you are in appointed or elected positions- your town trusted you to do what was best for the town not the developers in town

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6 D. McGee February 15, 2018 at 1:09 PM

E X A C T L Y!!!!!

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7 concerned neighbor February 15, 2018 at 3:16 PM

I agree with all the comments above.
For Mark Purple to say that he was unaware that the conversation about a northern access road through L’Abri land had been ‘going on for long,’ is hard to believe given the meeting in June of 2016 (23:06):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmIpKcSHzzg&t=3003s

Mark Purple is clearly in attendance at this meeting 2 years ago, in which the very same idea was raised by selectmen Cimino and discussed at some length. It feels like the intelligence of Southborough residents is being insulted here.

Regarding the developers suggested access onto the north bound 495 ramp…
It would be an extremely dangerous to pull onto the exit ramp given the fact that it is already a fairly steep incline. Does he really expect to be granted this access, given the state has denied park central access to Rt. 9?
Could this be a ruse to make the northern access to Rt. 30 sound more reasonable?

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8 Louise Barron February 19, 2018 at 5:45 PM

Exactly. One would expect the town to be neutral in its position — not this town. Town counsel is actually sitting next to the developer’s attorney in court (?!! — this virtually never happens) and being paid taxpayer dollars. What’s wrong with this picture??

Starting back in 2016, Messr.s Purple, Kolenda, and Cimino are actually helping the developer (actions speak louder than words!) by ENDORSING the concept of a north – south road in favor of a private developer without ever contacting the actual private owner of the property — not necessary, I guess??!! Just so outrageous.

Again, regarding Mr. Purple, contrast his so-called Planning Board update at the recent BOS meeting with his disavowal of any knowledge later in the same meeting. He then thanks the public for keeping him “honest” in his response in the next My Southborough article. But in the same meeting is reporting that the town will need to “carry the water . . .” Can you believe this?? That doesn’t sound neutral to me.

Picture this: Here is the Town Administrator (??!!) commenting / reporting that the Town Residents “carry the water. . .” And Mr. Kolenda is suggesting in the same meeting that Mr. Purple be elevated to Town Manager (??!!)

Town Residents wake up! Do you think this is to keep town business in the public eye, in public meeting?? Or behind closed doors. Reader: you be the judge.

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9 Resident X February 21, 2018 at 10:03 PM

$200k in taxes. That’s hardly a compelling motivation for doing the developers work and selling your integrity as described in these various posts.
Who else is getting what else?

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