Selectmen to meet with Garfield/Burnett House owners about preservation as owners still pursue possible tear down

by Beth Melo on July 25, 2014

Post image for Selectmen to meet with Garfield/Burnett House owners about preservation as owners still pursue possible tear down

Above: While selectmen issue plans to meet with the homeowners to preserve the estate, the owners continue to push for approval of plans to develop the lot. (Photo contributed by Kate Matison)

Last week, developer Bob Moss presented an ANR application to tear down the house and replace it with four new homes. When the sale to the developer fell through, demonstrators were relieved. But this morning, they learned that the application is still active.

Demolition of the historic home drew public criticism and a protest led by teens Bridget Brady, Jennifer Fox and friends. The girls protested outside the home for about 12 hours per day. They coordinated an online campaign and petition. Their efforts attracted attention from local media and are considered partially responsible for stopping the sale of the home to Moss.

This morning, the Planning Board recognized her for their efforts to applause from the audience. Planning Board member Kathy Bartolini was enthusiastic about the “all woman picket team”. She encouraged the girls to consider a career in government or at least volunteer positions as they “mature”.

Following up on the ANR, Town Planner Jennifer Burney read a letter from the homeowners. Jon Delli Priscoli and his wife Jennifer wished to proceed with the ANR, to “protect their own interests”.

Chair Don Morris explained what the ANR means to those in attendance. He likened it to a teacher telling a student they can bypass the final exam if they do all their homework. But first, they have to show that they completed the homework.

Based on the application date of July 9th, the board had until this coming Tuesday to deny or approve the application. After that, it would be considered “constructively approved.”

Their attorney claimed that they would hold off on use of the approved plans until after a discussion with the town. He stated that they are interested in working to preserve the home. However, saving the estate would require “cooperation and participation by the community and its elected officials”.

An effort by the town is in process. Last night, the Board of Selectmen held a closed session to discuss the Garfield (a.k.a. Burnett) House. Today, Town Administrator Mark Purple released a statement on the issue:

On July 24, 2014, the Board of Selectmen voted to meet with Jon Delli Priscoli to discuss the status of 84 Main Street, more commonly known as the Burnett House.  Mr. Delli Priscoli has expressed an interest to meet with Town Officials to discuss the preservation of the property.  The Board appointed Vice-Chairman John Rooney and Paul Cimino to represent them in these discussions.  The Board of Selectmen will have no further comment on this matter until the discussions have concluded.

In discussing the ANR, the board decided that they need more answers from town counsel.

The original application by Moss but included the landowner name and signature. Board members believed the owners need to refile an application under their name. If correct, that could restart the clock. But they aren’t sure that the issue, or the incorrect line on which the homeowner signed her name “is enough to hang our hat on.”

There were also questions about driveway access through the property’s wetlands. The wetlands may be considered internal to the property and outside the board’s purview.

Town counsel was away on vacation. They hope to catch up with him on Monday when he returns.

The board will reconvene next week to continue the discussion. They opted to post two public meetings as they don’t know the schedule for Town Counsel yet. Times posted are Monday at 3:00 pm and on Tuesday at 8:30 am. It is likely that only one of those meetings will take place.

1 Donna McDaniel July 25, 2014 at 7:31 PM

Why just two of our five selectmen to meet to discuss the house with the owner? I’d like to think that one of the reasons people chose to have five selectmen is to create a better and broader spectrum of opinions and ideas… maybe the other three are legitimately busy but then there is this trend of appointing a few to do what should be the work of many (or several..)

2 Ann July 25, 2014 at 10:02 PM

The Board appointed Vice-Chairman John Rooney and Paul Cimino to represent them in these discussions. The Board of Selectmen will have no further comment on this matter until the discussions have concluded.

This “matter” has been in crisis mode, so I for one,( of thousands who signed the petition) would like to hear comments from the BOS. No need to make us wait until the discussions have concluded. Why exclude us from details? It has been proven that we did all the work, thanks to Bridget et al, so please comment, keep us informed.

3 Al Hamilton July 26, 2014 at 8:28 AM

One of the few exceptions to the Open Meeting Law is when a negotiation is going on. A board or a special committee (which this appears to be) can meet behind closed doors either separately or with those of their choosing for the purpose of negotiating or developing negotiation strategy.

I think we should give Mr. Cimino and Mr. Rooney the benefit of the doubt and let them explore possibilities with the owner in private. I cant imagine doing this in a public meeting. If you have specific thoughts I am sure they would be happy to hear from you.

4 Donna McDaniel July 26, 2014 at 12:26 PM

Please note: I didn’t refer to any concern about it being an executive session. My comment was on why not all five selectmen gathered for such a important and complicated matter. Otherwise whatever happens we will be hearing the view of two people… they will, of course, report to the other three but not the same. It’s a missed opportunity for having all five involved from the start.
I am writing the Selectmen next.

5 jim foley July 26, 2014 at 2:32 PM

sometimes to many cooks spoil the broth.

6 Paul Cimino July 26, 2014 at 1:00 PM

Mr. Hamilton is correct, especially his last sentence.

7 concerned_resident July 26, 2014 at 10:43 PM

Al suggests that “If you have specific thoughts I am sure they would be happy to hear from you.”.
Yes, here is one. My specific thought is to have one or more of our elected officials with purview over such issues and matters (BOS, Planning Board, Town Counsel, etc) provide us, now or at least very soon, with a brief summary of the options that could be considered. Publish here or in Southborough Villager. (NO NEE TO IDENTIFY ANY SPECIFIC DETAILS THAT ARE DIRECTLY BEING CONSIDERED WITH THE PRIVATE NEGOTIATIONS. Just the range of options).

Lets circumscribe the issues, identify options and let SB concerned residents (and voters generally) better understand what tools we have – on either side of the issue. We need to know what the options are. If you ran for public office and promised to serve the community, its time to ‘suit up’ and get off the bench and into the game. Most elected officials ran on a campaign of leadership. That means you know what to do when crisis occur. This is one, I believe. I would interpret silence (no response) or the lame excuse “lets be prudent and reserve comment until all the facts/negotiations are completed” to mean either “I don’t know how to approach the problem” or “I don’t care to serve the community”. I mean, its a big deal, right? (trick question) Yes, of course it is. Attorneys and real estate planners in a public role, its time to chime in. what say you?

8 Frank Crowell July 28, 2014 at 8:59 AM

If “crises” means there is the potential for the town to be spending a lot of money on yet another building, then yes this is a crises.

If the plan is spending big money on this without shedding other assets, then I most certainly will be voting no.

9 concerned_resident July 28, 2014 at 10:10 AM

Hi Frank,

Though I find myself on the other side of the issues than you, you do raise valid points. Should the good people of SB invest $$ to prevent the razing of a SB architectural treasure? I say yes. Should the amount be “a lot” as you warn?

No, but therein lies the rub. How much is too much? I am not smart enough to provide an absolute number which defines “a lot” but if the amount requires SB to cut back on “essential services” (here again, this requires thoughtful debate by SB folks…. what do we need and what do we want? (that which defines our town as SB but does not impact health, education or safety).

Sell other assets if we do approach the “a lot” level of spending? By all means yes (I say). But what assets to sell? Again good points raised.

thanks for moving the ball on these issues.

p.s. We need a thoughtful comprehensive policy (with criteria or algorithm) that we can use for the next few years to guide us in what we do and spend $$ on. With binary or tertiary algorithm (decision flowchart) every issue like this one is decided in an ad hoc manner. Who is smart enough to draft such a road map for change?

10 Rob July 28, 2014 at 7:18 AM

our officials are too “busy”… what a joke!! Im too busy watching TV today to go to work.. Then I get fired. What a concept.

11 RB July 28, 2014 at 8:33 AM

Rob, I assume that in your comment you are referring to Donna McDaniel’s original post. You have to remember that the Board of Selectmen are elected PART-TIME positions. Most of the members hold full-time professional careers, many of whom work well in excess of 40 hours per week at their full-time job, then they find the time to dedicate hours to serve Southborough for practically zero dollars. Perhaps a little research on your part is in order before making a statement where the joke may be on you.

Donna. If I remember correctly three is a quorum for the Board and thus requires posting pf a public meeting. Is this not the reason given to increase the Board from three to five members (so that such discussions can take place with two members present without violating the Open Meeting Laws?)

12 Al Hamilton July 28, 2014 at 9:00 AM


My understanding of the Open Meeting Laws is somewhat different. If 2 selectmen are tasked with policy in a specific area then regardless of whether they are called a sub committee, working group, or drum circle they are subject to the open meeting law.

In this case if they are meeting to plan negotiations or to negotiate they may meet in executive session.

By the way, executive sessions are not secret. Minutes must be taken and when the subject at hand is resolved those minutes must be made public.

13 RB July 28, 2014 at 9:35 AM

Thanks for clarifying that Al. I stand corrected.

14 Rob July 28, 2014 at 2:00 PM

Any other job they might have is not relevant to me, or the town…. if they cant handle the duty of Selectman.. move aside, and let someone else do it.

15 Al Hamilton July 28, 2014 at 8:56 AM

The last time I checked at least 4 out of the 5 (I am uncertain about the status of 1) had full time jobs. Yes, they volunteered to run for the job of selectman but I think we sometimes abuse them with our expectations that they will be on the job 24/7.

There are plenty of other things we can abuse them of but I think we should cut them a break on this topic.

16 concerned_resident July 28, 2014 at 10:19 AM

Hi folks,

You all raise meaningful questions about the mechanics of SB governance …. truly details that are important. But I wouldn’t want this thread to be diluted with subissues that muddy the primary question: Should we save the Garfield House or not? At what cost should we do so? What value is the house to the community? What purposes can the next owner or the town itself use the property for? Lease and use for special events? Rezone as commercial and use as a Bed and Breakfast for Fay School / St Mark’s School / local businesses to house guests? lots of possibilities.

17 Anna July 28, 2014 at 8:51 AM

I’m sure there are other reasons to not have a quorum of Selectmen due to open meeting law, etc.

18 Donna McDaniel July 28, 2014 at 12:35 PM

Many interesting comments. I just want to write about the question of Selectmen’s workload. I know people don’t like to hear about “the way things used to be” but there’s also the saying about learning from experience.
As someone who covered essentially every Selectmen’s meeting from March 1972 to January 1978 (reporter for Metrowest News) and was elected to the board in May 1978, I do have a lot of experience in this matter.
1) about the current schedule. The board has one meeting scheduled in August. Also had just one for July but may have had a special meeting. Hopefully anyone running for the position would understand there were many demands on his/her time. But then seems like some candidates never attended a selectmen’s meeting before deciding to run.
2) in my days as Selectman–and issues were lo less complicated in those years, the board met every week except summer, every other. Meetings often went on till close to midnight. In the meantime, there were special meetings to do things like interview candidates for positions like police chief, to negotiate with police, fire, and town employees union (didn’t use lawyers for that), and several extra meetings on plans to build the new fire station and whether the old station should be preserved (those opposed pictured customers drunk on beer wandering the streets outside the House of Pizza).
I could name many other occasions for extra meetings, including discussion of an official announcement that our landfill on Parkerville Road was too full and must be closed immediately and then Data General sueing us for not providing trash removal. What to do?
We did have an “administrative assistant” who relieved us of lots of work…such as preparing possible answers to the above or contacting people involved, etc. But no authority to decide anything. Then there were the ceremonial/community service events to attend.
I could go on and on… I’m sorry to say if someone ran thinking there’d be just one meeting a month in the summer and every other week otherwise, he/she wasn’t very welll-informed about the position they were seeking.

19 concerned_resident July 30, 2014 at 9:29 AM


in a previous post I wrote:

“,,,, Most elected officials ran on a campaign of leadership. That means you know what to do when crisis occur. This is one, I believe. I would interpret silence (no response) or the lame excuse “lets be prudent and reserve comment until all the facts/negotiations are completed” to mean either “I don’t know how to approach the problem” or “I don’t care to serve the community”. I mean, its a big deal, right? (trick question) Yes, of course it is. Attorneys and real estate planners in a public role, its time to chime in. what say you?,,, ”

Still waiting for even one response by an elected official to enlighten us. (crickets chirping). Something, anything?

Perhaps the more important issue relates to unresponsive town government and lack of creative solutions, not the preservation of historic town sites.

20 Al Hamilton July 30, 2014 at 4:02 PM

If the BOS or their sub committee/drum circle is in fact having substantive discussions the the sounds of crickets chirping is exactly what you should hear.

I am as big an advocate of transparency in govt as anyone but this is something that should be done in private and this is one.

On the other hand, I think we would benefit from a breath of fresh air if Union negotiations were held in public.

21 Frank Crowell July 30, 2014 at 12:02 PM

As far as I am concerned no news is good news. This is not a “crises” that demands a quick reply. I trust that our elected officials will come to a solid consensus and I hope this raises the attention on the need for a complete capital plan that includes reducing the number of buildings owned and the right improvements to the ones we keep.

The young protesters might start picketing two private schools in town for the dollars needed to save a historic building(s). It is after all their history as well.

22 Art Fay July 31, 2014 at 7:07 AM

Spot on. This is exactly a situation where one of the extremely wealthy non-profits could step up to the plate for once.

23 concerned_resident July 31, 2014 at 10:39 AM

Hello Al, Frank and Art,

I completely agree with you regarding the details of “active negotiations”. Too much scrutiny by meddling ‘do gooders’ like me can hinder progress and jeopardize a mutually acceptable resolution.
My request was NOT about details of the ‘active negotiation’ but specifically about providing a broad strategy that generally outlines the full range of options in front of us. This info (the broad strategy) is not the same as what you mentioned (specific options in discussion). The former is leadership; the latter is the mechanics of governance.

I am just looking for leadership and communication on the part of members of the BOS and/or Planning Board to publish a broad plan that encompasses the options…. not too much to ask for.

Finally regarding my inarticulate use of the term “crisis” it is true that this Garfield House matter does not rise to this level of concern. I used to the term in a more generalized manner (i.e., when a ‘crisis’ by SB standards does arise, will we see leadership as promised in campaign slogans and literature.). I never hear of comprehensive strategies from our elected leaders… just ad hoc options that might plug a hole in our SB dike…. not acceptable.

24 Donna McDaniel July 31, 2014 at 3:23 PM

Re: $$$$$ from non-profits
To those who would seek money from our non-profits for the Garfield House. you need to know about the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) made by the schools and other non-profits in town. For decades we have asked them and often meet to suggest they increase the amounts. For one thing, we likely wouldn’t have a new ladder truck had St. Mark’s not given us separate contributions for it.
If you do attend Town Meeting or read the warrant, the annual article asking the town to accept their payments is early on.
In FY10, both Fay and St. Mark’s committed annual payments of $10,000 for 10 years toward the purchase of a new fire truck;
Harvard University (for their research facility) and New England Center for Children also contributed) to the fire truck..
For FY14 St. Mark’s paid us an additional $30,000 in PILOT .
St. Mark’s pays property taxes on the golf course–approximately $31,000 in FY14.
New England Center for Children (NECC) paid the Town $80,668 in PILOT payments for FY14, and has historically increased that amount by the value of the property taxes for any residential property they acquire.
How important it is to do some homework and ask questions before sharing false assumptions with others!

25 Just Curious August 1, 2014 at 12:51 AM

Ms. McDaniel,

While I believe St. MArk’s is a good neighbor to the town, I believe the reason St. Mark’s pays property taxes on the golf course is that it is a commercial venture, not something required for education. Your posting did not include that information and I believe it is relevant.

I respect NECC as a good neighbor who continues to pay the property taxes on land and buildings it has purchased in its expansion. I do not know if that is strictly a voluntary measure or whether it is required by the terms of their purchase of the property.

The Fay School is at the other end of the spectrum, in my opinion. Fay has purchased a number of homes in the past 10+ years and uses them as residences for their faculty. Fay does not pay property taxes on these homes and I would LOVE to know how much lost taxes this represents to the town..

Finally, I know that Southborough does not make the tax laws for the state, but it just strikes me as wrong that no property taxes are paid for a building used as a residence, whether for a teacher, clergy, whatever.

Just my 2 cents.

26 Al Hamilton August 1, 2014 at 7:59 AM


Yes, they make pilot payments and an occasional contribution. But let’s not sugar coat it. The 2 schools are receiving a massive subsidy from the tax payers of our community. The services they and the residents of their campuses receive (police, fire, and schools) cost far far more than they pay for in their Pilot payments.

It is what it is, but we should be clear about the massive subsidy, and we should call it what it is.

I of the opinion that you cannot call yourself part of a community unless you are willing to bear your fair share of the responsibilities of that community.

27 beth August 1, 2014 at 5:57 PM

Selectman John Rooney apparently tuned into these comments on the PILOT payments. He asked me to share his analysis on PILOT payments from 2011. (He acknowledged the dollars were outdated, but believes the ratios “remain constant”.)

I plan to post a pdf of the ppt on Monday. So stay tuned.

28 Frank Crowell August 1, 2014 at 9:31 AM

Well, Ms McDaniel, the taxpayer would not need to do much homework if the very article in the TM warrant had two or three years of PILOT data for all to ponder. I am certain that data has been presented by Mr. Hamilton on this blog a few years ago is homework enough for most. It clearly showed that two of Southborough’s finest were living off our subsidies.

Maybe you could help by lobbying our state reps on changing some tax laws. They seem to be focused on preserving open space. I think it is time for some taxpayer preservation legislation.

As for the Burnett House, it is their history as well. They should be in the mix on funding.

29 Publius August 1, 2014 at 4:50 PM

Nonprofits provide a public good, it is well established that the public good these organizations provide is worthy of tax exempt status both federal, state and local. Sure we could tax private schools, places of worship, homeless and woman’s shelters, museums, etc. by drastically changing the laws. Of course many would fail. Then what ? I am sure many would like to see taxpaying condominiums at Fay. Many more are quite happy to have a prestigious school in town.

30 Al Hamilton August 1, 2014 at 6:09 PM

I have no problem with exemption from property tax for a museum, church, temple, school building or other buildings that are directly associated with the mission of a tax exempt organization.

I do think that parsonages, rectories, and staff housing should be taxed just as my house is taxed. If you live in a place you need to carry your fair share.

This discussion, of course, is purely academic (and possibly tax exempt) because nothing is going to change.

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