At last night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, the item that received the most comments wasn’t on the agenda. It was a recent town communication questioned by residents during the public comment period.
Four residents addressed the board about a purported plan to grant “non-revokable licenses” allowing Barn Hollow residents to utilize their Open Space encroachments.
Advisory Board member Sam Stivers, acting “as an individual citizen”, raised the issue. He saw a letter from the Town Building Inspector sent to Barn Lane residents.
Nipmuc Lane resident Momen El Nesr, MD also reported that he received that letter, dated August 21. The copy he submitted to the Advisory Board states:
It has been determined that there is an encroachment upon a portion of the parcel of land. . .
Please be advised that this encroachment will be allowed to remain as it exists as it does not impair the public purpose of the land. However, any increase or expansion of any type, or future event or use of this public land will not be allowed and enforcement action will be taken.
It is expected that a Non-Revocable License to utilize this portion of land may be granted by the Town of Southborough’s Board of Selectmen.
(Click here to view the full letter.)
Stivers stated that Town Administrator, Mark Purple, informed him the letter was sent in consultation with town counsel at the direction of the selectmen.
The residents were concerned that the decision seemed contrary to the will of Town Meeting. This April, voters passed a 2/3 vote to accept the parcel as Open Space.
The commenters also complained about the apparent lack of open process.
Stivers noted that he hadn’t seen that on any BOS agenda, discussed at the Planning Board or Open Space Preservation Commission meetings. He wondered “where this was coming from, what’s happening and why it seems to be happening outside of the public view.”
Whitney Beals commented, “I didn’t vote in favor of that article to accept that land thinking that selectmen were then going to go behind town/closed doors and work out some deal with the offending land owners.”
Beals reiterated that he believed allowing encroachments on Open Space would set a bad precedent. And Elnesr was concerned that the license would be in violation of the Open Space restrictive covenants.
Chair Bill Boland didn’t directly answer any questions last night, explaining that it wasn’t on the agenda:
So, we’re really not prepared to do anything other than, a license is something that Town Counsel could explain. . .
A license is something very specific in municipal use, not an easement.
Boland scheduled the item for discussion at their September 23rd meeting.
Selectman Bonnie Phaneuf responded to Stivers, “I share some of your same concerns.” Phaneuf stated that she only found out about the letter on August 25th. But she supported Boland’s decision to hold off on further comments for a publicly scheduled discussion.
Selectman Dan Kolenda recalled voters had accepted the Open Space parcel “as is” and commented that it would be interesting to hear what Town Counsel had to say about the license. Selectmen John Rooney and Paul Cimino made no comments.
Updated (9/3/14 1:00 pm): I just saw that yesterday morning, the town posted Open Space Preservation Commission posted a meeting to discuss Barn Hollow for this Thursday, September 4, at 7:00 pm. It will take place at the South Union Building, 21 Highland Street.
Updated (9/3/14 2:35 pm): I inserted excerpt from and link to the copy of the letter to Dr. El Nesr.