Burnett House owners: Time for Town to act; proposal for use of Community Preservation funds to purchase development rights (Updated)

Above: Owners of the Burnett House say they want to save the historic home. But the Town will have to come to a consensus on putting up over a million in CPA funds as part of the proposed deal. (Photo by Kate Matison)

The owner of the historic Garfield/Burnett Estate at 84 Main Street is seeking to clear up confusion about the status of his talks with the Town. Jon Delli Priscoli states he is still seeking to preserve and restore the home.

Now, he is pressuring the Town to come to consensus on a deal.

Specifically, he is looking for the town to use $1.3 million in Community Preservation Act funds to purchase development right, impose demolition restrictions, and gain specified access.

The proposal would have the owners keep the property and use all funds to help “restore the house and grounds to its 19th Century splendor”.

Alternatively, the estate was purportedly assessed at $2.1 million as a four-property subdivision with all buildings razed.

The release is in response to a story I ran on Monday about the application for a demolition permit filed by Delli Priscoli.

Some residents were frightened about that status and asked me to share the news. One concerning story pointed to was an article that listed 84 Main Street as having an overdue tax bill and being in danger of having the Town take the tax title on November 13th.

According to a new statement, the bill was sent to an address without a mailbox and returned as undeliverable. According to Delli Priscoli, Monday afternoon was the first time he learned about the overdue bill. He asserted that the Town will be issued payment first thing Wednesday morning.

As for the demolition permit, he says it was done under advice of counsel to protect his rights. In other words, it is part of his efforts to push the town to act quicker. The press release states:

“It has been nearly four months since I saved this home from the wrecking ball, and we still don’t have broad consensus on moving forward to preserve the house,” said Delli Priscoli. “If town officials and residents want to save the house, they need to act soon.”. . . 

“I’ve been exercising good faith and patience throughout this process, but I need to know one way or the other if this is going to happen,” Delli Priscoli said. “The time has come for the town to act.”

The plan he is asking for the town to make a decision on:

With the property appraised at $2.1 million as a four-lot subdivision with all buildings demolished, and following discussions with town officials, Delli Priscoli has agreed to sign a contract with the town in return for a $1.3 million payment from Community Preservation Act funds. The contract would:
1. Prohibit the demolition of the main House and all other structures on the property in perpetuity;
2. Waive all future development rights of the land (prohibition of subdivision) in perpetuity;
3. Provide the town with the right of first refusal if the property was ever to be offered for sale outside of the owner’s family;
4. Provide access to the town for annual educational purposes and specific events;
5. Use 100 percent of the Town’s proceeds toward the renovation of the property to period appearance, including the grounds as designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.

The estate was originally purchased by Delli Priscoli in 2010 for $850,000.

This summer, Robert Moss (who planned to purchase the estate for development) called the house “a white elephant”. He claimed that Delli Priscoli had discovered that fixing the house would cost much more than he expected. The estimate he quoted was $1.2-$1.5 million. [Editor’s Note: A representative of the owner informs me the estimate for the house alone is closer to $2 million. Of course, the proposal calls for also renovating the other structures on the property and the landscape. Also on the property are the Carraige House, the Summer House/Bungalow, and the Stone Shop/Chapel. You can see photos of those here.]

Selectmen have scheduled an update on the Burnett House for the November 18th Board of Selectmen meeting at 7:45 pm.

Updated (11/12/14 11:15 am): I inserted the Editor’s note on renovation expenses in the second to last paragraph.

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8 years ago

Sweet deal – Pay $850,000 for a property and then ask the town to gift you 1.3 million to help you restore it. I understand the history behind the house, but enough is enough. Is this going to become a precedent? There are other historic properties in the town. If their owners’ threaten demolition, are we going to offer the same deal? And, if this was such a concern to the town, why didn’t the town buy the property outright when it was up for sale? Simple case of the rich getting richer – plain and simple.

Doreen A
8 years ago

Here we go again. Do others remember what this Town did a few years back at Town Meeting relative to the Chestnut Hill property. We voted to purchase the “air rights” to this parcel of land for a little less than $5 million. While we can walk and enjoy the property, we don’t own it. Yet, we gave up nearly $5 million. I don’t know about you, but this is simply ridiculous. Continuing to subsidize property owners with our public tax money is absurd regardless of whether you value the historical preservation/conservation or not. Before depleting our CPA funds, has the Town asked our legislators, congresswoman, or the numerous historical preservation non-profits if there are grants, funds, and/or programs to aid in the preservation of this private property? Better yet, has Mr. Delli Priscoli investigated all his options to preserve before hitting this Town up for $1.3 mil?

Donna McDaniel
8 years ago

WAIT! Before getting too excited about using CPC funds, let’s check the amount of money in the CPC budget for this specific purpose: historic preservation. The state law requires that the income from the CPC surcharge is apportioned equally among three accounts: historic preservation is one of them. The amount does not need to be spent but can be carried over. I don’t have this year’s figures but for 2013, the amount was about $33,000 for each of the three, the other two being community housing and open space. (There’s also some set aside for CPB expenses.)
We are allowed to save up in the accounts (i.e. don’t need to spend any every year (and we don’t), but as far as I know, money not spent in one account can’t be carried over to another (doubtful that there’s flexibility there but…)..

Before people get too excited about finding a milion some in CPC funds, hopefully someone from that committee and/or the finance director will clarify this and give the latest figures. Those figures should include how much we still owe for the Beals conservation easement…that deal included an installment plan.

8 years ago

Dear Town of Southborough,

Let me get this straight..I can throw a fit and threaten to demolish my house, and then you’ll fit the bill to remodel my house? Sign me up!

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