Golf Course deal: Land deal values, official agreement, and proposed Conservation Restriction

Above: An update and summary on the Articles to buy St. Mark’s Golf Course and build a combined public safety complex on the site. (photo left by Susan Fitzgerald, right posted to Facebook by Charles Kerbel Sr.)

A high turnout of voters is expected at Wednesday night’s Special Town Meeting. And most of them will be there to weigh in on the Town’s big ask – approving the purchase of St. Mark’s Golf Course and funding of a Public Safety Facility on the site.

There have been a whole lot of meetings and forums leading up to the meeting. Frankly, there have been so many that I couldn’t keep on top of them all. And I consider that part of my job. So, how is the average voter supposed to know what’s up?

I’m going to try to help here by giving some updates, summing up some general facts, and providing links below. (Spoiler, there is “new” information on raising questions about the value of the land deal that has commenters concerned.)

That said – my advice is that you don’t need to be fully informed and have your mind made up before you go on Wednesday.

In fact, you should have an open mind. There will be officials making presentations and you can expect plenty of residents to comment and ask questions.

But the more people know before they go, the more informed they are to ask questions (or not need to). So, here we go.

The amended Article:

  • Article 1 will be amended at Town Meeting to include a Conservation Restriction on the golf course and the sum required for the land and constructing a public safety building. The redlined updated draft is:

To see if the Town will vote to authorize the Board of Selectmen to acquire and obtain by purchase a certain parcel of land with structures thereon from St. Mark’s School of Southborough Inc. located at 36 Cordaville Road Southborough, Massachusetts, Assessor’s Map 45, Parcel 2, consisting of 60 acres more or less and being the same parcel conveyed to the Trustees of St. Mark’s School by Deed dated November 12, 1923 and recorded in the Worcester Registry of Deeds at Book 2318 Page 258, a portion of said parcel, consisting of 5 acres more or less to be acquired for a public safety complex with the remaining land to be preserved in its natural, scenic and open condition and to permit passive public recreational use, including golf course use and for general conservation purposes, authorizing the Board of Selectmen, in furtherance hereof, to negotiate, execute and place a Conservation Restriction upon the remaining portion of land above-referenced and pursuant to the provisions of M.G.L. c.184 Section 31 as amended, and further to authorize the Board of Selectmen to convey, transfer and sell the Town’s real properties located at 0 School Street consisting of 1.63 acres more or less and the parcel located at 19 Main Street consisting of 2.34 acres of land more or less to St. Mark’s School of Southborough, Inc. and to authorize the Board of Selectmen to execute a land exchange agreement to effect these transactions and further to vote to raise by borrowing, transfer from available funds, or otherwise the sum of $27,129,500 to pay for the acquisition and construction costs incidental or related thereto for the public safety complex.

The Town Clerk shall cause the following question to be placed on the ballot at the next annual election following the adoption of this article by the Town Meeting:

Shall the Town of Southborough be allowed to exempt from the provisions of proposition two and one half, so called, the amounts required to pay for the bonds to be issued in order to acquire land and construct a new public safety complex, and for the payment of costs incidental or related thereto?

  • Prior to STM, selectmen could update that draft. They are waiting to hear from Town Counsel.*

The Land Deal:

  • The Land Exchange Deal signed between the Town and St. Mark’s School means that (if ratified by voters), we will pay St. Mark’s School $4.5 Million and give them 4 acres of land. In exchange, we receive the 60 acres golf course at 36 Cordaville Road. Details include:
    • The Town must preserve at least 50% of the land as open space (voters will now be asked to conserve about 93% as part of amended Article 1)
    • The Town will be allowed to retain use of the current Police Station and Fire Station for up to 36 months without rent. If an extension is required, another 36 months is allowed, but at a rental rate of $10,000 per month.
    • St. Mark’s School has given notice that it will demolish structures on the properties. If the Demolion Delay Bylaw is enacted, the Town will pay a $15,000 a month penalty for the delays.
  • The St. Mark’s Golf Course Master Plan Committee posted a slew documents on the Town website. Among them are property appraisals from January and February of last year. Commenters have pointed out discrepancies between what selectmen have referred to as a discounted price and the appraised values posted on the Town website. If this isn’t explained in the presentation on Wednesday night, you can expect to hear questions on the floor:
    • The Town’s appraisal valued the Town’s parcels at $1,930,000, while St. Mark’s School’s report valued them at $1,110,000
    • The Town’s appraisal valued the golf course at $3,165,000. (There is no posted appraisal from St. Mark’s. But the Assessors’ office had a higher market valuation assessment on file of $5,223,000.)
    • If the Town believes its own consultant’s report, they are asking voters to pay (between cash and property) $3,265,000 more than the parcel is worth.
    • Even if they believed St. Mark’s lower assessment of Town property is accurate and that the higher value of the land in Assessor’s records is correct, they would still be asking voters to essentially pay an extra $387,000.

The Public Safety Building:

  • Police and Fire stations are in terrible conditions. The Public Safety Committee determined that the Police Station can’t be renovated to meet needs and renovating the Fire Station would cost almost as much as building a new one.
  • A combined facility would be less expensive to build than two separate stations. After researching possible sites, the only available spots the committee supported as viable were the current site (but with additional abutting land from St. Mark’s School that they have told the town they are unwilling to buy) or the location at the St. Mark’s Golf Course.
  • The new facility was once estimated at $20.85M but grew to $22,629,500. The former chair of the Public Safety Committee (Al Hamilton) moved down to a spot as a member in order to voice his disagreement with the plans and budget. But the remaining members support the plan and budget as necessary.
    • You can read a letter from Hamilton in disagreement here.
    • You can read the committee’s Frequently Asked Questions supporting the deal here.

*Based on questions from the Open Space Preservation Commission Chair at last Thursday night’s meeting, the Board submitted two questions to Town Counsel on amended Article 1:

  • The current language referenced MGL c.184, s.31. The OSPC language references the same chapter, but s.31-33. What are the impacts of including these additional sections?
  • The Board members are unanimous that the CR is to be in perpetuity, but the current language does not specify it. Can you amend the motion to include “in perpetuity” in the appropriate place?

Selectmen have their usual preparatory meeting scheduled for the hour prior to STM. At that meeting they could decide to make changes based on counsel’s answers.

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7 years ago

Thank you very much for summarizing all of this important information in one post, Beth!

As I’ve said elsewhere, I am shocked that we are paying way above what the appraiser that the Town hired said the golf course is worth. Why bother hiring an appraiser if his professional valuation is just thrown out the window to “make the deal”?

Mr. D
7 years ago

I remember hearing that the town didn’t ask the appraiser to provide highest and best use valuation. I think that was done in an attempt to lower the value of the deal.

7 years ago
Reply to  Mr. D

Thanks, Mr. D.

While I understand the negotiating purpose of asking an appraiser to low-ball the “highest and best value,” I question the ethics of such a move–especially coming from our public representatives.

This also raises the question, is there a “real” appraisal available now that the negotiations are over? How is the Town supposed to make an informed decision on value if the only appraisal the BoS got is a wishy-washy one?

D. McGee
7 years ago
Reply to  Mr. D

The appraisal specifically states highest and best use. To do anything other than that would not be fair market value, and an appraiser would have to issue a restricted report for that stating as much (which he did not).

7 years ago

1.Does the new amended wording “require” that the BOS negotiate, execute and place the Conservation Restriction or does “authorize” mean they may select to do it or not do it?
2.And is there no time allotment for said process?
3.As this is written, could this be upended at an upcoming Town Meeting by citizen petition or Article if TM voted to use the remaining land if the BOS has not finished its work placing the restriction.

( I am attempting to close any loopholes here. )

Souse Bro
7 years ago

Two quick questions: Why was an earlier proposal to tear down the Police station to rebuild a new one, an uproar could be heard town wide because of the historical nature of the building, but St. Mark’s is going to demolish both bldg’s. and not a peep is heard? Secondly, if we buy the golf course property and it’s a beautiful June Saturday afternoon, can my family, dog and I go out to the middle of the 7th fairway and lay down a blanket for a peaceful picnic lunch? Possible picnics for thousands of families sounds much more useful than a dedicated golf course for two handful’s of affluent players and their clients…

7 years ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

I believe that both St.Mark’s School and Fay School have golf teams or sports programs that include golf. We maybe can assume that they would pay for the continued use of the course. It is not just a handful of local residents. We may also consider adding it to our own public school offerings for sports if we own the facility.

Frank Crowell
7 years ago
Reply to  M

This would be a first. Fay and St Mark’s paying for a service provided by the town. If that were to happen, the first checks should be framed.

Mike Fuce
7 years ago

One last add, the golf course rn by both St. Mark’s and the Hopkinton or is it Holliston Golf Course management company has not been profitable or even break even. So don’t be fooled, it will cost money (extra not mentioned) to manager the open space, golf course, whatever you want to call it. I agree, the police station should be demolished, a new one built and the existing fire station revitalized. We can put restrictions on the golf course if a builder buys it with all the wetlands etc and they would be happy to put a walking trail around it I am sure. What we have now for public use is rarely used except for the soccer fields and that whole league along with other sports in town is slowing in use.

7 years ago

Beth, this article was posted yesterday and yet is already lost due to all the new postings and letters. Wow! I don’t know how you are keeping up. We are all grateful.

Hope you can take a vacation after this STM.

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