[Editor’s Note: Based on feedback that some elements of my post may be misleading, I’m adding some clarification here. There were a few points in the story that weren’t communicated clearly enough.
- While it appeared as of the May 10th meeting that selectmen were still moving as though the Article would be presented on Saturday, there is still the possibility that they might postpone to Special Town Meeting in the fall.
- Selectmen weren’t agreeing to support accepting the proposal. They were talking about bringing the option to voters to let them make the call.
- I didn’t refer to the Capital Committee’s position on the proposal, because they had yet to meet to discuss it on the 10th. (And Jason Malinowski’s advice to Selectmen that if they bring the Article forward it be with majority support didn’t mean he supported it.)**]
The Town received only one bid in response to the RFP for the historic South Union building. While selectmen noted concerns, they continued to move towards bringing the proposal to voters at this Saturday’s Annual Town Meeting on May 22nd.
The sole offer for the 3 acre property at 21 Highland Street was $700,000. The application envisions dividing the parcel into four lots to add three single family homes while preserving the façade of the historic South Union Building.
Some officials voiced concern that the proposal wouldn’t fully ensure preservation of the building. And some were disappointed in the price tag, positing that the value for the property should be higher.
All that may be moot given a concern raised about a potential conflict of interest.
Here are the highlights from the discussion and application.
The Board of Selectmen discussed the bid at their May 10th meeting with the Capital Planning Committee and Advisory Committee.
Advisory Chair Kathy Cook opined that voters shouldn’t be given the impression that the proposal commits to preservation of the building. She noted that nothing would stop the developer from reselling the property to someone who might tear it down.
Then-Selectman Brian Shea* was less concerned about that issue. He reminded that the building would still be subject to the Demolition Delay Bylaw. His concerns laid in other areas.
Shea referenced a listed “partner” that serves on the Capital Planning Committee. He said that needed to be “vetted” in terms of the timing of votes on the RFP. He urged “well placed calls” to attorneys. Others echoed the necessity of looking into that. (Scroll down for more details.)
Shea was also surprised that the bid wasn’t higher. Selectmen Lisa Braccio and Chelsea Malinowski echoed dismay at the price tag. Malinowski noted disappointed that there was only one bid. She would have preferred options for voters to choose from. They weren’t eager to bring the proposal to Town Meeting voters.
Chair Marty Healey said he was initially surprised, but thought in context of the situation it was a good offer.
Jason Malinowski, Chair of the Capital Planning Committee had recommended selectmen list the building for sale because of the costs for keeping up the building for just two departments.
On top of the annual $37K in upkeep, Facilities was projecting $500K needed for capital work on the building over the next 5 years. He said the majority of that would be sooner rather than later. The Capital Chair opined that the applicants’ expressed willingness to be flexible about the timing of when the Town would need to move staff out was a plus.
He did also remind that there would be costs associated with a sale. The Town would need to relocate the Arts Center playground located on the property. Selectmen have acknowledged the need for keeping a public playground on the south side of town. (Recreation had previously confirmed that most of the equipment should be able to be moved.)
Although selectmen weren’t in consensus in recommending the proposal, Healey read his board as agreeing to move forward in giving voters the option. Article 23 at Annual Town Meeting this Saturday will ask voters to authorize selectmen to sell the property.
Selectmen had hoped to bring a specific proposals to voters this spring. However, the Article’s vague wording would allow them to adopt a similar strategy used for Fayville Hall.
In that instance, Town Meeting authorized selectmen to make the decision. (Although, first commenters from the floor extracted a verbal pledge from the board to prioritize preservation as a criteria.)
As for the proposal on the table. . .
Proposal for Redevelopment of the Historic South Union School 1912
The application wasn’t included in the Board of Selectmen’s meeting packet for last week or this week. Nor is it posted to the website. Through a Public Records request, I received a copy. (Click here to open the full document.)
The application from StreetBlock Development pitches:
This proposal is intended to enhance the community by maintaining a village like setting by keeping the density of development consistent with the is surrounding neighborhood. While a denser build-out could potentially yield a greater financial benefit, this proposal seeks to find balance between economic gain and a sensitivity to surrounding community.
The existing building would be converted into two side by side townhouse units. The side with the elevator would be marketed as fully a fully ADA compliant accessible unit. A four car garage would also be added to the plot for that building.
Preservation of the façade is described as follows:
Existing masonry will be patched and repaired where functional signage has been mounted on the building by the Town; patch materials and mortar will be color matched. All existing window units will be replaced in its entirety utilizing a custom match strategy to maintain the existing sash and mullion patterns, profile, and proportions. It is expected that color matching and profiles will be submittal for discretionary approval to the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). The upper roof parapet (or upper frieze) will be prepared for new paint finish. Due to the repair needed at the two front entrance stairs, these stairs will be demolished and rebuilt using masonry or masonry cladding materials appropriate to the historic significance of the building façade. Profiles of the handrails will be brought back to an aesthetic of the exterior façade, without compromise to it being code compliant.
Questions about potential conflict
The “partner” referenced by Shea is Capital Planning’s Steven Hinterneder. He is listed as one of the “individuals who have or will have a direct or indirect beneficial interest in the real property”.
Capital Planning initially voted to make the recommendation to selectmen that the building be listed for sale last summer, prior to Hinterneder joining the board in January. But in February, Hinterneder seconded the motion to affirm a recommendation to list the building to solicit proposals prior to this spring’s Annual Town Meeting.
At that meeting, he was one of the five members to vote against a fellow member’s motion to recommend that the bidding process include a deed restriction to prevent subdividing the parcel and require the original building be kept. (The vote was 1-5-1.)
Although the Committee joined the BOS for the May 10th discussion, Hinterneder wasn’t shown on the zoom screen as a participant.
The RFP for the property was posted on April 2nd with responses due May 5th.
Given the quick timing, in last week’s meeting officials acknowledged that it wouldn’t be possible to get a Purchase & Sale agreement in order in time for Annual Town Meeting this Saturday.
However, Jason Malinowski urged selectmen to try reaching out to the applicant to learn about any potential “sticking points” that could come up in a P&S. He also suggested that if selectmen are bringing it to ATM it should be with a “support” vote by the majority of the board and a presentation of pros and cons. (Earlier he had indicated that he wasn’t personally supportive of the proposal. At that time his committee hadn’t yet met to discuss the application.**)
Cook recommended tabling the Article to the planned Special Fall Town Meeting. She opined that bringing the proposal forward without knowing all the details was potentially “dangerous”.
Since the Article was already on the Warrant, keeping it there didn’t require any vote or action by selectmen last week. This Tuesday night, it’s back on their agenda as part of their prep for ATM.
*The May 10th meeting took place the night before the May 11th election ending Brian Shea’s term. His seat has been filled by Andrew Dennington who was on Advisory at the time of the meeting.
**Updated (5/18/21 10:53 am): Jason Malinowski reached out to me concerned that the post was misleading. I felt that he had some fair points that highlighted that my coverage didn’t make some things clear enough. Based on that, I inserted an Editor’s Note at the top of the post. He also stated that he had made clear that he wouldn’t have voted for the proposal. The Capital Planning Committee discussed the Article on Thursday.
I took a look at that this morning. In that meeting, member Andrew Pfaff advocated holding onto the property. Referring to the Town’s need to meet state requirements for zoning and housing, he suggested pursuing money that should be available from the American Rescue Plan to develop affordable housing there. Malinowski agreed, noting that the plan had just been released the morning of the meeting and selectmen likely hadn’t had a chance to “digest it”. Member Joseph Palmer voiced concern over timing of reshuffling Town Depts given other work in process. Selectman Lisa Braccio indicated that she would bring the feedback to tonight’s BOS meeting.