By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Northborough – Northborough resident Lisa Maselli addressed the Board of Selectmen during the public comments portion of the board’s Nov. 19 meeting concerning the status of the White Cliffs property.
“I have attended several meetings [of the White Cliffs Committee] and at the Oct. 2 meeting was told there was no provision for public comment which is why I am here tonight,” she said. “I am concerned that the structure at 167 Main St. is deteriorating at a greater speed than it should be due to a lack of urgency.”
Built in the 1880s the mansion was originally the summer home of Daniel B. Wesson of the Smith & Wesson firearms manufacturing company. It has had several owners over the years and was last used as a venue for weddings, etc. It closed its doors in December of 2014.
Voters approved at Town Meeting on April 26, 2016 to appropriate $2.4 million in Community Preservation funds to purchase and permanently preserve the property. The cost to purchase was $1.75 million leaving $650,000 for repairs and maintenance. The actual transaction took place in September of 2017.
At the Nov. 19 meeting, Town Administrator John Coderre explained that an underground storage tank was discovered on the property, which contained oil and had leaked. It was up to the seller to remedy the situation before the sale could be finalized, he said, and was the cause for delay.
Maselli asked if a consultant had been contracted, and if so, who that was.
“I have heard at several meetings that the consultant was to assist in assessing the town’s potential reuse scenarios including various potential ownership structures. The town did not make the charge to study viability to keep the structure, or resell the property or to make a placeholder for a developer to put multi two families in its place,” she added. “It was charged with purchase and to preserve the iconic mansion property.”
Coderre said that they have interviewed architectural firms and the White Cliffs Committee has made a selection. They are currently in contract negations and hope to get them on board and moving forward.
“We aren’t just hiring an architect to do the design work. It’s the architect who is hiring consultants to do structural evaluations,” he noted.
Another of Maselli’s concerns is where the town stands on “buttoning up” the property against the elements.
“We are coming into our third winter [since the property closed] and I am concerned,” she said.
Coderre reported that Department of Public Works staff goes up to the property regularly to check on things.
“This question is for Scott [Charpentier, DPW Director,]. When you go on your routine inspections are you noticing that things are getting worse or are they holding steady?” Selectman Juliana Hirsch inquired.
“The intent is to go into the building, make sure the windows and doors are still secure and empty the buckets when there are leaks and to make sure there is no evidence of anyone going in and, on the grounds,” replied Charpentier.
He also said that it is not their intent to check on how the building is deteriorating.