Committee not interested in buying Whitney Street property

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By Laura Hayes, Senior Community Reporter

Cars drive along Whitney Street.
Photo by/Laura Hayes Cars drive along Whitney Street.

NORTHBOROUGH — After receiving an appraisal for a tract of land on Whitney Street, the Northborough Open Space Committee has decided it is not interested in purchasing the site. 

The 23.77-acre plot of land is located at 432 Whitney St., which is located within Northborough’s industrial zone. A developer wants to build a warehouse on that site and a site across the street, according to town staff.

“I feel like it might be tough going to both the [Community Preservation Act Committee] and the town to ask for a bond on this property that doesn’t have a clear purpose other than preventing the development of the warehouse,” Open Space Committee Chair John Campbell said near the end of conversation during their July 14 meeting.

Conservation Agent Mia McDonald said the site was appraised at $1.6 million and there was a signed purchase and sale for that property and 429 Whitney St., which is across the street, for $1.5 million.

“The appraiser says the slightly higher value is due to the fact that the $1.5 million is part of a package deal,” McDonald said.

She said Lincoln Properties has the signed purchase and sale for the sites and is proposing warehouses on the site. 

The next step of the purchase of the land was to notify Northborough because both sites are located in the Chapter 61 agricultural program, which offers tax exemptions to landowners who meet certain agricultural quotas on their properties. 

“To withdraw from that program, they have to notify the town by letter in writing,” McDonald said.

That letter then goes to the Town Administrator’s office and various boards and committees. The selectmen will take recommendations from the boards and committees before deciding whether they want to exercise the town’s right of first refusal, which the town has yet to receive formal notice of. 

If the committee, and ultimately the selectmen, supported purchasing the site, Town Planner Kathy Joubert anticipated that a CPA application would have to be completed and the matter would go to Town Meeting. 

“We would have to do a bond for this because there isn’t this amount of money in the reserves,” Joubert said.

The board reviewed their open space criteria for purchasing land.

Whitney Street
Photo by/Laura Hayes Whitney Street

Those criteria, introduced by Campbell, included whether the parcel abuts existing conserved land, whether there’s an opportunity for recreation, if the land meets a critical need in the town, if the land fits approval under the Community Preservation Act, whether it enhances wildlife habitats and whether the purchase would reduce development that is “adverse” to the town, such as overpopulating the schools or taxing town resources. 

“Following along with the list, as awesome as it would be to try to conserve this, it doesn’t seem like it’s checking any of the boxes, unless I’m misinterpreting,” said committee member Brian Belfer.

He continued, “I think the general sense is that it’s a supremely nice piece of green space, but it doesn’t appear to match our criteria.”

Committee member Leslie Harrison added that the price was high.

The land in question is owned by Santo Anza. In 2013, he was convicted on charges that he operated an illegal solid waste dump at 429 Whitney St. In January of last year, he was ordered to pay Northborough $20,000 after he didn’t comply with a court order not to illegally dump on his site.  

“[The] final straw for me is the history of this property, the history of this landowner and the kind of abuse that has occurred towards the town and the idea of the town forking over all this money doesn’t sit right with me,” Harrison said.