By Laura Hayes, Senior Community Reporter
NORTHBOROUGH — Two Northborough committees recently recommended that the town should not purchase a pair of properties on Whitney Street in town.
The town received the purchase and sale agreements for 429 and 432 Whitney Sts., which are owned by Santo Anza.
Both properties are located within the Chapter 61 agricultural program, which offers certain tax exemptions to landowners.
In the past, town staff have said that, in order for a landowner to withdraw from that program, the town has to be notified. Then, the selectmen will take recommendations on whether to exercise the town’s right of first refusal to purchase the land in question.
Both the Northborough Conservation Commission and Planning Board ultimately opted to pass on both of these properties currently in question.
Conservation Agent Mia McDonald said during an Aug. 16 Conservation Commission meeting that the purchase and sale agreements for both properties are contingent on the fact that there would be 100,000-square-foot warehouses on each parcel.
Part of land was once used as illegal dump
Anza was convicted in 2013 on charges that he was operating an illegal solid waste dump at 429 Whitney St. In Jan. 2020, he was subsequently ordered to pay the town $20,000 after he allegedly didn’t comply with an order not to illegally dump on the site.
“How do we even ensure that this property is cleaned up?” asked Planning Board Chair Kerri Martinek during the board’s Aug. 17 meeting.
According to Town Planner Kathy Joubert, Anza had started to bring in wood chips and wood debris several years ago, across the street from 429 Whitney at 432 Whitney.
“The town was able to stop that,” she said. “So, 432 [Whitney], that we know of, is pretty virgin land. There hasn’t been a use on that property.”
“Also, just to point out, because this is public information, both of these parcels have not paid their taxes since 2014,” Joubert continued.
In an email to the Community Advocate, Joubert said $82,000 is owed in back taxes on both properties.
Boards weigh open space
While none of the board or commission members were interested in pursuing 429 Whitney, some expressed interest in 432 Whitney.
“It’s a large, virgin parcel left in town,” Planning Board member Anthony Ziton said. “Instead of having another distribution center, if you look at different uses, whether it’s fields or whatever, I think it would be worth looking at.”
Others said the best use would be for industrial purposes.
“It’s industrial zoned land that’s in a location where trucks can’t even cross the bridge to get onto Whitney Street,” said Conservation Commission member Justin Dufresne.
Commission member Dan Clark disagreed, saying 432 had value as open space or a conservation area.
“I think it’s relatively large, which is somewhat unusual for the Town of Northborough,” Clark said.
He said it abutted open space and provided habitat protection.
“I don’t agree that it necessarily should be dismissed,” Clark said. “That’s my opinion.”
The state owns the land to the south, according to McDonald.
Commission member Thomas Beals said he didn’t think a developer would be able to develop the southern portion of the site near that other open space.
“It’s going to be warehouse in the front, and around the swamp and the pond that are there, they’re not going to be able to do anything with,” Beals said.
He added, “Considering the grief we have received from the owner, I don’t think the town should pay him anything.”
The Open Space Committee previously discussed this matter at a July 14 meeting in which Committee member Leslie Harrison voiced similar concerns about buying property from Anza.
“[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,” she said.