NORTHBOROUGH – The Select Board will hold a hearing to consider exercising the town’s right of first refusal to purchase a property at 432 Whitney Street.
The site is 23.77 acres and abuts 51.3 acres of conservation land owned by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).
The property is owned by Santo Anza, who was convicted in 2013 on charges that he was operating an illegal solid waste dump at nearby 429 Whitney St.
Town Administrator Tim McInerney told the Select Board during its Jan. 8 meeting that the property is proposed to be sold to a private developer for $1.7 million. According to the statement of proposed use, the developer would use it for a 40,000- to 60,000-square-foot building for commercial/ industrial/warehouse/distribution purposes that could be served by a connection to the adjacent freight rail line.
“I think, when people read that [statement of proposed use], you get a little nervous about the rail and having a spur into a parcel of land,” McInerney said.
The property is located within the Chapter 61A agricultural program. According to McInerney, this means the property has been used not as its zoning intended.
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The owner of the property then receives a deferral. Because of the deferral, the property owner must give notice to the town for the town to be able to purchase the land. The town has 120 days after notice of the sale to exercise their right of first refusal to purchase the property.
If the town is interested in purchasing the property, a special Town Meeting will be needed to appropriate funds for the purchase because the 120-day deadline will expire ahead of the annual Town Meeting on April 22, assuming the town does not receive an extension.
The town would have limited funding options to match the offer of $1.7 million during a special Town Meeting compared to the annual meeting. McInerney said the funding options could include American Rescue Plan Act funds, surplus overlay, Community Preservation Act funds, cash and/or borrowing.
“First, we have to establish that we want to take this land and keep it for some other purpose, whether it’s open space, recreation, affordable housing or to have and to hold,” McInerney said.
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According to a memo from Planning Director Laurie Connors to the Planning Board, the site has a wetland system that is hydrologically connected to Bearfoot Brook and a DCR flood control site.
“The parcel could provide an important open space connection between the aqueduct to the west of the railroad tracks and the permanently protected open space associated with Bearfoot Brook and ultimately the Assabet River,” Connors wrote.
Several town boards have expressed their support of having the town acquire the Whitney St. land. During its meeting, the Select Board voiced support with moving forward with the right of first refusal process.
“I think in the interest of what that neighborhood has experienced so far, my preference would be to move forward with this offer and set the Town Meeting to ensure the protection,” said Laura Ziton. “The thought of having a railway stop there would probably create a lot of commotion and traffic that they would not appreciate.”
During their meeting Jan. 22, the board may consider opening a Town Meeting warrant for a March meeting.