Northborough residents weigh in on Whitney St. purchase

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Northborough residents weigh in on Whitney St. purchase
This map shows 432 Whitney Street outlined in pink. The town is considering exercising its right of first refusal for to purchase the property. (Photo/Town of Northborough)

NORTHBOROUGH – Efforts for the town to consider purchasing a parcel on Whitney Street are moving forward.

During their meeting on Jan. 22, Select Board members formally expressed an interest in exercising the town’s right of first refusal to purchase 432 Whitney St.

The site 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.

Right of first refusal

The town has the ability to exercise the right of first refusal to purchase the property because it is enrolled in the Chapter 61 Program. According to Planning Director Laurie Connors, the program gives property owners the opportunity to reduce their property taxes in exchange for keeping their land undeveloped for a specific period of time.

The Whitney Street parcel has been enrolled in the 61A program since fiscal 2015, which Connors said is for agricultural and horticultural purposes.

According to Connors, Northborough has the right to match the bona fide offer to purchase or assign that right to an eligible conservation organization.

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The site is 23.77 acres of undeveloped land, and it is proposed to be sold to Howland Development Corporation 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.

Originally, town officials were discussing the possibility of calling a special Town Meeting as the 120-day deadline would expire prior to the annual Town Meeting in April. However, a special Town Meeting will not be needed according to Town Administrator Tim McInerney, as the seller and potential buyer, agreed to an extension.

Residents weigh in

Several residents, including those who live on Whitney Street, voiced their support. Resident Fran Bakstran said if the town doesn’t purchase the property, there will never be another opportunity to purchase it.

Bill Pierce lives approximately half a mile away from 432 Whitney Street.

“Property values go down when you can’t have an outdoor party in the summertime in your house. That happens for the entire neighborhood,” Pierce said. “We’re happy to see this go away.”

John Campbell, who chairs the Open Space Committee, said the committee unanimously recommended exercising the right as the property met many goals set out in the Open Space Plan.

However, some residents raised questions. John Rapa said it appeared that there were unknowns in terms of the all-in cost; whether the site was environmentally safe and safety concerns for use of the site with its proximity to the rail, slopes and stream and aqueduct crossing.

Resident Michael Horgan asked the Select Board to be thoughtful and mindful of where open space is in town.

“In general, I do not support exercising the right of first refusal on this parcel,” he said.

Horgan noted that the site is in an industrial area. He said it was “perplexing” to him to pursue open in an area that had been designated industrial, noting past comments at Town Meeting that the town was running out of developable land.

“I think open space is important, but … I don’t see how it really fits in our overall open space strategies for the town,” Horgan said.

Next steps

With this vote, McInerney will begin to figure out options to fund the purchase. If the site is purchased for an undesignated municipal purpose, it could be funded with American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, municipal appropriation and/ or overlay.

If it is acquired for a restricted use like open space, recreation or affordable housing, the purchase could be funded through the Community Preservation Act.

According to Chair Mitch Cohen, McInerney will then return before the Select Board to place the purchase on the Town Meeting warrant, which would have the final decision for most funding options.

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