By Beth David, Editor
Acushnet voters will face 26 articles at the special town meeting on November 14. Spending articles total approximately $484,000 and include funds to buy several vehicles, a piece of property for open space purposes, and funds for the continuing renovation of the Parting Ways Building.
At their meeting on October 24, Selectboard members rejected a request by the Buzzards Bay Coalition and supported by the Community Preservation Committee, to hand over $150,000 in CPC funds to buy a nine-acre property that would be owned by the BBC, not the town. The property abuts White’s Farm, and is known as the Milos/Jaros property.
Allen Decker of the BBC told the board that the organization will spend $210,000 for the property. The $150,000 would be supplemented by grant money and other funds. The $210,00 includes $15,000 for demolition of buildings on the property, $25,000 for site restoration by the BBC, and $10,000 in closing costs. The BBC would get a $35,000 municipal mini grant and private funds for the remaining costs.
When Mr. Decker addressed the board on 10/24, he noted that the wording on the draft town warrant was not correct, that it was the opposite of what the BBC had agreed to. He said the BBC was looking to be the owners of the property and that it would be open to the public.
He said the town would own the Conservation Restriction (CR).
Interim Town Administrator Kevin Paicos acknowledged that he changed the wording on the article because he believed it was illegal for the town to give public funds to a private organization to buy property that would then be owned by the private organization, not the town. He said the town should own the property outright in order for it to be truly protected in perpetuity. He said the Conservation Commission or another entity could hold the CR to for additional protection.
Selectboard member Kevin Gaspar agreed. He asked why the town would pony up $150,000 not to own the property, when they could own it outright for an additional $60,000.
He said it was “very concerning” and he would not support it until he was convinced it was in the best interest of Acushnet residents.
According to their website, the BBC owns two properties in Acushnet, the 19-acre Sawmill and the 50-acre LaPalme Farm. The organization has protected 7,500 acres from development. In addition to the two Acushnet properties, it also owns The Bogs and Tripps Mill, both in Mattapoisett; and Horseshoe Mill in Wareham. The size of those properties is not clear on the BBC website.
Mr. Decker seemed a bit taken aback at the resistance to the article, saying the BBC has used the formula for other properties and was sure it was not only legal, but would provide more public access, not less.
“We have done this strategy successfully in other communities,” said Mr. Decker.
Board members, Mr. Decker, and Mr. Paicos bandied about a bit the details of public access, liability, cost of the demolition, and the future prospects of a sale, should the BBC decide to dissolve, convert its assets to a for-profit model, or sell to a for-profit company.
Mr. Paicos maintained that using the Chapter 40 model of outright ownership by the town was the best way to protect the interests of Acushnet residents.
“I would never, ever, ever give taxpayer money to a private entity,” for them to buy property for themselves, said Mr. Paicos.
Mr. Decker argued that the town would own the CR.
“I would still say it’s a bad idea,” said Mr. Paicos, adding later in the conversation that a CR “is not nearly as strong as Chapter 40 protection and a conservation restriction.”
He said the town should buy the property under the provisions of Chapter 40 and assign the CR to the BBC.
“To me, that’s the gold standard,” said Mr. Paicos.
When the talk turned to the stellar reputation of the BBC, Mr. Paicos said that was not the issue.
“I’m talking more a matter of public policy,” he said.
In the end, the board agreed with Mr. Paicos and voted to change the wording on the article. The final wording, however, allows for town meeting to vote either way. A provision in Article 20, states, “or in the alternative to grant and assign such funds to the Buzzards Bay Coalition to provide for its purchase, rehabilitation and restoration of the property.”
Voters at TM will be able to choose whether or not the town will buy the property outright, give the money to the BBC to buy it for itself, or simply not appropriate the funds at all.
In another land article, the board voted to support a request by Freetown to acquire a piece of property on the town line. Freetown wants to build senior housing on the property, which has been contaminated by the company that owns it.
The town of Acushnet owns a small portion of the property, taken by tax title.
The deal is contingent on the town of Freetown acquiring the funds to clean up the hazardous site.
The aforementioned vehicle articles include: $68,085 (article 15) for a police cruiser; $40,000 (article 23) for a truck for the Highway Department; and $51,800 for a truck for the Water Department. The Council on Aging is also asking for $2,500 to repair a retired police department SUV. The Selectboard voted to support all those requests.
Town meeting will also be asked to make a decision on some bylaws changes.
Article 12 would add a provision to the bylaw governing the Business Village District requiring all buildable lots to connect to municipal sewer and water.
Article 13 would change the setbacks at the gravel pit on South Main Street, in the industrial zone.
Article 14 would make changes to the bylaw that governs abandoned vehicles on private property.
Building Inspector James Marot told the board that his hands are tied in some instances when he is trying to get properties cleaned up of old vehicles. The amendments include changing the words “car” and “automobile” to “motor vehicle,” or just “vehicle.”
Mr. Marot said he has been arguing with residents over the vehicles, and they are maintaining that the old cars are “antique automobiles,” which are excepted under the bylaw.
“It is not,” said Mr. Marot, “It’s a piece of junk.”
He said the new wording will improve his standing in court proceedings.
The board also voted to support Article 25, which would change the town charter to eliminate the residency requirement for the Town Administrator. A town charter change has to be approved by the state legislature. •••
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