Friday, November 19, 1999
Selectmen move forward with Costello's plan for town lot
The Bill Costello who came before the selectmen on November 9 appeared in an incarnation different from the "take-it-or-leave it" persona with which he had approached the planning board the night before. (See story on page 1) On Tuesday, he quietly presented a plan, which if the selectmen turned down, could mean that the town would miss out on a tidy business deal and be stuck with an inaccessible, useless lot (known as Parcel X1) off a not-as-yet existent street, hemmed in on two sides by wetlands. After a complex discussion in which the congenial atmosphere was disturbed only by the impassioned protests of two citizens, the selectmen acquiesced to Costello's plan, thereby releasing one Pine Meadows lot.
After a reportedly heated meeting (attended by selectman, Vivian Chaput), the planning board agreed to release one of the two lots at Pine Meadows, on the (unofficial) condition that "the selectmen reach a satisfactory financial agreement with Costello regarding the development of town-owned land adjacent to Carriage Way." And so, a quietly persuasive Costello appeared before the selectmen to plead his case.
Costello reviewed the history of his projects and associated expenses before a board of selectmen, which was made up of Chaput, chair Douglas Stevenson, Michael Fitzgerald and John Ballantine. Costello told the selectmen that, alone, the lot off Carriage Way was worthless, but that sold together with his lots the town could make at least $200,000, after general expenses and a $40,000 repayment to himself, from the sale of the lota sale that he was willing to promote on the condition that one of his Pine Meadows lots would be immediately released.
Stevenson speculated about the possible legal implications of this deal. "We're behind the eight-ball," Fitzgerald complained. "We can't agree on your proposal without Town Meeting. And," he asked, "What if Town Meeting says 'No, we don't want to dispose of this [Carriage Way] lot?'"
"That would be my loss," answered Costello, without addressing the fact that the early release of the Pine Meadows lot would be a "fait accompli."
"If we declare [the lot] surplus, we have one person to dispose of it to," ventured Fitzgerald. "Not that we don't trust you...."
Costello offered to do the preliminary and topographic survey, and other assessments at his own risk. "I would be reimbursed only if the transaction goes through," he promised.
"[This offer] could be a tangible benefit to the town," asserted Stevenson. " But once we start to subtract our costs, what do we end up with? And, if we sell, where do these funds go?"
Fitzgerald continued, "I'm not concerned about the issue of releasing the [Pine Meadows] lot ten months early. We may not purchase the land. We just [at last Town Meeting] didn't buy Saint lrene's." Chaput and Ballantine agreed at once that the town's approval of buying either of the Pine Meadows lots was "highly unlikely."
However, Fitzgerald had doubts about selling a lot without "a compelling purpose for the proceeds of the property." Stevenson agreed, "We're expected to make this decision and we haven't had that conversation."
Costello reminded them that he would also be taking a risk, and that potential sales money could go toward an affordable housing program or an emergency fund."
"But the town values undeveloped land too much to sell it off without a purpose," Fitzgerald persisted.
"If we don't move ahead, we'd lose the property," insisted Chaput.
"But is it appropriate for us to go ahead without a real plan?" asked Fitzgerald.
"The planning board needs a blessing from the selectmen on the financial concept," countered Chaput. "We can do a fuller work-up on the numbers later."
"But do we want to sell?" asked Fitzgerald. "And as part of that are we going to okay an early release?"
"I see no reason why not," asserted Chaput. "What's ten or three months from now if it benefits the town?"
"I agree," added Stevenson, "Provided we are able to pull together a unified purpose to put before the Town Meeting."
"The lot is going to be released anyway," Chaput countered with asperity. Now or ten months from now!"
The meeting was opened to the floor, and Luisa Heard of Maple Street addressed the selectmen. "It's not such a great precedent for the town or selectmen to be involved in real estate. I'm thinking about the time and money spent...that is if Carriage Way is buildable.....Last night I felt we were being totally blackmailed."
Kathleen Coyle, also of Maple Street, expressed her frustration with the process that led to the original development of Pine Meadows. Then, she continued, "We are told these discussions have been going on for some time, but Maple Street's feelings are not taken into consideration. We've been traded off....We're expendable...."
"Release of the lot is a planning board decision," asserted Ballantine. "That's not what we're doing here."
All discussion was closed, and Fitzgerald moved that "we move forward with the conceptual arrangement." Chaput seconded the motion. The agreement as sent to the planning board reads, "The board of selectman at their meeting on Tuesday, November 9, 1999 voted to move forward with the concept of proceeding with future disposition of Parcel X-1, parcel of land to be known as Carriage Way, in accordance with a proposal to reimburse Mr. Costello for actual costs in developing the parcel."
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito