It remains unclear whether the town will seek to use its right of first refusal on the former Drew Gardens property, but the special task force deliberating on that decision is still preparing if they decide the answer is “Yes.”
After large piles of compost appeared at the property earlier this year, and an offer to sell the property shortly afterward, discussion remains on whether the town will ask voters on Oct. 20 for $735,000 to exercise its right under an agricultural restriction to override that purchase and buy the property.
That figure request to the voters may become lower if a valuation of the property comes above the $735,000 asking price, allowing Community Preservation Funds from the state to be used, and until that point the task force believes it’s too soon to make a definitive decision on recommending the right of first refusal.
If the decision is made to pursue recommending that first refusal option to Town Meeting voters, which the town would have to make on this particular proposed sale before Nov. 5, there is a consensus on several items by the task force.
Leading that list is making sure that the property maintain its agricultural character, with concerns that the current agricultural restriction on the property dissolving unless the town gives it to a third party to which it would sell the property.
Another point would be ensuring that a fire station, which town officials hoped to build on town owned land across the street before voters denied funding to study building that fire station last year due to traffic concerns, would not be built on the property.
“Anything that’s compelling will add lots more traffic in that space, and that will make it harder to sell it,” said Matt Lewin, the Planning Board alternate to the task force. “It may not be a real issue, but if it smells of that, it only takes one or two people at Town Meeting to give it a hard time.”
One option if the town does decide to pursue the refusal would be trying to amend the agricultural restriction’s prohibition on making food on the property.
This would allow a small café or something that could spur something comparable to the Winter Farmers’ Market that once was held at the location.
However, the task of the town selling the property while retaining the restriction remain
difficult due to other requirements of the restriction that must be addressed such as no further permanent structures being build on the property and at least 51 percent of the property being used for agricultural purposes.
If the town keeps the property and decides not sell it or give custodianship of it to a third party, the agricultural restriction would no longer be mandatory for future Boards of Selectmen according to members of the task force.
Another option would be to let the purchase go forward while focusing on enforcing a cease and desist order on the mulch dumping, requiring that the current mulch be removed.
Task force members believe that could potentially be done by placing a lien on the property surrounding removal of the mulch that the proposed buyer, Robert Zwicker, would have to pay if he is allowed to purchase the property.
There were also concerns on what Zwicker, owner of a lawn maintenance company in Woburn, would officially do with the property according to members of the task force.
Even more variables remain such as whether or not non-profit groups such as the Sudbury Valley Trustees may assist in financing, trying to foster a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm on the property, and whether this may be the last opportunity the town has to use its right of first refusal under the restriction before that the town loses that right in 2054.
One of the few things determined so far include the Conservation Commission’s decision not to try and provide funding for the property after Westford Conservation Agent Bill Turner said on Wednesday would be a low priority for conservation.
Outside of that, perhaps there is only one thing the entire committee can agree upon.
“I think what it boils down to for everybody is that the property continues to be used in a matter consistent with the current agricultural restriction regardless of what route we take,” said Selectman Andrea Peraner-Sweet.
The Board of Selectmen will address the issue again at their Aug. 26 meeting.
CORRECTION: The debris is compost, not mulch.