The following is a transcript of the March 10, 2015 Board of Selectmen meeting. For video of the meeting, head to WestfordCAT.org
7:30 p.m. – The meeting began with the Pledge of Allegiance. Selectman Scott Hazelton thanked the Highway Department for their work clearing snow and hoped that the storms were over.
He noted things they have done that have been unsung.
Highway Department Superintendent Chip Barrett said it was an effort between various departments throughout town government.
Hazelton also praised the Westford Academy boys’ swim team for their state championships.
Members of the team introduced themselves and talked about their season.
League of Women Voters member Bob Price talked about an event being held by the League of Women Voters about the upcoming Town Meeting.
Selectman Andrea Peraner-Sweet asked any small businesses to know that the state is offering microloans to any business that has suffered from the recent storms.
7:38 p.m. – Next was the 7:35 p.m. agenda item, Street Acceptance and Layout of Rome Drive.
Town Engineer Paul Staratt came to the microphone to discuss the extension of Rome Drive and offered a recommended proposal motion vetted by town counsel.
Peraner-Sweet said that this has been coming for a long time on Rome Drive, with a developer walking away into bankruptcy and letting the street fall apart.
Starratt thanked Barrett and the residents of the street and others.
A motion to recommend the proposal at Town Meeting was unanimously approved.
7:41 p.m. – Next was a presentation by the 12 North Main Street Task Force to present a 2015 Work Plan and present a letter of support for an EPA grant application.
Don Costley, chairman of the Tax Possession Sales Committee, was introduced as a remote participant in the meeting.
Assistant Town Manager John Mangiaratti gave a brief update on the tax foreclosure process as well as a recent community meeting in Graniteville about the property.
The Selectmen asked to follow through with foreclosure and the next step is Town Meeting.
Mangiaratti said that it is best to let the property to go under Selectmen custody rather than Tax Possession Sales Committee custody to allow the Task Force to continue their work since this is a unique property.
There will be a community preservation study for the property (Article 11) on the Town Meeting ballot.
Mangiaratti said that over the next few months, the Task Force will pursue additional funding to rehabilitate the site, continue work planning environmental rehabilitation and conduct historical preservation and stabilization studies.
The site may be reused and eventually the plan is that there will be a draft request for what will be done next with the property.
He also asked the Selectmen to support a letter for a brownfield grant application.
Peraner-Sweet said she was in strong support of the letter and praised Mangiaratti for his efforts so far.
She reiterated discussions last meeting about transferring the property to the custody of the Selectmen.
Selectman Don Siriani the meeting in Graniteville and noted that information was provided there about the potential cost and toxins related to the property.
Additionally, there was a representative from the Department of Environmental Protection who provided information at the meeting.
Siriani said there were various questions by those in attendance.
He also said it was important to recognize funding sources and thanked everyone for their work.
Hazelton said he was looking forward to the restoration of the property, echoed earlier comments, and then welcomed the input of the Tax Possession Sales Committee (which had a concurrent posted meeting) as well anyone in attendance with questions or comments.
7:55 p.m. – Dave Earl of the Tax Possession Sales Committee said that in the past, properties like this that have been repossessed due to non-payment of taxes have come to the TPSC in an established process.
He said that it’s important to follow this process correctly and noted there is not much time.
Steve Sadowski, also of the TPSC came to the microphone.
He said many people don’t know what the TPSC is or why it exists. He explained that the TPSC gets properties taken by Land Court and then tries to resell it and hopefully put it back in the tax rolls.
Sadowski said that people also don’t know why the TPSC exists, noting that not all towns have a TPSC. In Westford, the TPSC acts as a buffer to avoid conflicts of interests.
He also noted that if the town owns the land, it is covered by insurance regardless of which committee holds custody of it.
Additionally, he said that the TPSC has expertise in the area of selling property and that the Selectmen have various other tasks in addition to this building’s disposition.
Sadowski believes it’s acceptable for the Selectmen to have control over the property after the TPSC has done their due diligence.
Paul Cully, also of the TPSC then came before the microphone. He asked if there were any challenges regarding the foreclosure procedure.
Mangiaratti said that the owner of the site was okay with foreclosure, but not the person that held the owner’s mortgage on the property. That didn’t mean the foreclosure couldn’t happen, but someone could challenge it someday, although it could happen.
Cully asked if there was any time limit regarding a challenge, Mangiaratti said he would investigate the issue.
Hazelton asked if the Task Force had taken a position.
Mangiaratti said there was no formal vote, but they are leaning toward Selectmen control. He asked if Hazelton would allow a vote, Hazelton said he would.
There was a vote, it was unanimous.
8:03 p.m. – Bob Waskiewicz came to the microphone making a comment about the earlier insurance comment, saying it was untrue. Mangiaratti said that vacant commercial property is not automatically added to the town’s insurance, that a special policy is needed.
Director of Land Use Management Chris Kluchman then came up to the microphone said that there had been precedent in the past where the Selectmen had undertaken this process.
Selectman Kelly Ross said that if the property was in good “move-in” condition, he would agree that the TPSC is absolutely the right body and they’ve done a good job with that, making the town hundreds of thousands of dollars and helping the town with conservation land.
However, this property is different, he said. On this property, significant effort is needed before it can be dispossessed, and that will require community effort. Due to that, it comes under the purview of the Board of Selectmen.
Kelly Ross said that the board is transparent and is a good vehicle to improve the property.
He was open to suggestions from the TPSC , but also asked for their support to continue progress on the property’s redevelopment.
Hazelton also said it was a matter of policy.
8:06 p.m. – Earl returned to the microphone, saying that the TPSC is not against the Selectmen, only that there is a process and a bylaw in situations like this. He believed there had been a misunderstanding regarding the process.
He noted that the Selectmen created the process and asked the Selectmen to follow the bylaws.
Then he said that the Selectmen are trying to follow the best interests of the town, but asked the Selectmen not to “screw things up.”
TPSC member Denali Delmar said that there isn’t enough time between now and Town Meeting due to a variety of issues.
Town Manager Jodi Ross says that the article at Town Meeting does not take away the rights of the TPSC, stating that foreclosure may happen before Town Meeting.
She said if this article does not pass, TPSC cannot take action until the next Town Meeting in October and the Task Force could not undertake further action.
Jodi Ross also said that the Selectmen meet more often than the TPSC, and the frequent meetings have helped increase momentum in progress.
Delmar also asked if the EPA has money, Mangiaratti says there is funding, but it is competitive.
Hazleton asked if Costley wanted to speak, and Costley said he is in favor of the Town Meeting article and for the TPSC to support the Town Meeting article and support the Task Force.
8:12 p.m. – Siriani then went back to an earlier comment saying that all the TPSC did was “sell property,” saying more was needed here.
He noted that there will need to be a lot done on the property, and it’s fortunate that there are a lot of people looking to do the job.
Jane Hughes, vice chair of the Task Force, then came up to the microphone. She said the Task Force is a well put together committee and there are many healthy debates when they are in session.
She also said there are no concrete answers yet since the process is still ongoing.
Sadowski said that the TPSC has a variety of opinions, but they’re all good friends. He said that the TPSC and the Task Force would be a good match for working together on this project. He said the TPSC could meet twice per month.
Siriani asked if the Task Force could be expanded to include the TPSC due to their expertise.
Hazelton said it could be augmented.
Siriani said he’d rather be inclusive and try to take up the TPSC’s offer to help.
Jodi Ross said the Task Force is under the overview of the Town Manager and he would welcome members of the TPSC if they wanted to join.
8:18 p.m. – Ernie Hyde of the TPSC said there was no debate between the TPSC and the Task Force and praised the Task Force.
However, Hyde reiterated concerns that the Selectmen follow the town bylaw, Chapter 44.5.
Selectman Jim Sullivan asked if the Selectmen were following the right process.
Jodi Ross said that the bylaw says that the property goes to the TPSC upon foreclosure for them to dispose of it. She said regardless of the Town Meeting vote, the property will go to the TPSC upon foreclosure.
She noted that there are two separate boards with two separate jobs regarding the property. However, if this Town Meeting vote passes, it would allow the TPSC give the property to the Selectmen at any time if they choose to do so.
8:21 p.m. – Rob Downing of the Task Force asked if the Town Meeting vote passed what would happen. Jodi Ross said Town Meeting could not force the TPSC to do anything.
Downing then wondered if Town Meeting would urge the TPSC to transfer the property in addition to allowing them to do so.
Jodi Ross then said that there was a Town Meeting vote two years ago related to the property and town staff has been involved for the past five years.
Siriani added that there is precedent.
Hughes asked if rewording of the warrant article could be effective. Hazelton said it could occur at Town Meeting.
Peraner-Sweet asked if the motion regarding this agenda item was to support the work plan of the Task Force.
Hazelton said it was and this agenda item was also a joint discussion with the TPSC.
The motion was approved unanimously.
Peraner-Sweet said that the TPSC is important and it’s important to dot all the Is and cross all the Ts.
Earl noted for the record that this was not an official joint meeting earlier, and that goes back to the issue of process.
Siriani asked if the joint meeting was a posted agenda item. It was.
8:27 p.m. – The consent agenda was passed unanimously in accordance with public safety recommendations.
8:29 p.m. – There was no old or new business or Selectmen’s updates.
Jodi Ross said that Mangiaratti has finished the grant report for Westford’s application to become a green community.
Reading of correspondence was waived, the meeting adjourned at 8:30 p.m.