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Selectmen Hear New Perspectives On Legal Nuances Of Drew Gardens

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The Drew Gardens Task Force will reconvene on Thursday, following lengthy discussion on the former Drew Gardens property on Tuesday by the Board of Selectmen.

Town Counsel Gregg Corbo came before the board to issue his legal advice regarding various issues related to new owner Ebi Masalehdan’s new proposal to construct a restaurant on the southern third of the property and rejuvenate orchards and greenhouses on the northern two-thirds.

Much of the discussion focused around the Agricultural Preservation Restriction, or APR. Corbo told the board that that APRs cannot be disposed by a town without a two-thirds vote of the Massachusetts Legislature according to Article 97 of the Massachusetts State Constitution. A two-thirds vote of Town Meeting is also required.

However, he noted that amendment of APRs is different than disposal if there is no change in the property’s intent to be primarily used for agricultural purposes. Additionally, he noted that case law is limited when it comes to APR amendment procedure.

Greg Corbo on June 28, 2016
Gregg Corbo on June 28, 2016

As in previous meetings, conflicting viewpoints were given from members of the board and residents in attendance Masalehdan’s proposal would keep the property’s use for primarily agricultural purposes.

Opinions ranged from Boston Road resident Bob Krankiewicz, who saw the proposed restaurant as a Major Commercial Project, which is not allowed under any circumstances in a residentially zoned lot, to Selectman Kelly Ross’ view that the restaurant would be a continuation of the commercial farm stands that once were on the property.

There were also concerns regarding the difference in ownership from Masalhedan to a limited liability corporation now associated with the lot that includes Masalhedan.

Corbo warned the Selectmen that without explicit wording in any potential amendment agreements, the use of a limited liability corporation could circumvent the Selectmen’s right of first refusal on future sales of the property.

Discussion over cleanup of the property was mentioned as well. Ross indicated that his support of at least trying to negotiate with Masalehdan regarding an amendment agreement was predicated on the property’s current state of disrepair and frequent attempts in the past to stop former owner Tom Goddard from dumping leaves onto the property, attempts that saw the two sides in court battles.

Chamberlain Road resident Marian Harmon said that more could have been done to clean the property and that the restaurant proposal was not necessary to ensure that the property is eventually returned to what it once was. She also stated to the board that several farmers living in Westford would be willing to farm the parcel, responding to comments from earlier meetings that the land was no longer commercially viable for agriculture.

Ross thanked Harmon for her viewpoint, but also reminded her that in order for these farmers to achieve this, they would have to buy the property, which was purchased by Masalehdan for $650,000.

The Selectmen also appointed two individuals to hold the “abutter/near abutter” seats on the Drew Gardens Task Force.

Out of the six candidates, the Selectmen appointed Chris Burns of Rome Drive and Juliette Mount of Boston Road.

On Thursday, Burns and Mount will join nine other members and two alternates on the task force, with one discussion item including a proposed charge for the now re-established group.

Selectman Don Siriani proposed an eight-point purview for the Task Force, with Selectman and Task Force Member Andrea Peraner-Sweet saying she would bring Siriani’s proposal to the task force for examination.

Once the task force determines a recommendation for its scope, a final approval on its responsibilities needs to be approved by the Selectmen.