The second iteration of the Drew Gardens Task Force has a significant challenge ahead of them, with the first step being what exactly their role is in that challenge.
Following a directive at Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, the newly reformed Drew Gardens Task Force met on Thursday to come up with a recommendation on what their role in the latest phase surrounding the property best known as part of the “Gateway to Westford.”
The task force first met after former owner Thomas Goddard sought to sell the property in 2014. Then, their charge was simply to give a recommendation on whether the Selectmen should use their right of first refusal regarding the potential sale of the property. They were asked for another recommendation in 2015 when Ebi Masalehdan purchased the property. Both times they said no and both times they were mothballed.
This time their proposed charge is much more complex. Masalehdan’s attempt to amend the agricultural preservation restriction on the property was stopped by Town Meeting voters in March, negating his hopes for a potential restaurant on the property. He returned in May with a smaller restaurant proposal to negotiate with town officials, and the task force appears that it will inform the Selectmen on what path to take.
Selectman Don Siriani provided a draft set of parameters for the task force’s purview, separated into eight distinct sections.
During what was a long and winding set of deliberations, the task force eliminated wording that requested they perform tasks better suited to the expertise of town staff. That might have been the largest change, but it wasn’t the only one.
The task force also unanimously approved the elimination of a section that would have bound its work to not deviate from the town’s zoning bylaws as well as several associated master plans.
Technically, the vote was not unanimous, although newly appointed member and abutter Juliette Mount served in an advisory role but was unable to vote, as she had not yet been formally sworn onto the board.
Mount and members of the audience such as Boston Road Resident Bob Krankiewicz believed that the project should be examined within the broader context of Westford zoning principles, with Krankiewicz and several others at times outright opposition to the project.
Others on the task force, led by Planning Board Member Kate Hollister, noted that the Zoning Board of Appeals can issue use variances in certain situations depending on the circumstances, and they do so regularly.
When Marian Harman mentioned her idea that the town could purchase the property and then rent the land out to two farmers she believes are interested in farming there, Hollister reminded her that the town’s right of first refusal period had lapsed, and that scenario would be up to Masalehdan, as he now owns the property.
Ultimately, Hollister believed that purpose of the task force should focus on the concept of the restaurant proposal, with details over the planning going to other town boards that would be involved in the permitting process.
Voting members of the Task Force unanimously accepted the various other minor changes to the group’s proposed charge, also agreeing to allow Director of Land Use Planning Chris Kluchman to modify any grammatical issues in the revised charge before the Selectmen will either approve or deny the proposed charge at their July 12 meeting.
The task force is expected to meet again on July 14 and July 28.