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Is It Worth It?

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The following is a Letter to the Editor from Bill Taffel regarding the Drew Garden development proposal. Letters to the editor do not necessarily reflect the views of WestfordCAT or its Board of Directors. To submit your own letter or response, e-mail [email protected]

At the April 2nd Annual Town Meeting, the Westford Board of Selectmen (BOS) presented a proposal to change the agricultural preservation restriction (APR) on one of 3 parcels at Drew Gardens to allow a large, expensive restaurant/function hall to be built there – a substantial commercial venture on land that is described in the deed as perpetually protected and preserved agricultural land.  (Drew Gardens is at 66-68 Boston Road, outside of route 495, just off exit 32.)

That proposal was defeated at the Town Meeting.  Now, the BOS is considering trying again – putting on the October Special Town Meeting warrant another proposal by the same developer for a restaurant of similar commercial scale on the same plot of land.

The agreement for the prior proposal said the development would “have a positive effect on the public good…”   Various financial benefits were described at Town Meeting.  Those benefits need to be better explained and justified.

Mentioned at Town Meeting were:

Compensation:  Originally $50,000, now potentially up to $175,000, paid by the developer in installments in exchange for amending the APR to allow the restaurant to be built,

Sidewalk:  $200,000 for a sidewalk the developer is to build along Boston Road in the future.  We need firm numbers along with the assumptions and calculations that were used to get those estimates. Also, since this is a state road, does the state have any responsibility for covering some or all of the cost of a sidewalk?

Property Tax:  It was stated at town meeting that property taxes would increase by some $40,000 under the restaurant scenario.  What’s the rationale, and what are the assumptions?

Meals tax:  The town collects a meals tax of 0.75%.  At town meeting, the example was given of $7,500 tax on $1 million of restaurant revenue.    This is a trivial 0.007 percent of the FY17 town budget.  Is the number right?  What are the assumptions?   Is there a financial model that accurately estimates this benefit?  How many meals per day?  How much ($) per meal?  How many functions?  How many meals per function?

For the town to consider such a major change to our scarce open agricultural land, the proponents must tell us how they estimated the financial numbers, listing the assumptions and the calculations.  Only then could we make an informed decision.