No Resolution on Glenwood Property
By Tara Hughes
Oct.18 – Despite the presence of Town Counsel, the Select Board on Monday night failed to determine whether they could legally allow the town’s Affordable Housing Trust Committee to take possession of 20 Glenwood Ave., rather than signing a Purchase and Sale (P&S) agreement from the abutters for $40,000.
After a contentious hour and twenty-minute discussion and several failed motions, the Board agreed to delay signing the P&S and to spend up to $2,500 for an updated appraisal on the 20 Glenwood Ave property.
If the board is unable to reach a resolution at their Oct. 30 meeting on Oct. 30, they might take a vote to request an extension of the signing of the P&S for 30 days (current expiration being Nov. 4).
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20 Glenwood Ave, a small parcel of land with a dilapidated single-family home, was obtained by the town through a tax taking a few years ago. It has sat dormant for several years. It was then the subject of a Request for Proposal (RFP) in August requiring either a purchase with funds going to the Affordable Housing Trust (AHT) or the building of affordable housing (demolition of the structure to be paid by the offered), with only one offer being made by the abutters at 18 Glenwood Ave for $40k and an agreement to demolish the single-family home. The Board accepted the offer (with only Mike Bettencourt voting no).
But when they received the P&S, various community members expressed disappointment in the decision to sell it for only one-tenth of the assessed value. The Affordable Housing Trust Committee (AHTC) voted both to take ownership of the property to build affordable housing and to make a gift-in-kind to the town for the cost of demolition the structure. The Housing Partnership Board (HPB) voted their support and the Select Board put the signing of the P&S on hold for further discussion regarding options and legality.
On Tuesday night, Town Counsel Elizabeth Lydon said that there could be a liability issue if the Select Board did not sign the P&S since they did issue a notice of award and they would need a valid reason to not go forward. Mike Bettencourt said that the board did not see the abutter’s plans prior to accepting the offer and that it was flawed. However, counsel did not believe that anything would have changed had they seen the plans and disagreed the it would a valid reason to not go forward or to renegotiate terms.
Bettencourt then pointed out that the offer was approximately one-tenth of the town’s appraisal for highest and best use and that the objective with this property is to either build affordable housing or receive more meaningful funds for the Affordable Housing Trust, neither of which is satisfied with the $40K offer.
But for the first time it was publicly stated that the grandfathered non-conforming use has expired and the lot is now considered unbuildable land. Counsel explained that the only routes to build there would be under the state’s affordable housing (40B) rule or by obtaining a variance from the town, which she believed would be unlikely to be received or upheld in court. It was her belief that 40B was likely the only option to build on the lot.
Select Board Chair Rich Mucci pointed out that the town’s appraisal was therefore also flawed as the property was now only a piece of land with less value. Bettencourt disagreed to a point, saying the property is still buildable under 40B. Mucci mentioned that the board had received letters from the neighbors indicating they were concerned about the property being developed and wanted it to remain open space. Mucci said development under 40B would cost money and they could face neighbors’ complaints once again. He believed it could end up being a “money pit” and it is time to move on.
Bettencourt thought the best route forward might be to re-issue an RFP (after not moving forward with the present offer) with a minimum bid based on a new appraisal and the Affordable Housing Trust (AHT) putting forward the funds to demolish the structure prior to issuing the new RFP. However, counsel, after being asked about the AHT’s gift-in-kind to the town, said that the AHT could not make such a gift to demolish without owning or having the property transferred to the AHT. The AHT could not own or build on the property currently since it is not deed restricted to affordable housing. Bettencourt then suggested that funds from the Select Board Housing Fund be used for demolition. Mucci indicated again that they would be spending money to demolish and for an updated appraisal with no idea what the return would be. He also said, again, he didn’t want the legal exposure. Time to move on.
Bettencourt did not want to move on, pointing out that this property was identified in both the Master Plan and the Housing Production Plan as a place to build affordable housing. He felt it was the town’s responsibility to get an offer closer to the appraisal value or to build affordable housing. He wanted to hear from both the Affordable Housing Trust Committee and the Housing Partnership Board, both chairs being present, as stakeholders in the matter. His numerous requests were overlooked or ignored by Mucci. Bettencourt pointed out that the original RFP process was flawed since they did not get stakeholders involved to make recommendations regarding the offer(s) as required in the RFP.
Mucci responded that they put out the RFP as a last resort and nobody responded with an affordable housing build. In the years prior they had reached out to Habitat for Humanity and an affordable housing coalition in Medford with no takers. The AHTC did not respond to the RFP. Bettencourt responded that the AHTC would not have responded since they would get the funds in a sale anyway. Mucci indicated that nobody got involved in the 3 years prior and only now after an accepted offer are they trying to step up, but that it is too late. Bettencourt responded that they had bigger projects they were focused on but that nothing is final yet and they could consider other options and that affordable housing is valuable to the town.
After the heated discussion, board member, John Fallon, made a motion to move forward with the P&S and to negotiate the terms of demolition such that it would occur within 9 months (as agreed by buyers) and that the town would hold $40k in escrow from buyers to assure the demolition is done. The motion was not seconded.
Bettencourt then reiterated that he believed they should rescind the award due to new information and the desire for more money, get an updated appraisal using Select Board Housing funds or Town Manager funds and create a floor for the offer and with a few changes reissue an RFP. They should also locate funding for demolition. Mucci pointed out that they did not want a floor bid in the prior RFP since it could discourage developers from bidding. Bettencourt indicated that a process could be put in place instead of a floor to work with developers.
Bettencourt then moved to rescind the offer and RFP, use Select Board Housing Fund for an updated appraisal, find funding to demolish the structure and reissue an RFP. The motion was seconded but failed. Mucci remained against any motion not moving forward with the P&S. Fallon as well said there was no other information that would help him change his mind.
Vice-chair Anthea Brady expressed concern that rescinding the offer (and RFP) would take money ($40k) away from the AHT without knowing if there would be a future benefit to affordable housing. They would also have to spend funds for an updated appraisal and demolition with no guarantee of a future offer. But she did indicate that having an updated appraisal would be helpful information.
Brady made a motion to use up to $2,500 out of the Select Board Housing Fund to obtain an updated appraisal on 20 Glenwood Ave., which was approved.
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