RAIL TRANSIT DISTRICT ACQUISITION
Many of you know that we have explored the possibility of acquiring the Rail Transit District (consisting of Lot 2 and Lot 3) over the last couple of years. At almost 180 acres total (including the cap), my contention was that the overall development of this property would have the single biggest impact of any kind on this town (at least during my career). As a result, we need to do this right. Over the last year, the property owner has been willing to enter into certain sales agreements, only to withdraw from them for a multitude of reasons. As a result, we felt that eminent domain should be strongly looked into as an alternative to an arms length purchase and sale transaction, and communicated that to the owner appropriately.
Here is the land owner’s conceptual plan about what to do for “Phase I”:
As you can see, this covers virtually all of the western side of the MBTA Road (Lot2), and begins to build out the eastern side (Lot 3). Phase 2 would build out the remainder of Lot 3. These are the current specifics for each Lot.
Lot 2 Current – Townhome and apartment development (152 to 252 units) covering all 38 acres of Lot 2. Age restricted to 55 . No affordable component.
Lot 3 (non-solar) Current – The site is currently zoned for a number of uses, including townhome development, small commercial space (like a strip mall), and an assisted living facility.
Lot 3 (solar) Current – This is scheduled to be a solar facility
I am pleased to say that over the last week, the land owner and I have agreed to terms on a rather complex deal. This will eliminate the need for an eminent domain taking. This plan correctly addresses these critical issues facing us in town, including:
- Affordable housing for our seniors, providing our more vulnerable residents a safe place to live while limiting the impacts to schools
- Immunizing ourselves against proposed 40b developments (like that at the Valentine Estate), which further impacts our schools and resources
- Bringing a new regional YMCA to town, providing a draw to town from outside communities and providing our town a number of resources we currently don’t have (think “swimming pool”)
- A place for a new office/tech development of medium size (around ten acres)
- Adequate open space throughout the property connected with trails (including a section of the Upper Charles Trail)
- Buffers protecting surrounding neighborhoods
This plan would include the following:
Lot 2 Proposed – Senior affordable apartments (150-180 units). At least 25% of the units will be affordable, and since they are apartments, all of the units will count towards our subsidized housing inventory. This will give us “safe harbor” status from 40b developments for at least two years and give us significant progress towards our 10% affordable number (increases us by 2.5%). Fifteen of the affordable units will be at the 30% to 50% income level, making these truly affordable for seniors. Additionally, 24 acres of the 38 acres will be deeded back to the Town as opposed to developing the entire 38 acres with townhomes. This can happen because of the switch to all apartments and not townhomes (smaller footprint).
Lot 3 (non-solar) Proposed – The land owner has agreed to donate 10 acres to the Metrowest YMCA for the purpose of constructing a new regional facility in Ashland. Ashland is proposing to purchase the remaining 80 acres for a net of $4.4 million (approx. $55,000 per acre). Part of the land is proposed to be used for commercial purposes, currently conceptualized as a small office/technological park. The remainder of the land will remain passive recreation land, including use as part of the Upper Charles Trail. Please see the Upper Charles Trail website for the specific section.
Lot 3 (solar) Proposed – This will remain as a solar farm
This plan would need to be executed over the course of two Town Meetings. The first would be the acquisition of the property at the 11/28 Town Meeting. The second would be a zoning change at a future Town Meeting (probably in January or February).
This is a tremendous opportunity for us. Being able to accomplish the above goals is an exceptional deviation from what the current land owner is allowed to do on the property and also what he plans to do.
How do we pay for this? While $4.4 million is a good deal, we still have to find the funding sources to make it happen. I am proposing doing this using two sources:
- The solar project will yield us $1.25 million in tax payments over twenty years. I propose utilizing this for the project.
- Senator Spilka has included $3 million in the Economic Development bond bill. The rest of the funding will be paid for using non-excluded debt. Proceeds from the development of the commercial property could be utilized to pay for the property as well.
The cost is minimal compared to what can happen if we choose to do nothing.