Selectmen poised to vote on land swap

After taking more time to consider it, the Board of Selectmen is likely to vote this morning on a proposed land swap on West Putnam Avenue.

Under the proposal currently before the board, which meets this morning at 10 in the Town Hall Meeting Room, the town would receive three parcels of land along Holly Hill Road in exchange for giving up 1.6352 acres of land at 600 West Putnam Avenue to a private developer. That land is being sought as part of a planned renovation of the building there and construction of a parking garage and the clock is ticking on the deal.

The project needs approval from the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) and Christopher Bristol, who is representing the entity that wants the West Putnam Avenue property, said the goal is to have it on the call for the body’s Sept. 17 meeting. To be able to do that the item must be submitted by Aug. 24, meaning the selectmen must approve it at today’s meeting or else it will have to wait for the RTM’s October meeting.

“We are pressed for time,” Mr. Bristol said.

“We will endeavor to get this done by your deadline,” First Selectman Peter Tesei said. “We understand this is a business enterprise and we don’t want to cost your business anything.”

To be mindful of that schedule, the selectmen set aside plans to potentially cancel today’s meeting, as just about every other town board had done for the month of August, and instead will come into session this morning with this as the main agenda item.

At the board’s, Aug. 9 meeting, the selectmen had initially eyed making a decision but instead deferred it until today’s meeting because they wanted to find out more information. Selectman David Theis wondered if in fact the West Putnam Avenue land was more valuable than the three parcels because it was continuous and whether it was a better deal to try and sell the land instead of trading it. Mr. Bristol contended it served more of a purpose to his client because it could be used by his client instead of just sitting there like it is now without any real use for the town. He added he couldn’t speak to any potential sale since that wasn’t what his client had asked for.

Mr. Bristol said by getting this land in the exchange, the town would be able to benefit because the work would widen and straighten the right of way on Holly Hill Road, allowing for a sidewalk to be installed and curb improvements to be made and paid for by his client, Putnam, 600 Acquisition, LLC. Mr. Bristol added that the areas of land being exchanged are of equal area and have been assessed to be at an equal value.

“It’s best use will be in connection with town right-of-way and improvements associated with that,” Mr. Bristol said. “The properties themselves don’t have much value except being associated functionally with where they’re located.”

Mr. Tesei asked if it was possible for the sidewalk to be put in even without the town agreeing to the swap and Mr. Bristol told him it was possible, but the planned improvements his client was willing to pay for included the land. Mr. Tesei said he wasn’t asking to suggest the town wasn’t going to agree to the swap, but was just asking as a hypothetical to gather information.

Mr. Tesei added that there are questions to be considered like what value the town is getting from this and what if any value the town might be missing if there wasn’t further consideration. Mr. Theis said he wanted to learn more about the assessed value of the land as well as get an overlay of what the plan would do to the land, something Mr. Tesei said he also wanted.

Selectman Drew Marzullo wondered what the impact would be on the renovation and construction if the exchange was not agreed to. He asked why this piece of land was so important.

“To be honest it just makes sense to do it,” Mr. Bristol said. “We’ve talked to the town’s Department of Public Works and they agree with us. They said the land swap is acceptable and they’re happy that we’re improving the roadway. It’s in an area that’s not very useful from a neighborhood perspective or very functional for the town.”

He added that the best use it could have would be to provide better access to his client’s property and the project they’re doing.

Ultimately the selectmen, particularly Mr. Theis, said they wanted to go out and take a look at the property themselves before making any final decisions. Town Planner Diane Fox appeared briefly at the Aug. 9 meeting and said she felt the swap was a fair one and that the planned improvements that would be made as part of it would benefit the town. She added that development to the area could be a benefit to the town through increased property taxes for the property.

The property had previously been a part of a proposed car dealership that was to be built in 2004. The Board of Selectmen at the time granted the MI and allowed the project to go forward to the Planning and Zoning Commission. However, the project never went forward and the property was later sold to a third party and the MI never received RTM approval. This would be a new MI but Mr. Bristol noted the town’s willingness to part with the property before as a reason why the current proposal should be allowed to go forward.

It’s unclear why the original project did not go forward, but Mr. Bristol, who was not involved in it, said his notes show there was litigation over the zoning commission’s approval.

“After that was settled it was sold again and the owner at the time put on the brakes and didn’t do anything further,” Mr. Bristol said.

If the project goes forward to the RTM, Mr. Marzullo predicted that someone there would find a reason to object to it. He asked Mr. Bristol if he could foresee any potential downside to the deal that someone might speak out against it.

“If there was a better use for this property from the town’s point of view, I contend that someone would have already come forth to propose that it be used for anything other than what it’s being used for now,” Mr. Bristol said.


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