Public outcry postpones Trustees vote on Town Farm

There was nothing to indicate that last night’s meeting of Trustees of the Governor Stoughton property would go smoothly.  The trustees were scheduled to vote to approve one of five proposals submitted in response to an RFP on development of the property commonly known as the Town Farm.  Getting to this point has been a long and arduous process for the trustees. Public sessions have historically be contentious and last night was no exception.

Though there was no scheduled Citizen’s Speak, citizens did speak and they were not happy.

The session commenced with Bob Sweeney, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, making a motion to approve the The Copeland Family Foundation Proposal. There were 5 proposals. The bidders were: The Copeland Family Foundation, Weston Associates (in collaboration with Gralia Group & Spalding Tougias Architects), Pulte Homes of New England, Governor Stoughton Land Preservation, and Community Builders.

The motion was seconded by Tom Hurley who also said he was unlikely to vote for it. Sweeney went on to explain why he favored that the Copeland bid. He had a stack of documents a foot and a half high which after thorough review led him to his decision. It was not a surprise. Mr. Sweeney has made a number of public statements indicating his preference for historic preservation of the land. Of the 5 proposals, the Copeland proposal is the only one that would essentially keep the land as is. Sweeney outlined the key points of the proposal. Copeland proposed a payment of $1.75 million ($750K initial payment and $250K per year over next 4 years). They would also rehab the alms house at cost of $580K and continue to make a contribution of $30-50 to Milton Food Pantry annually. Sweeney also highlighted that the impact to town services would be minimal.

Tom Hurley spoke next. He voiced support from the proposal from Pulte who had a bid price of $5 million. Hurley noted that prior to his election to Board of Selectmen (who are also the Trustees) the proposals being considered were down to two: Pulte and Copeland. When, how and why the proposals went from 5 to 2 was a little confusing. At one point a statement was made that 3 were disqualified. Later it was mentioned that one was eliminated due to price. At another point it was said that three “did not meet the criteria.” It may have been a variety of factors – that is, Governor Stoughton Land Preservation was eliminated because their bid price was lower than Pulte’s. Weston was disqualified for failure to attend a mandatory meeting. Sweeney stated that developers were aware of the meeting and that missing the meeting was not something they took lightly. However, the team from Weston claim they knew they had missed the meeting, contacted town officials about the opportunity to submit a proposal in light of missing the meeting and were encouraged to proceed. The overall process seems somewhat fraught with mixed messages.

Hurley and Shields favor the Pulte bid. They favor it because it represents a significant sum that can go to establishing a foundation for the poor and that the Copeland bid would be very unlikely to receive the endorsement of the Attorney General given the bid price was so much lower. Without that support, they say, the chances of getting the decision approved by the probate court are extremely slim. According to Shields, “it won’t pass muster.”

At the time that intentions of Trustees became clear, the audience grew restive and members started to shout out objections. It was not a large audience but it was a vocal one. One anonymous audience member claimed that the Trustees would squander the $5 million in no time and that all he heard about was “poor, poor, poor.” Another stated that she did not see how $5 million would help the poor. Other concerns included one from John Hajjar who voiced the opinion that Pulte might alter their plans once they realized that there was a large ledge on the property and go with a 40B development. Mr. Freedman asked if the Trustees had looked at the value of proposals over time. His point was that the Copeland proposal might actually be more finanically competitive given that the town would realize the revenue sooner than the they would with Pulte. In short the trustees heard the objections and a motion was made to postpone the vote until 6/27th and allow the public to review all the proposals. You can find the proposals online here.

Despite the efforts of the Trustees to be transparent in their process, it was in large part the public’s objecting at last night’s session to being kept in the dark over the proposals for the development of the land that resulted in postponing the vote.

Shields asked Town Counsel if it was permissible to release the documents. Town Counsel voiced no objection.

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