Last night the Board of Selectmen acting as Trustees of the Governor Stoughton Fund voted to accept the proposal from Pulte Homes to develop one of the largest parcels of land in town, the 34 acre property left by Governor Stoughton to benefit the poor. In the end the vote was unanimous; but the session had some bumps along the way.
The vote took place after the public were invited to comment on the proposals. There were 5 proposals in all but the Trustees had narrowed the choice to two by the time they made the proposals public after their June 15th meeting. Those proposals were from Pulte Homes, one of the nation’s largest homebuilders, and the Copeland Foundation, a local philanthropic organization.
The residents who spoke, approximately 17 in all, including former Attorney General Robert Quinn, were largely in support of the Copeland proposal which would have preserved the land as open space. The comments in support of the Copeland proposal stressed the simplicity of the deal and trustworthiness of the Copeland Foundation. John Hajjar reiterated many speakers sentiments when he said the town should be satisfied with “one in the hand.” Like others, he was concerned about what Pulte would (or wouldn’t) do once the deal was signed. Pulte, as a for profit concern, might change the plans, flip the property, or go in an unforseen direction and that litigation could ensue that would be costly to the town.
Those who spoke in favor of selecting Pulte including Town Meeting members Julio Varela and Tom Callahan cited the tremendous financial advantages that proposal had which would go to satisfying the intent of the will (e.g. benefit the poor). Mr. Varela commended Shields and Hurley for showing political courage in supporting the Pulte proposal and taking the wishes of the whole town into account. The Pulte proposal had a proposal price of $5 million. The Copeland price was $1.75 million.
At the close of comments the Trustee reiterated the positions they had staked out at the previous meeting. Sweeney supported Copeland as “a low risk proposal that was a clear winner.” Shields and Hurley supported the Pulte bid as better meeting the intent of the will. Shields also stressed that he did not believe the Copeland bid would receive the Attorney General’s endorsement, nor would it be approved by probate court. “Our obligation is to do our best for a man’s last will and testament.”
Hurley shared that concern. He related that he had spoken to several people whose counsel he trusted and been advised that the court was unlikely to support the decision. Hurley then became subject to some raucus and rude objections from the audience. When Sweeney asked the audience to let him speak, Mr. Lowney of 60 Whittier Road loudly said, “He spoke enough.”
Mr. Shields in his comments also addressed the need to bring the issue to resolution. People had asked, “why can’t we just throw it out?” Shields said putting it back out to bid might make it appear that the Trustees were attempting to get the bid up. “We can’t go backward.”
Sweeney agreed on need to move forward and that is when a series of motions got a little wonky. When Shields entered a motion to accept the Pulte bid, Sweeney interjected with a similar motion that had different language. The difference was inserting Copeland as a fall back in the event that the Pulte bid should fall through. Shields did not favor the idea and an audience member rose from her seat challenging him. She vented her point of view for including the Copeland proposal then left the room.
Hurley supported Sweeney in having the Copeland proposal inserted as a fallback should the Pulte deal not go through. The motion was made by Sweeney to accept Pulte with Copeland as a fallback, seconded, and unanimously approved by the Trustees.