Old English Square eminent domain is withdrawn
By Tom Gorman
Horse stable article defeated
Friday, June 1, 2007
A proposal to take the Old English Square development by eminent domain has been withdrawn while a proposal to allow a horse stable on the site was defeated.
Assessor Chairman Robert Powilatis withdrew the warrant article at Tuesday’s Town Meeting, explaining that town counsel wants the proposed measure redrafted.
Powilatis submitted a petition bearing names of officials and residents asking that Town Meeting authorize the board of selectmen to conduct a study of taking the Mullins Company’s 78-acre Union Street parcel by eminent domain and convert the property into a municipal golf course.
The town would pay the company $1.9 million for the land.
The proposal also calls for entering into an agreement with the Holbrook/Randolph Joint Water Board in leasing a 22-acre parcel of abandoned wells and making it part of the golf course.
Powilatis previously told the Sun that he and some residents favored taking the land because of delays in developing the property.
He charged Mullins officials with challenging the planning board’s conditions and changing the scope of the project. Mullins officials have denied the charges.
Mullins is proposing to build 211 condos and up to 70,000 square feet of retail and commercial space.
It was not immediately known when the eminent domain proposal would be brought before future Town Meeting.
Meanwhile, Mullins’s proposal to amend zoning at the Union Street site to allow horses and stables was rejected by Town Meeting on an 87 to 39 vote.
Mullins President Michael Mullins told Town Meeting that his proposal sought to clarify the legality of agriculture uses at the site.
“This is not an act to rezone,” he said.
Mullins explained that Holbrook’s current bylaw does not allow agriculture uses in certain districts, regardless of the size of the parcel.
State law allows agriculture uses on parcels of more than five acres.
“We’re well over that.” Mullins said.
The state Attorney General’s Office sent a letter to Holbrook officials outlining the statute during its review of the Old English project.
State law says that municipalities cannot restrict agriculture on land greater than five acres.
In a letter to Town Meeting members, Mullins noted that the site was a former dairy farm owned by the Wright family.
Mullins proposed building a horse stable at the back of the retail village.
Opponents charged that Mullins wanted to reduce the property’s tax rate by having it zoned as agricultural.
“By this, he can reduce the rates he is paying,” Selectmen Vice Chairman Richard McGaughey said.
He added that if the measure was passed, the town would not be able to challenge any future issues relative to the agriculture zoning.
“If we give him permission, we won’t be able to stop him” McGaughey said.
Mullins denied that he was seeking a reduced tax rate.
“It is not our intention to get an improper tax rate,” he said.
Mullins said that in order to qualify for a reduced rate, the principal use of the site would have to be agricultural.
“In order to qualify for an exemption, we would have to take all the condos and convert them to agriculture use,” he said.
Selectman Katherine Connolly, speaking as a resident, also opposed the proposal.
She said tie developer could set aside five acres and claim agriculture use.
“We would lose tax revenue.” Connolly said.
Powilatis also voiced opposition.
“If we have this article, we don’t have a leg to stand on if it goes to court,” he said.
On a standing vote, the proposal was defeated.
Town Meeting also defeated a proposal to allow self-service gas stations.
Opponents expressed concern about the safety of having drivers pump their own gas and said that there would be no cost savings for consumers.
Supporters said that the measure would help small, struggling service station owners by reducing the amount of needed personnel.