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Opportunities for O’Brien property on Blue Hill Road

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By Friday, Aug 3, 2018 Letters 29

To the Editor:

My family home is bordered on the north by Blue Hill Road and on the south by the Old Road (later called Roger Road), so the sights and sound of trucks were familiar and intrusive on normal family backyard activities such as talking to one another and having a cookout. And, as well documented, the impact on normal living has intensified and no relief is in sight despite heartfelt testimony from the residents.

Today, there is a proposal for the town to buy the property, and life on Three Mile Hill may become quieter. I displayed GB Plat map 37 (lot 37-9) on my computer screen and came up with some thoughts for its uses if the town buys it. 11 Roger Road was a much larger property at one time. Now it looks like and probably was two parcels that at some time were combined. To separate them might make sense. The small lower piece could possibly be saleable/ buildable; it has no known contamination but does lack a working septic system. The existing house would have to be torn down, but another could be built.

The upper hillside portion of the property (lot 2, I’ll call it) is perhaps not buildable or is marginally buildable because it probably does not perc, is rocky, and may not have access to town water. Also it may well be contaminated after years of truck parking, vehicle repair, maintenance, and re-fueling. If testing shows evidence of contamination, I think that such a finding should not be a deal breaker re: the town’s purchase. Instead, a time period to study the options might be a good idea especially if a couple of the neighbors could participate. Is the contamination limited to a certain area or is it widespread? What would it cost to remediate it? Could it be capped so it could contain a large array of solar panels? Could the town save money and participate in some promising new types of research where trees, grown in contaminated areas, help to remediate the soil. The wood from such trees has useful properties. This might be the most forward thinking project of all.

Open space is also a possibility for part of the parcel, because it is near the 219-acre Thomas & Palmer Brook Preserve and adjoins the Elmwood Cemetery Association land. There could be possibilities of partnerships with the Berkshire Natural Resources Council (stewards of the T & P preserve) in the activities planned for the T and P parcel. This is probably the quietest of possible uses!

Jeanné Stewart Chesanow

28 Blue Hill Rd.

Great Barrington, Mass.

29 Comments   Add Comment

  1. W.C. says:

    The track record of the Town managing real estate is far less then impressive. The use of tax payer dollars should not be involved in this issue. For whatever reasons this is the abutter’s issue the old saying “buyer remorse”, this should not be a Town bailout.

    1. Eric says:

      Tax dollars are guaranteed to be involved regardless of whether the purchase is made or not, unfortunately. There are now lawsuits against the Town from both sides, and the costs of defending those for years on end will far outweigh the cost of acquiring the property. Buying the property is actually the cheaper, more practical solution.

      1. John says:

        The 25 abutters should be ashamed of themselves for browbeating the town with the attempt to increase the value of their properties after they bought their property. The property is for sale for $400,000. Simply band together, pony up 11,500 each and resolve the issue.
        Every resident should not have to pay to increase the property value for these 35 residents.

      2. Peter says:

        Agreed! Well said, provided the Town doesn’t then “install” some other use of land that is inappropriate for the setting and neighborhood. Should go without saying to do that would be foolhardy.

      3. Bob says:

        @John I’m afraid the entirety of shame belongs to the Town for not properly doing their job in the past to manage this unique and strange piece of land that has restrictions, protecting their residents and this residential neighborhood, and not the least of which is putting their backs into upholding their own bylaws, including enforcement and fines.

        The shame also belongs to the Business who at every turn says they want to work with neighbors (for 8 years now since buying the property) but continually acts in a contradictory and detrimental way to the neighbors, all in the name of making a buck. I think the buck stops here.

        Where is the outcry for these residents!? Many of whom have LONG been here since the 50s, 60s and 70s. The Business who since buying this land has said they farm trees, nope. Operate a landscaping business. Nope. Now they’re a trucking company…nope again. The land has limited and specific uses for which is outside your Business.

        For all the Town voters, here’s the headline fo this story: this Business made a bad business decision, and the residents and Town are tired of spending time, energy and money on your foolishness.

    2. Peter says:

      @WC I admit a limited knowledge in Town’s record in real estate, but for the few instances I’m familiar with I would say it’s worth noting that each administration of Town inherits all the prior Town leader’s decisions/actions. That’s often not an easy position to be in. Sometimes really bad decisions from past don’t have simple, elegant or inexpensive solutions in the future. Especially when Town is trying to right a wrong from past, and is accountable for those past decisions and future resolutions.

    3. Brett says:

      @WC Your position/argument seems to be akin to blaming someone who sits down in a restaurant or airplane next to someone who then begins smoking and they are then unhappy and complaining about it to management.

      Of course they are complaining, and of course that person is then asked to put out the cigarette or asked to leave. It is illegal, and not allowed.

  2. Craig Okerstrom-Lang says:

    We do not need another park in GB. This property would be ideal to sell as a residential property and added to the fabric of the Blue Hill neighborhood.

    It could be for single family homes or rental apartments.

    Park space does not pay much needed property taxes.

    1. Peter says:

      @Craig Property value is $255,300 which is tax deductible if land donated to BNRC who has nearby/abutting land preserve. Then the real cost to tax payers is < 43,000 to acquire. Something to consider because this property likely has a limited ability to generate property tax for housing, and Business isn't going to work there anymore.

      1. Steve Farina says:

        Sounds like a great opportunity for the nearby residents to make a purchase and receive the tax write off. Their legal bills will probably also be in the 10s of thousands if they continue their litigation…. cost to the taxpayer on that scenario: $0

      2. Peter says:

        @Steve Why should residents who have no fault or doing in creating the matter fix a something that others (i.e. Town/Business) are responsible for causing? Especially when litigation to resolve land use and reclaim legal fees while may take time, would cost them less $.

        Tack on to suit other damages to property values, environment, public health – can easily be argued residents will make money to pursue litigation.

        Fixing the past decisions of Town leaders and others isn’t easy or cheap, but it would appear the current Town is trying, finally, at last? To be determined.

      3. Steve Farina says:

        I am not trying to take a hard stance on this at the moment. There is clearly much to discuss and many potential options/outcomes. This is the exact reason I am proposing a “NO” vote to put the issue on hold until the ATM, or at least until the townspeople have a chance to fully discuss it.

      4. Peter says:

        @Steve Good to keep open mind. The question I would ask is: What happens to the residents in the meantime if vote no and hold on this now? The Town has not enforced their own Apr302018 Decision from ZBA; Every day since then the Business continues to operate at will, at all hours, etc.. Residents of this neighborhood have literally been working this same nuisance/property use matter since early 1990s. How much longer should they wait for quiet and resolution?

        Where was the Town in 1995 when they signed an agreement with then property owner, and didn’t consult the residents, didn’t hold Public/Open meetings for input? Is that agreement even lawful?

        Town seems to want to put end to all this at lowest likely cost to all through acquisition. Shouldn’t count of much more patient or delay of litigation from residents who have lost patience after decades of neglect.

  3. John says:

    Perfect place for a low income housing project

    1. Craig Okerstrom-Lang says:

      Low income housing belongs within walking distance to town and sidewalks. This property does not meet that criteria.

      Plus John your comments have no relevance if you can’t put your full name on your comments.

      1. I Puplius says:

        What will they buy in town? An espresso and a croissant? 11 Roger Road is less than one mile from Price Chopper.

  4. Steven Farina says:

    There are many potential uses for the property. All of which have varying costs associated with them. It is for this reason that this should be voted “NO” at the STM. The Town should then look to extend the time frame on the contract until after the next Annual Town Meeting, so that we the taxpayers, whose money is being used to purchase and subsequently pay for whatever the ultimate disposition of the property is, can be presented a prepared plan. This plan should include all associated and expected costs.
    As we jave seen in recent news articles, when someone comes to the Town to propose a pot shop at a particular location nothing less than these requirements are expected.
    As the Town is seeking to spend over $300K of taxpayer money, all the due diligence (including soil tests) should be done BEFORE the approval of granting the funds.

    1. Eric says:

      Hi Steve,
      One of the problems with trying to account for all costs involved is that the costs of defending the town from current and future lawsuits from each side are unknown- but might easily exceed the cost of acquiring and disposing of the property. This issue has come up every few years with that site, and it’s time to dispose of it once and for all, without further expenditure by the town for recurring attorney fees. Buying it, removing its grandfathered status, and selling it is the least expensive solution, and probably the only permanent solution.

      1. Steve Farina says:

        I am not against buying and selling it, or using it for any other purpose the Town deems worthy. We, the taxpayers should have more information before going headlong into it.
        If we buy and sell it, can it be sold at profit, or does it have to be auctioned?
        If the intent is to buy and sell, why not just allow a Real Estate company do that privately and leave taxpayer money out of it?
        Does affordable housing make sense…very likely – similar to what was just built up on rt 23. Maybe an organization like Construct can step up and but it.
        There are so many options, and this decision is being asked without appropriate time for the townspeople to fully (or even barely at all) discuss it.
        Further, the Select Board chose not to advertise the STM, and has therefore likely cut out an indeterminate number of voting taxpayers from the process.
        It should be put on HOLD until the ATM so that these and other issues can be addressed.

    2. Ed Abrahams says:

      The motion will be divided into two separate motions. The first will give the Selectboard the authority to move ahead with purchase and sale agreement in order to buy and hold the property.

      The second motion will give the board the authority to decide what to do with the property, whether to sell it to the highest bidder, sell it for certain restricted purposes, turn it into a park, create affordable housing, etc.

      If the second motion is defeated, the SB will have to come back to town meeting with a specific recommendation about what to do with the property. If the first motion is defeated or even passed over until May, we continue the litigation process immediately and resume spending money on legal fees.

      This is not a cut and dried decision and I understand the hesitation. There is uncertainty, about the value of the land if it isn’t commercial. About the ultimate amount of legal fees, about the end result of litigation.

      1. Steve Farina says:

        Could not all parties agree to a continuation on litigation until after the the ATM? I understand the resdient’s concerns, though this has been going on for years and there is little time for the townspeople to discuss it. Also, as I mentioned, the lack of advertising for the meeting will keep an indeterminate number of taxpaying voters from knowledge of the issue being put forth, and the opportunity to participate.
        The Town should probably not get into the Real Estate business, with the buying and selling of property.
        The sudden rush to act on this gives the appearance of a weak legal stance for the town in going forward with litigation.
        Perhaps the issues I mention could be worked out before the next ATM, and a separate STM could be called, whereby spending $4000 and fully notifying the decision makers is a petty cost in the overall scheme of things.

  5. John Grogan says:

    Apparently I am not as educared on this issue as I need to be. Why is the town involved in this at all as a litigant? The zoning laws have functioned as they are supposed to, sort of. The town has taken appropriate steps to enforce the codes by levying fines. The fines should be enforced or the property should be foreclosed on/seized, not purchased at a profit. Why is the town rewarding the behavior of a company which is flaunting the rules, not paying the fines and continuing to misuse the property? I feel badly for the folks who are subject to the noise and misuse, but in most cases, since the use of the land predates the zoning laws, the abutters and neighbors who bought up there should’ve done their due diligence before they bought. Ultimately this seems to be a dispute between neighbors, not something the town should be trying to solve via purchase. I am sure someone will straighten me out on this tho.

    1. Ed Abrahams says:

      Enforcing zoning laws, in this case, means going to court, which means lawyer fees. There is a difference of opinion about what is allowed, what activities are grandfathered, on that property. The difference is between the owner, the Zoning Board, and the neighbors.

      Both the owner and the neighbors disagree with he Zoning Board’s opinion and both are challenging it in different courts. The town must defend both challenges.

      1. Peter says:

        Worth noting to any unaware readers, that the Apr30 2018 ZBA Decision states the current use of the Property is outside allowable use, it states that the grandfathered non-conformity status is now discontinued – yet it then also states that the current state can continue with certain restrictions. Restrictions that in no way are fit for a residential neighborhood, or ones that align with Public health, safety or the neighbors – especially the children, elderly/retired in the area of which there are many. There is a VERY long list of things that are illegal about the current use of the property in question. Let’s hope in this effort, the Town has a plan to end this matter once and for all in a manner fitting for well-being of neighborhood.

    2. Peter says:

      @John G, I agree with you, educate yourself on this matter further! Walk the neighborhood and ask the locals living at ground-zero about status quo, etc..

      This dispute includes the Town because they don’t enforce their own bylaws, nor do they fine. They leave it to the neighbors to continue to do the enforcement by brining to their attention. There are 10s if not 100s of thousands of $ the Town could have pursued in fines going back to the 2010-11 C&D. Why did that not happen? Why does the Business say they want to be good neighbors to the residents and work something out yet continually operates regularly at 430am, often earlier. And as late as 9,10,11 pm..and other actions that don’t align with a residential neighborhood. Why does the ZEO (Ed May) seem to be the only person in the Town who has ever tried to resolve this matter? Where is his support?!?!

      It’s also worth noting the Town has a responsibility to their residents, and in this matter for the state of affairs as past administrations of the Town helped to “create” the current state, and if you don’t know what that means, then see first two sentences in this comment.

      The residents did not create or cause this matter, the Town largely has done that along with the Business.

  6. W.C. says:

    I agree with Mr. Grogan. Further would add after years of experience in the field considering the past use of the property the remediation costs could be astronomical.

  7. W.C. says:

    I would further add that whatever the outcome of this issue the Owner be it O’Brien or hopefully not the Town will be by current laws be responsible for remediation costs. This could easily increase the $300K number to 3X that amount. If heavy equipment has been parked there for decades is easy to see the toxic waste that has polluted the site.

    1. Brett says:

      @WC FYI and that of Town voters, there are State grants/funds available to remediate environmental concerns like these WHEN converting property to green/open space (i.e. park space). So largely defer or eliminate costs.

  8. W.C. says:

    Due to the newly “adjusted” EPA guide lines that which you refer are next to impossible to obtain if at all. They would still not apply to this property.

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