By MAUREEN DOHERTY
LYNNFIELD — The town will continue to own the historic seven-acre Centre Farm at 567 Main St. for a while longer.
A proposal under Article 17 to transfer control of the property to the Board of Selectmen “for the purpose of the sale of the real property” failed to gain any traction and was indefinitely postponed at the annual Town Meeting April 27.
The article included the provision that the sale of the property would be subject to an “Historic Preservation Restriction” as allowed under Mass. General Law governing the property as well as its structures and fixtures.
The ability to impose such a restriction has been cited as one of the main reasons the town should acquire the property from the time this issue was raised nearly one year ago to protect it from being subdivided and prevent the buildings from being significantly altered or demolished. That restriction was sought during the Special Town Meeting, held June 30, 2014, when the voters overwhelming decided to purchase the property.
At the selectmen’s meeting held prior to Town Meeting, the board voted unanimously to declare the Centre Farm property as “surplus.” This is a necessary step for the property to be transferred to the board’s control for sale.
Town Administrator Jim Boudreau informed the board prior to the vote declaring it surplus property that the residential appraisal for Centre Farm was $825,000. An appraisal for a potential commercial use for the site, if it was to be re-zoned later by a vote of Town Meeting for such a purpose, has not yet been returned to the town, he said.
The Board of Selectmen was the only board recommending passage of the article. The Finance Committee recommended indefinitely postponing it. The Planning Board voted unanimously “not to adopt the provisions” of the article, planner Alan Dresios said.
Traffic study begun
Dresios said a study of the town center authorized by the Planning Board and paid from the proceeds of an $8,000 grant the board obtained, got underway the previous week and a traffic count in the town center was to be done last week.
“Unfortunately, selling the land now would preclude any ideas that they come up with that have to use some of that land,” Dresios said. He said it is not known right now whether using some of the Centre Farm frontage to solve some problems in the center “is the right idea or the wrong idea.” The Planning Board would hold a “visioning” session to ask townspeople about these and other ideas, he added.
“I think we deserve the time to take a look at this grant, come up with some solutions; if they work out, great, if they don’t, so be it,” Dresios said.
Bob Prosperi, 6 Charing Cross, said he was in favor of selling the property with restrictions in place. He asked how much the town paid for the property, how much was spent on renovations and how much money was lost.
Boudreau said the town paid $1.4M for Centre Farm, but added the funds set aside by the town to do repairs have not been used due to the potential sale. Boudreau said the minimum bid would be based upon the appraisal of $825,000.
Kendall Inglese, 23 Huckleberry Rd., pointed out the Centre Farm vote included an appropriation “to make appropriate indoor repairs (and) to assess the heating issue” and she was surprised it wasn’t done. She expressed “frustration” over having a proposal of her own to keep the farm going through “occasional use” as a community center, function space and art display center “and there was no one that would hear it” at the Capital Facilities Advisory Committee (CFAC) meeting last month.
“They haven’t given the community any opportunity to do anything with this. I am just very disappointed. I am wondering why the selectmen are suddenly turning the window of time, which was originally agreed to eight months ago for two years, without assigning people that would do a plan for this property,” Inglese said.
Ted Caswell of Forest Hill Avenue, who serves as chairman of the CFAC, a subcommittee appointed by the selectmen, agreed that the town voted last June overwhelmingly to save and preserve Centre Farm. He believes selling it as a single family home with preservation restrictions pertaining to the land achieves that end.
“Over the last year we have had two public forums, the most recent in March was extremely well documented, and we did not receive any viable proposals,” Caswell said. “Kendall, your proposal was well received but the viability is not quite complete,” he noted.
“The town is a bad landlord. The town doesn’t want to own this. We don’t want to operate it, we don’t want to lose money on it,” Caswell said.
Caswell said ADA compliance regulations plus building a parking lot and making the building modifications “will change that building dramatically,” therefore, CFAC recommends moving forward with the sale.
Tom Duggan, 50-year resident of 6 Westway, said he opposed Article 17. “The interior of the Centre Farmhouse is not a 2015 dump. It is an 1815 historic treasure trove in a Currier and Ives setting.”
Duggan disputed Caswell’s claim that the town would make a terrible landlord. “The town of Lynnfield is the largest and most powerful real estate operation in Lynnfield. It owns a $50 million Lynnfield budget, over $100 million of Lynnfield real property and over 1,000 acres of Lynnfield land, all cared for by hundreds of Lynnfield employees and thousands of residents,” he said.
“The now 100 percent town-owned park-like setting consisting of Centre Farm, two historic cemeteries, the little Cape and the Meeting House is Lynnfield’s front yard to the world. The majority of this park-like setting is Centre Farm’s seven acres,” Duggan emphasized.
All of the town-owned property in the center “impacts the character and value of every piece of real estate in Lynnfield,” Duggan said, adding, “Lynnfield should maintain direct ownership and direct control of it, forever.” He received applause for his statements.
John Gilbertson, 220 Essex St., received a round of applause as well after his comments encouraging the voters to turn down the transfer of control of the property to the selectmen, terming the Centre Farm property as “sacred.” He urged the town to spend more time studying what to do with it. “It is a thing of beauty and a thing of beauty is a wonderful thing to have in any town. Most towns don’t have it. I’m amazed that we got it.”
“When I came to that meeting where they bought Centre Farm, I was so pleased and so proud of our town. They saw a good deal and they bought it,” Gilbertson said, adding, “after a few months you want to give this over to a group who will sell it off for a few bucks?”
Abigail Kilgore, 7 Melch Rd., asked if Town Meeting currently holds the right to approve the sale of the land and if so, why would they give that right over to the selectmen?
“I would like the town to make that decision because we made the decision to purchase the property and preserve the property, so allow us that opportunity as a town to bring a bid to the town that tells us what would happen with that property,” Kilgore said.
Bob Gillon, 300 Main St., offered a motion to indefinitely postpone Article 17, ending the debate. Gillon’s motion passed on a voice vote.
This action marked the second time the sale of Centre Farm has been passed over at Town Meeting. In October 2014, the warrant article was not considered for a vote because the selectmen had decided not to declare the property as surplus, which is a requirement prior to seeking action by Town Meeting to authorize the selectmen to dispose of it.