By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — The town will approach the federal government about the possibility of acquiring the 2.5 acres and 11 vacant homes on Tarrant Lane formerly used to house Coast Guard families. Tarrant Lane is at the top of Hopkins Street, near the Reading line.
Elm Street resident Jim Scott appeared before the Board of Selectmen Monday night to pitch the idea of seeing if the town could acquire the land from the federal government at a minimal price. Scott said that he had read a July 16 Daily Item story about the land and homes going to public auction.
The Item story reported that the homes were originally built as housing for families of the United States military and most recently for Coast Guard families. The story also noted that the property was slated to go up for auction as a single parcel via public sale. The land is currently owned by the federal government through the U.S. Coast Guard. The sale will be handled by the General Services Administration (GSA).
The single-family homes currently on the dead end street all have vinyl siding of various pastel shades. All are built on concrete slabs and have no basements. Each home has a living room, a kitchen with appliances, two bedrooms and one bathroom. Each house has a side storage shed.
The federal government is exempt from real estate taxes, so the town has never received any tax revenue from the property. The July 16 Item story quoted GSA spokesman Patrick Sciafini as saying that the federal government “will be looking to obtain fair market value for the property.”
But Scott had a different idea as to what the federal government should do with the property on Tarrant Lane.
“They should give it to the town of Wakefield,” Scott said. Scott said that he could remember when there was nothing on that land. He speculated that the feds “probably took it by eminent domain back then,” paying “hardly anything” for it. Scott reminded the board of a similar situation in 1975 when the town was successful in getting the state of Massachusetts to sell them the former Armory (now the Americal Civic Center) for one dollar.
“I feel Wakefield should have some say in what goes there,” Scott said. He suggested that the town approach both U.S. senators from Massachusetts for any assistance in persuading the federal government to give the Tarrant Lane land to the town “for a dollar.”
Chairman Brian Falvey said that Scott raised a good point and the town should look into the possibility.
Selectman Betsy Sheeran suggested that the town hand the matter over to the Wakefield Housing Authority, which could go after any federal funds or property. She also noted that according to the town’s latest Housing Plan, the town is now at 8 percent affordable housing. She floated the possibility that if the Housing Authority were somehow able to acquire the Tarrant Lane parcel, the homes could be used to provide affordable housing to Wakefield residents.
Scott liked Sheeran’s idea. “What I would hate to see is another monstrosity built up in that area,” Scott said. “That area is overbuilt now.”
The board asked Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio to refer the matter to the Housing Authority. Maio noted that the Housing Authority had been very successful a number of years ago securing federal funding for the rebuilding of Hart’s Hill.
Falvey suggested that Maio take a parallel approach and also reach out to Senator Ed Markey about the possibility of the town acquiring the land at a nominal price.
The board approved and gave Maio the authority to sign and submit to the state Wakefield’s new Housing Production Plan. Town Planner Paul Reavis explained to the board that the main benefit of having a state-approved Housing Production Plan is that it provides a kind of “safe harbor” for the town against unwanted 40B projects.
According the website of the Massachusetts Housing and Community Development (DHCD) if a community has a DHCD approved Housing Production Plan and is granted a DHCD certification of compliance with the plan, a decision by the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) to deny a Comprehensive Permit application will be deemed “Consistent with Local Needs” under MGL Chapter 40B. “Consistent with Local Needs” means the ZBA’s decision will be upheld by the Housing Appeals Committee.
The selectmen’s vote to authorize Maio to sign and submit the Housing Production Plan was unanimous.