SELECTMAN MIKE PRISCO urged voters at Town Meeting to approve the deal to allow the town to control development of the JT Berry property. (Bob Turosz Photo)

SELECTMAN MIKE PRISCO urged voters at Town Meeting to approve the deal to allow the town to control development of the JT Berry property.
(Bob Turosz Photo)

NORTH READING – Since construction of the 400 unit Edgewood Apartments complex on roughly half of the former JT Berry property years ago, the rest of the property has stood vacant and undeveloped. That may change at some point in the near future now that Town Meeting authorized the Selectmen to acquire the land, approximately 40 acres, in an effort to speed and control its development and return to the tax rolls.

The Meeting gave two-thirds approval to an innovative partnership with the state, which still owns the remaining undeveloped land that abuts the Edgewood Apartments property. Called a “sales partnership model,” the agreement will allow the town to take title to the property while also taking control of marketing the land with an eye toward its future development and return to the tax rolls. In this way the town will control how the land is developed and what eventually goes in there, not the state, explained Selectman Michael Prisco.

When the land is sold, the town and the state will split the proceeds but there are incentives in the deal that could give the town as much as 60 percent of the price, Prisco said. The Meeting appropriated some $130,000 to cover possible expenses associated with the marketing. But when the land is sold, the town can deduct its expenses from the sale price before sharing the proceeds with the state.

The sale partnership model is a new process the state put in place a few years ago to help it work with cities and towns to transition unused state properties like the Berry, which closed as a state facility over 20 years ago, back to private ownership and onto tax rolls.

It’s possible the town will end up paying the state $1 to acquire the land, Prisco said, because the deal is for the town to pay the state whatever “sunk costs” the state has already invested in the property and then the two parties share in the proceeds when the land is sold. To date the state has no “sunk costs” in the remaining undeveloped portion of the Berry land because all of the state’s costs were incurred during the sale of the rest of the land to Lincoln Properties, which developed the apartments.

There may be some expenses for appraisals and the environmental process and the Legislature must give its approval, Prisco said. The town hopes to begin the process of starting to market the property next spring.

“This is a good thing for the town,” Prisco said. “Under the agreement we have with the state, it’s an unrestricted use of the property. Once we acquire it, we can make the decision what to do with it,” he said. At this point the Selectmen haven’t made any decisions about its future use. Speaking for himself, Prisco said this would be a great opportunity for a retail location.

“The real value is the revenue to the town in the future,” said Prisco. “We’re talking about a possible multimillion dollar facility. We will have new revenue that doesn’t exist today,” he said.

Selectmen Chairman Robert Mauceri agreed. “In this partnership, the town is taking control to market the property to sell it to a developer to create a tax revenue source for the town and to grow the commercial base.

“It’s a good opportunity for the town, it’s low risk. I think we have a great shot at finding a developer and putting something in there that makes sense for the community,” he said.

Former Selectman Joe Veno urged some caution on the deal, asking how much the town would have to spend on the property. “There’s so much property out there. I don’t think this is going to be the slam dunk everyone is making it out to be.”

The key to the deal and what makes it so important is that the partnership allows the town to take control of the process. “We don’t want the state to take this on because the town would have no control over the process or how the property is developed,” he said. “This returns control to us. We can market it and sell the property for what we want in the long term best interests of the town,” Prisco explained.

Selectman Stephen O’Leary concurred. “This is a marvelous opportunity to take control of the property ourselves. The state has thousands of parcels of land and no one will care as much about the future of the JT Berry property as North Reading,” he stated.

Companion article approved

The meeting also gave unanimous approval to Article 11, also dealing with the Berry property. The article, which was approved unanimously, extends the Expedited Permitting Law to 2.49 acres of the Berry land as an assurance to a future developer the town will act quickly on all development plans or permit applications. The rest of the Berry property is already zoned for expedited permitting.