Selectmen to Get Appraisal for Route 44 Property Before Deciding on a Direction for Public Works Facility
Update: the garage survey is now online and can be accessed at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CBQSBRQ
By John Fitts
CANTON – Town selectmen are looking to get an appraisal on the so-called “Satan’s Kingdom” property on Route 44 before they decide whether to pursue it for a public works facility project or move forward with an idea to rebuild at the current site on Old River Road.
Specifically, selectmen want to see how the property’s appraised value stacks against the $1.2 million the property owner is seeking for the 39 acres of land on Route 44, specifically known as 674 and 684 Albany Turnpike (Route 44).
“I think it’s a crucial piece of information,” selectmen Bill Canny said during Board of Selectmen meeting Wednesday and he and his colleagues voted to spend up to $2,000 for the appraisal. (Expected cost is between $1,200 and $1,500).
In light of years of failed referendums and a rapidly deteriorating facility, the town earlier this year developed a plan to rebuild its “town garage” at the current site near the Farmington River. The idea was to construct a 15,000 square foot facility, provide a new access road from 179 and enhance river access and recreational facilities.
While selectmen have discussed that idea at length this year, it has received some public criticism but is still on the table.
In recent weeks, selectmen have also discussed the Route 44 property, the site of a bitter controversy in 2014 when developer Allan Borghesi proposed an industrial park on the land. The property is now owned by an LLC managed by members of the Bahre family.
Selectmen have been favorable to the idea of building a garage on the eastern portion in the front parcel but have had several questions on the scope of a project, if the extra cost is valid and what to do with the rest of the property.
On Wednesday, Canton Chief Administrative Officer Robert Skinner said the owner is not interested in breaking up the property and wants to sell the entire parcel.
However, the town would have some options with the parcel such as partnering with the Canton Land Conservation Trust, seeking an open space grant for a portion of the property or selling the home on the land, Skinner said.
Skinner said selectmen would have to decide how much of the front portion to seek as a municipal zone, how much to designate as open space and whether to consider portions for field use, etc.
Selectmen Tom Sevigny said leasing the home and some land for continued agriculture use could be another possibility.
Selectmen are hoping to include a project on the ballot in November when the presidential election will draw high voter turnout.
If they pursue the current site that would likely include a complete project.
If the Route 44 property becomes the option of choice, it’s more likely to be for the land only and could include funding options that exclude bonding. If voters approved the land purchase a garage project would come later, likely the following November.
Such a move would answer the question of garage location, some said.
“Location would no longer be an issue,” said first selectman Leslee Hill. “This would be purchased for the purpose of a garage.”
“It would give us more time to design the garage and get a lot more input from people,” added selectman Tom Sevigny.
The idea wasn’t without some concerns. Selectman Beth Kandrysawtz said the Route 44 property was still adding $1 million to the project, even if the garage project came later
“This does build into the cost of the garage 1.2 million or whatever that cost is going to be,” she said.
Skinner, however, said the town would receive more benefit that just a garage site.
Canny also expressed concern that a garage project down the road could still be defeated, even if the property was purchased with it in mind.
Still, selectmen on Wednesday delayed a decision on whether to spend some $25,000 in services to further develop the plan to rebuild at the current site. While timing is tight should that be included on the November ballot, the idea was to see where the Route 44 appraisal comes in before making a decision.
Also on Wednesday, selectmen concurred with Hill’s proposal to send a survey to town residents later this week in an effort to get further input from voters
The garage has been a challenge for the town. In 2010, voters rejected a plan to purchase property at 5 Cherry Brook Road for $900,000. In late 2012, another garage plan for 5 Cherry Brook – slated to be $6.75 million – never quite made it to referendum after property appraisals came in well below the purchase price for the parcel.
Then voters, in May of 2013 and November of 2014, rejected $5.4. million and $4.78 million plans for a facility at 325 Commerce Drive.
Many in town have debated at length whether cost, location or other factors were most at play in the defeats.
Selectmen heard from residents in May and while members don’t feel a survey is perfect, most agreed it’s another way to gather input.
Selectman Larry Minichiello said he also appreciated the signs about town that read “Garage Yes But Not on Our River.”
“If nothing else it got more people talking about it,” he said.