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At the March 23 town meeting, Westford will be asked for the third time (Article 16) to turn agricultural land (Drew Gardens) into a commercial restaurant site by lifting an Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) it owns on the property. Once again, the amount of compensation offered to the town in exchange is laughable.
I’m not debating whether a restaurant on the site is a good idea. I just don’t want to see the town cheated. Even if you believe it’s a great idea, I think you’d agree that the town should be properly compensated for what it’s giving up.
That’s what Article 17 is meant to ensure. It requires that IF the town should want – now or in the future – to give up its rights over the property, it follow a systematic process specified by law to do the deal, and get paid market value.
Twenty years ago, Westford paid $525,000 for the development rights, right of first refusal, and imposition of three APR’s on Drew Gardens. The purpose of the APR’s was “to perpetually protect and preserve agricultural land.” They restrict the land to agricultural use only. As a result, the property’s value is considerably less than what it would be if houses, businesses or restaurants could be built there. In 2016, the restricted 9 acres were bought for only $650,000. If some of that land were turned into a commercial site, its value would soar. Assessed values of commercial properties along Route 110 can be in the millions.
If Westford agreed to turn agricultural land into commercial land by releasing its restrictions, it would unlock the difference between the value of agricultural land versus commercial land. That’s a big number – potentially in the millions. Making the change without being paid the difference would be foolish. Why hand a big check over to a private developer?
Article 17 requires Westford – if it wants to lift its restrictions – to follow laws governing APR’s and municipal real estate transactions and (1) get an appraisal, (2) solicit proposals, (3) advertise the request for proposals, (4) open proposals publicly and (5) publish an explanation if the accepted price is less than the appraised value. Westford could then make an informed decision, and not be bamboozled into a raw deal.
The three meager offers we’ve seen to date are an insult to the intelligence of the town.
I urge you to vote yes on Article 17! — Bill Taffel, Westford, Massachusetts