WESTFORD — The former Coldwell Banker building at 70 Boston Rd. is up for sale, and its future remains uncertain.
“Because of its long history and high visibility at its location, the property is viewed by many as part of the gateway of Westford,” said Erika Kohl of the league’s steering committee in a March 24 Zoom webinar.
The League of Women Voters invited Director of Land Use Management Jeff Morrissette for the Town of Westford to discuss the property, which is now valued at $1.45 million. Morrissette, who began his role in 2018, discussed how town regulations could impact future use of the property.
The approximate 2.15 acre lot is in the Residence A zoning district and is not classified as a commercial property. Possible uses for a property under this classification could include a single-family dwelling, child care facility, municipal facility or religious facility among others.
Building age may prevent demolition
The demolition delay bylaw may prohibit a potential buyer from destroying the building. The building must be 85 years or older to apply to the bylaw. Portions of the building have been present since at least the 1880s, according to Morrissette.
“If someone files a request to demolish the building, the Building Commissioner then sends that request to the Historical Commission,” said Morrissette. “They have a certain amount of time to evaluate that and make a determination as to whether or not the structure has historical significance.”
He continued, “If they determine that it does have historical significance, they can delay demolition permits for up to six months as they try to pursue other remedies or solutions.”
The majority of the structure would qualify for potential protection under the bylaw. Though, a newer addition to the rear of the building constructed in the 1990s may not apply.
Morrissette deliberates on variances, parcel ownership
Morrissette took questions from residents in a Zoom webinar hosted by the League of Women Voters. One resident questioned four previous variances of the property, which allowed the property to function as a real estate agency.
“In general, variances travel with the land and usually changes in ownership do not affect that,” said Morrissette “If there is an explicit condition of approval that says the variance terminates upon change of ownership or time period that would trump the generality. I did not see that in the Zoning Board decision; a change in ownership would not affect the variances on the property.”
Multiple parcels surrounding the property are controlled by the town. Parcel 22-119 is under the care of the Conservation Commission, while parcels 22-117-2, 22-117-1 and 22-117-16 are under the custody of the Select Board. A resident voiced concerns regarding the the connection of these town-owned parcels with the vacant property and if they are classified under an agricultural preservation restriction, like a neighboring lot.
“To the best of my knowledge, the four lots surrounding 70 Boston Rd. that are controlled by the Select Board and/or the Conservation Commission are not subject to the agricultural preservation restrictions,” said Morrissette. “I did not do a detailed research, but I did not discover any of those kinds of restrictions.”
Another resident voiced concerns on a potential conversion of the dwelling. Before the real estate office made its home within the building, the property was used as a two-family dwelling. They questioned whether conversion of the property was a possibility, since conversion of a dwelling applies to a single-family dwelling.
“What I will say is I do not believe that the town should be robbed automatically of an opportunity to preserve some of its historic character,” said Morrissette. “If at any time before the town adopted its zoning bylaws in 1955, if it was a single-family dwelling, I think the Building Commissioner and the Zoning Board of Appeals would have a great deal of discretion deciding whether or not to grant a special permit to allow for the conversion.”