Vote YES to Town Purchase of the Town Common!
This May’s Annual Town Meeting warrant will include an article for purchase of the Town Common, eight acres of parks and trails at the former Smith garage parcel in the center of Bolton. This vote marks an opportunity for Bolton to take ownership of its town center, providing a village green that strengthens our community, increases the value of our town, and lays the groundwork for smart business growth.
The Bolton Conservation Trust (a private, 501(c)(3) organization) purchased the property in 2012 at which time the land contained an abandoned gas station and two dilapidated houses in need of massive environmental clean up. The Town of Bolton declined the opportunity to buy the properties two times in the decade prior, primarily because of the financial responsibilities associated with the clean-up. In our role as good stewards of the land and fearing a potential crisis for the Town if the land was not cleaned up to DEP standards by the private owners, the Trust decided to undertake the largest and riskiest venture in our history by buying the contaminated land. We then cleaned up the environmental contamination under state control and oversaw a public collaboration process to decide how to best use the land. We were open to many possibilities including low-income housing and residential development (note that commercial development was not an option due to zoning laws). Residents expressed overwhelming support for creating a Town Common in favor of these options. Thanks to the incredible support of so many residents and businesses, the Trust has raised an astounding $1.2 million toward the goal of $1.47 million to create the Common.
We had hoped public funds through state and federal government would provide the additional money; however, Bolton was deemed too wealthy by foundations and government organizations to justify any grants. As a result, the Trust is left with a budget deficit. We are now asking the town to purchase the Town Common for $195,000, which will cover the remaining cost. This comes to approximately $108 per household, which is likely to be paid at $11 per year for 10 years. (NOTE THAT THE TRUST WAS INITIALLY ASKING THE TOWN FOR $270,000; HOWEVER, WE HAVE LOWERED THE COST THANKS TO ADDITIONAL DONATIONS AND TAPPING INTO OTHER TRUST RESOURCES).
A PUBLIC/PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP
Although we are looking for the Town to purchase the Common, maintenance of the Common would be shared in a public/private partnership between the Town and the Bolton Conservation Trust. The Trust will continue to pay for and manage state-required environmental testing; care for the structural elements of the Common, landscape embellishments, and electrical maintenance; and if desired will handle event scheduling for the Common for at least two years. This means the town would only be responsible, through DPW, for mowing and plowing (which the Town has estimated at $7,000 annually, costing each household less than $4 per year).
Some argue that we should keep the Bolton Town Common “as is” – under the care and management of the Bolton Conservation Trust. As the Trust, we are asking you to share in the care for the Common. We all benefit from the existence of the Town Common – socially, communally and economically. We don’t believe that we should rely solely on a small group of donors to maintain the Common for all of us. Moreover, the cost of the Common at $195,000 gives the Town an immediate asset given the fact that land could be sold to a third-party for 3-4 times that amount. Importantly, we should also ensure that the property remains a Town Common forever, which requires that the Bolton Town Common becomes Town property. This land is not just another park; it is the very center of our town.
The intention of the Bolton Conservation Trust has always been to give the Common to the Town. Had we raised all of the funds, we would have gifted the Bolton Town Common to the people of Bolton. Unfortunately if the town chooses not to purchase the Common, there will be negative implications for the Trust and Town. The Trust will be forced to use all of its current resources as well as obtain additional private funding to pay off the loans. In that case, the programs that the Trust provides to the Town (such as Four Winds, Tom Denney Nature Camp, Town Common events and others) would have to be drastically reduced or cancelled, or require substantial fees to continue.
A Town Common, by definition, is municipal land that increases community and economic vitality of a town. Virtually every town common in New England is owned by its town. As the Bolton Conservation Trust , we believe this is how it should be and we urges approval of this purchase to ensure that the Town Common, which now defines our town center, remains a park in perpetuity.
We hope you will join us in saying YES to Town ownership of the Common at the Annual Town Meeting on May 1st. To do so requires that you vote twice. First, at the Annual Town Meeting on Article 34 where a two-thirds majority is required. Then a second time at the ballot box during town election on May 8th (this second vote is required because the Common will be funded by borrowing without affecting the operating budget, i.e. debt exclusion).
Thank you for your support!