EDC Queries Highland Farm

The Town’s Economic Development Committee met online Wednesday night, October 9, 2021 with Chair Matt Coletti (below) and three other members in attendance.

Coletti suggested his board support Article 10 on the Town Meeting Warrant, which requests $300,000 for constructing a municipal parking lot at 9 Green Street. The present building at the site was taken by the town and will be torn down.

Chair Coletti then made a motion to apply for a grant of $500,000 from the Local Rapid Recovery Program (LRRP) for improvement from Washington Street down Central Street to Blair Square. The entire LRRP report prepared for Holliston can be viewed here – > https://www.townofholliston.us/sites/g/files/vyhlif706/f/uploads/holliston_-_final_lrrp_report_-_2021.pdf The monies would be used for sidewalk improvements, plantings, driveway improvements and elimination of fencing, etc. The committee voted in favor.

Mr. Coletti then said he had sent the Select Board a letter relative to a pubic taking of 799 Washington Street (the former Gulf Station). The current building is considered a blight and nuisance. The Zoning Board had recently turned down a request by the owners to revert the property back to a gas station. Coletti hopes the Select Board will entertain his suggestion.

A long discussion about the status of Highland Farm on Highland Street ensued. Mary Greendale (below) whose work at the state level of the Department of Agriculture was helpful in addressing the past history of the farm and its agricultural restrictions.

The farm was purchased in 1984 with state monies along with 10% from town coffers. The farm was sold to its current owner who improved the property with stone walls and apple tree’s. The apple farm was a going concern for a number of years with a u-pick operation. The farm had been on the market for the past several years with several interested parties but the price along with the agricultural restrictions did not fit the buyers’ needs.

Townspeople have noted that the farm has not been open for several years and the apples are left to fall on the ground. Greendale suggested that the town’s Agricultural Commission take the lead and see if the owners would be willing to lease out parcels of the property to farmers in need of acreage.

The meeting adjourned at 7:30 pm

Bobby Blair

4 Comments

  1. Daniel Alfred on October 10, 2021 at 1:50 pm

    I would like to register my STRONG opposition to the potential Town “taking” of 799 Washington (Gulf Station). This is a piece of private property that, as far as I am aware, is current on its property taxes to the town. While the current state of the property is clearly not ideal, it does not appear to be full of hazards or junk and if there are hazards there should be an opportunity for the owner to cure the issues before the property is taken. I believe that it is a slippery slope for government to seize personal property just because we don’t like the way that it looks. Alternatively, the town should be investing in downtown (as was discussed at this meeting prior to the discussion about 799), connecting downtown to the Adams school wastewater plant (ie creating a downtown sewer district) and thus encouraging property owners to invest in their own properties to maximize the value and cashflows of those properties/businesses. If we take 799 because we don’t like how it looks, does this mean we can take other properties that aren’t kept up to some immeasurable standard? Where is the line? We all want a vibrant and economically supportive downtown, but we need to do it the right way!

    Regarding the Highland Street farm, I applaud Mary Greendale’s suggestion to try and work with the owner to come up with alternative options for the property given that it is not currently being utilized and a sale does not seem possible at this time. This is the right way of thinking about how a town can help property owners without simply taking the property.

  2. James Read on October 11, 2021 at 10:28 pm

    I completely agree with Daniel Alfred. How can we in the same breath talk of the town declining on 799’s request to reopen their gas station and then of the town to maybe attempt to take their land from them. This is alarming to me and I really wish I had more time to be involved in these kinds of things. This is just wrong on so many levels. Work together to find common ground. We are all on the same team.

  3. Anne-Marie Dorning on October 14, 2021 at 9:12 pm

    I disagree with both James Read and Daniel Alfred. That Holliston has not been willing to take these measures – property taking – is one of the reasons the downtown is in the shape it is in. Sherborn had a very similar situation many years ago. An old gas station anchored its small downtown and was a blight. The property is now a renovated building with a dentist’s office and several other offices because the select board was willing to step up and say enough is enough. For too long and too often the town lets things slide – months turn into years and nothing is done.
    This is not a slippery slope. This is a well-considered measure that the town could and should take after exhausting all other resources. It has been years, enough is enough.

    • Daniel Alfred on October 15, 2021 at 10:08 am

      Anne-Marie Dorning, I appreciate your remarks and I too am frustrated that something positive has not been done with this piece of property; however, I would like to point out a few issues with you comments:

      1) Downtown is not in bad shape because the town “has not been willing” to take the Gulf station land. A recent report the town received from a state rapid recovery program – “LRRP” (https://www.townofholliston.us/sites/g/files/vyhlif706/f/uploads/holliston_-_final_lrrp_report_-_2021.pdf) stated that 6 of 56 storefronts in downtown were vacant and that 67% of the storefronts contain service-oriented office space (ie not stores that sell items or restaurants), we simply lack demand for storefronts and lack enough businesses that will attract people to downtown (don’t get me wrong, we have some great businesses in town, we just don’t have enough;

      2) I do not disagree with you that the property is not ideal, however, as far as I am aware, it is current on its taxes – was the property is Sherborn current on its taxes? Did it have any contamination issues? The town recently took a property on Woodland street which was not paying its taxes and effectively was playing chicken with the town because of contamination on its property. The town did eventually take the property, clean it up (at a large expense), and now has the opportunity to do something with the land. However, the big different with the 799 property is that Woodland was not paying its taxes, that is a very different situation;

      3) I do not agree that the town has “exhausted all other resources,” the owner just asked to turn it back into a gas station and was denied (though I do not know why, this would also not be my personal preference but it is not my property), if there are things the town wants the owner to do to clean up the property, have those been conveyed? Additionally, I do not think the town has done enough to attract and keep businesses downtown. For example, I believe we need a sewer district. The LRRP report also recommends this and estimated it could cost ~$2 million to connect the downtown area with the treatment plant at Adams Middle School which has substantial capacity (the total cost including hook-ups would be more but some of the incremental would be paid for by the property owners). Sewers would increase the uses for properties downtown and likely stimulate investment which would hopefully result in businesses that attract more people to Holliston;

      4) You assume that if the town took the property, we could sell it to someone who would do something beneficial with the land. I would stipulate that with greater than 10% of storefronts already vacant downtown that that would be harder than you think to accomplish. Better to invest in sewers, approve the new parking lot on Green Street (on the warrant for 10/18 TM – https://www.townofholliston.us/sites/g/files/vyhlif706/f/uploads/2021_fall_town_meeting_-_warrant_with_finance_committee_recommendations_-_web.pdf) and make some other improvements mentioned in various recently delivered reports to draw people from the rail trail to downtown.

      Bottom line though: The town should not take land from private owners just because it does not like what the owners are doing.

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