At the same time, she ruled that only the board has the authority to exercise the right of first refusal to buy land that has been deemed forest, and therefore taxed at a lower rate.
In November, the board was given a deadline of Feb. 21 by the Superior Court to make a decision after ruling that a new Town Meeting vote was needed to validate the settlement agreement.
The board was given three options:
- Call a new Special Town Meeting in January and put the settlement agreement terms to the voters.
- Reopen the land court case and take the steps to proceed with its initial decision to buy the entire property.
- Take no action and allow the railroad to take possession of the property. This option was not favored by the board, said Keyes.
Keyes said during the December Select Board meeting that members decided to not call a Special Town Meeting to record a new vote — which would validate the town’s settlement agreement with the railroad.
The decision was based on three main factors, one of them being that voters already unanimously supported the 155-acre acquisition during the October 2020 Special Town Meeting, said Keyes.
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During that meeting, residents voted to authorize and fund the board acquiring 130 acres off West Street owned by One Hundred Forty Realty Trust and to exercise eminent domain in acquiring an additional 120 acres.
“While we were required a new Town Meeting vote to fully document the voters’ position on acquiring the 155 acres, the board acknowledges the informal public statements of several hundred voters through social media and petitions in favor of instead attempting to pursue further land court proceedings to acquire the 155 acres, which the Superior Court has implied may be possible,” said Keyes. In that regard, the board concluded that Town Meeting voters would likely vote against acquiring the 85 acres pursuant to the settlement agreement itself, he said.
“In addition, and perhaps most significantly, the current status of the COVID-19 pandemic with the delta and omicron variants rapidly spreading throughout the commonwealth and country makes it clearly unacceptable with public health risks to have a large number of voters attend an indoor Special Town Meeting at this time,” said Keyes.
Throughout the last 14 months, the Select Board’s intention has been for the town to acquire as much of the 364 West St. property as possible, said Keyes.
“At this stage, it’s really in the hands of the land court and we’re hoping that we’ll have a diligent reply in regards to reopening the case,” he said.
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Lauren Young writes about business and pop culture. Reach her at 774-804-1499 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @laurenwhy_
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