Worcester Telegram & Gazette (MA)
December 17, 2003
Grafton board rues state plan to auction land
Former state hospital parcel
by Donna Boynton
GRAFTON — Fifty acres of former state hospital land off Institute Road is slated to be auctioned off by the state in February, the Board of Selectmen learned last night.
State Rep. George N. Peterson Jr., R-Grafton, told selectmen the 50 acres off Industrial Road that were part of Grafton State Hospital — land which the town has had its eye on for some time — will be one of three parcels of land auctioned off by the state Division of Capital Asset Management Feb. 11.
Mr. Peterson learned of the decision to auction the land from DCAM last Friday, and it was placed on the selectmen’s agenda for an emergency meeting.
Selectmen were blind-sided by the announcement, and Mr. Peterson told the board he would work to remove the property from the auction block, but said there were no guarantees that can be done.
“This land needs to come off (the auction list). This is a prime example of legislators and officials in Boston sitting with blinders on,” Selectman Susan M. Mills said. “They have not taken one bit of consideration, once again, outside the halls of the Statehouse.”
“It’s not that we’re opposed in principle to having the land developed; we’re opposed to not having a voice,” she continued.
The land has frontage on both Institute Road and Route 30, Mr. Peterson said, abuts town-owned land known as the Webber property and is near the commuter rail station.
The rapid decision to auction the property is part of a provision approved in last year’s state budget accelerating the disposal of surplus land, Mr. Peterson said. The state has thousands of acres sitting idle that can now be auctioned to raise money.
“This puts us in a bind at this point because the town can’t act fast enough to move forward,” Mr. Peterson said, noting the town cannot take any action without town meeting approval. He added that even if he were to file legislation to remove the property from the auction list, it may not reach the governor’s desk before Feb. 11.
As state land, the town has not collected taxes on the property, but has provided town services.
“It should come to us first out of courtesy for everything we’ve endured,” Selectmen Chairman Daniel J. Pogorzelski said. “We’re not saying give it to us, but let us be the first link in the chain before it goes public.”
“We’ve been interested in this property for years,” Selectman Christopher R. LeMay said. “It’s frustrating. They didn’t even give us a heads-up.”
Mr. LeMay said selling the land to earn quick money now might cost more money in the long run, if the land is developed and more money needs to be put into municipal services, such as schools.
Selectmen asked Mr. Peterson to communicate to Gov. Mitt Romney that the land could become a prime example of the state’s Smart Growth Initiative if it is pulled off the auction block.
The Smart Growth Initiative focuses on principles that include:
The reuse of brownfields and historic structures;
The support of compact development and creation of mixed use districts;
Expansion of housing opportunities coordinated with jobs and transportation services.
The state has scheduled a hearing at 7 p.m. Jan. 28 at the Grafton Municipal Building for the town to discuss restrictions or concerns regarding the land.