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State land auctions frustrate officials

The Republican (Springfield, MA), DAVID BERGENGREN; ST

August 19, 2004 The Republican (Springfield, MA)
State land auctions frustrate officials

Southampton’s attempt to have the state withdraw a 5.25-acre parcel from the auction proved futile.

The state raised almost $8.4 million auctioning off eight parcels of land on Aug. 11, but left local officials and others here and in Williamsburg frustrated in their efforts to control the fate of parcels in their towns.

“I think we all knew it was kind of an uphill battle, but we really hoped the state would give us more consideration on this,” said Virginia H. Ahart, chairwoman of the Community Preservation Committee, yesterday.

Town meeting voters on Aug. 10 approved up to $60,000 in community preservation funds to purchase the 5.25 acres along Route 10 north of the Southampton Country Club which the state took by eminent domain in 1968 in preparation for a rerouting of the highway. This never took place.

It was too little, too late, as efforts the next day to have the state withdraw the parcel from the auction, conducted in Framingham, proved futile.

“They gave us no reason, except that they wanted to maximize the money that they could get,” Ahart said.

The winning bid of $104,500 was tendered by a local couple, April and Terry West of Strong Road, neither of whom could be reached for comment yesterday.

The town had sought the land for possible athletic fields and other uses, or to keep some or all of it as open space.

Saying the state wanted to “get every penny” out of the sale, Selectmen’s Chairman Jean Pierre Crevier said, “They don’t care what effect they’re going to have on the town or anyone else.”

Officials in Williamsburg, as well as in Southampton, said the state moved too quickly in auctioning off the properties.

“The thing happened so fast,” said Williamsburg Planning Board Chairman Roger A. Bisbee, referring to the sale of 26-plus acres on Depot Road in that town. “The land sat there for 100 years, and (now) all of a sudden, it’s burning a hole in their pocket. The governor wanted the big bucks. That’s what’s behind all this, I think.”

Local officials and concerned residents were hoping that a postponement of the sale would have allowed the Massachusetts Audubon Society, which owns abutting land, to buy it, said Williamsburg Selectmen’s Chairman Eric P. Cerreta.

Kevin P. Flanigan, a deputy director of the state Division of Capital Asset Management, the agency responsible for the disposal of surplus property, acknowledged that raising money was one of the objectives.

“We’re obviously trying to generate revenue,” he said, “but the idea is (also) to get these lands back into productive use.”

The sales are part of last year’s state legislation that streamlined the disposition process for two years and have so far raised “tens of millions of dollars” for the state, he said.

Robert F. Kelly of Brookline, who bought the Williamsburg parcel for $286,000, said he has no specific plans for it yet.

“I thought maybe part of it might be a nice place for us to have a second home, but I haven’t really thought it through,” he said.

Responding to local concerns about open space, Kelly said, “I’m a nature person too. It’s a beautiful area. I don’t want to ruin it.”


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