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Lexington: Groups lays plan to stop auction
Daily News Tribune, Thursday, December 23, 2004
By Maria Krajnak / Tribune Staff Writer

WALTHAM — Three days before Christmas a small group of concerned residents met last night to draw up a battle plan in hope of preventing the state from auctioning off 55 acres of its land.

“This meeting tonight only affirmed the growing consensus that this is an outrage,” said Jill Stein, a Lexington resident, who brought the issue to the forefront when she ran against state Rep. Thomas Stanley for the 9th Middlesex District seat in the fall.

Stein was among the 15 concerned citizens who attended the two-hour meeting City Councilor George A. Darcy III organized to discuss the state’s plan to develop 55 acres in northern Waltham and Lexington.

The group of residents living in Waltham, Lexington and the surrounding areas developed five strategies they hope will derail the Division of Capital Asset Management Department’s plan to auction of the land to the highest bidder.

The group will try to execute their five-part proposal by filing:

– A local reuse plan.

– A temporary moratorium on the sale of the 55 acres.

– A permanent exemption from the auction process.

– A repeal of state law.

– A challenge of DCAM’s process of selling state owned land.

There was a time under Massachusetts law that communities had the right of first refusal for state land that was declared surplus. But because of a bill that was passed in 2003 as part of the fiscal 2004 budget, DCAM can now auction of its land to the highest bidder without giving preference to the communities.
But H. Peter Norstrand, DCAM’s deputy commissioner for real estate services, said that under the right of first refusal law it was a lengthy process.

This land auction law, which is set to expire June 30, 2005, is viewed by group as threatening because the public and communities are really at the mercy of DCAM and don’t have much public input, Darcy said.

A recent example of the public process being ignored, Darcy said, was when Mayor Jeannette A. McCarthy’s request for a two-week extension to respond to DCAM’s plan to hire a land-use planning consultant was denied.

The mayor received the letter dated Nov. 17 on Nov. 22 and was not be able to discuss it with the city councilors until the City Council met on Dec. 6.

Norstrand said earlier in the week the city had the letter in their “hand for over a month.”

The letter DCAM sent to the city also added that “DCAM is fully aware of the importance of this issue to the City of Waltham and is confident that any relevant suggestions raised at the Dec. 6 City Council meeting can be expeditiously incorporated into the selected consultant’s subsequent scope of work.”

Norstrand said DCAM plans to have a consultant in place by mid-January, and the land is scheduled to be auctioned off in May or June. DCAM also plans to hold a couple public meetings to discuss the development plans, he said.

The goal is to pump up the state’s budget, said Democratic state Rep. Jay Kaufman, who represents the 15th Middlesex District, which includes Lexington, at last night’s meeting.

“DCAM has already put their cards on the table,” Kaufman said. “Their mandate is to bring more cash in for the state.”

Last fall, the sale of a 7-acre parcel at 61 Walnut St. in Lexington bulked up the state’s coffers by almost $6 million.

However, Stanley and others have agreed this is not the way to help the state’s budget — selling state assets for a one-time cash infusion.

From this point on, it will be a race to the finish line for those who want to preserve the undeveloped open space and for the state officials supporting the sale of land. The group who met last night will now lobby support from other communities and state officials.

But DCAM and others who support the auction law will also file to extend the bill before the June 30, expiration date, Norstrand said.

( Maria Krajnak can be reached at 781-398-8004 or at [email protected])

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