Williamsburg objects to state surplus land sale
Residents, officials request auction delay at hearing
By Sean Reagan, Staff WriterJuly 22, 2004
Daily Hampshire Gazette (MA)
WILLIAMSBURG – Over 30 residents and town officials attended a public hearing concerning the state’s intention to auction off a parcel of land it owns at 31 Depot Road. Their opposition to the state’s plan was nearly unanimous.
According to Michael Thomas, a project manager with the Division of Capital Assets Management, the property was acquired by the Department of Mental Health 124 years ago. The rectangular lot has 1,000 feet of road frontage, is zoned single-family residential and is currently vacant.
The property is one of several parcels owned by the Commonwealth that has been determined to be surplus and will be auctioned at the Sheraton Hotel in Framingham on Wednesday, Aug. 11.
The property is located between two larger parcels, one of which is landlocked, owned by the Massachusetts Audubon Society.
Kathy Sferra, who works in the Audubon’s land protection department, said after the hearing that preserving the land as open space was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because it would provide critical access to the landlocked piece.
”We haven’t taken a formal position on the auction yet,” said Sferra. ‘'But we are very supportive of the town’s efforts to protect that property.”
Most residents and town officials called for the state to postpone the auction to allow time for concerted efforts to preserve the land as open space. ”We learned about this when the signs went up,” said Roger Bisbee, who chairs the Planning Board.
Thomas, who described the meeting’s sentiment in favor of postponing the auction as ”loud and clear,” declined to comment on whether the auction would be held as scheduled. A decision to postpone the sale, he said, would be conveyed to the Board of Selectmen and would happen in the next three to four weeks.
Bisbee argued that the state’s representation of the land had been inaccurate. At least two of the three photographs on the state’s Web site advertising the land were taken of an adjacent piece. Also, the written description of the property incorrectly claims that it includes a small clearing.
”The town could end up spending a lot of money defending our bylaw in court because some buyer thought they could do something they can’t,” said Bisbee.
The Planning Board called for the auction to be postponed until at least Feb. 11, 2005, and that conditions be attached to the sale of the property informing purchasers of local bylaws and requiring them to maintain public access on existing recreational trails.
The Open Space Committee also presented a formal request to postpone the auction and allow the town a right of first refusal.
Peter Pelland, a direct abutter on Depot Road, joined the call for a postponement. ”We’re not asking for much when we ask that this property be pulled off the auction block to allow people with an eye towards preservation to make plans to try and purchase the property,” he said.
Only resident Lloyd Warriner expressed support for the state’s plans. ”We’ve lost quite a bit of land to non-taxable over the years and I think it’s time we get some of it back,” he said.
Sean Reagan can be reached at [email protected].