Select Board unhappy with Planning Board's decision on old police station's future

By Angie Hilsman | Jul 17, 2017

Officials are divided on a proposal to rezone the police department’s old headquarters on Russells Mills Road so that condominiums can be developed there.

At its July 17 meeting, the Select Board blasted Planning Board members who opposed the proposal — and further questioned what to do with the building since Town Meeting members voted not to keep it last year — before deciding to ask the the Planning Board to review it again.

Town Administrator David Cressman’s proposal to change the zoning could have attracted developers and expanded the tax base, but the Planning Board rejected the idea of selling the property altogether, he said. Selling the lot at 249 Russells Mills Road in its current condition would bring in $215,000 for the town, Cressman added.

"We've asked for the Planning Board to plan for the future, and they've decided it's not a priority," Cressman said after reading the board's response to the proposal.

The police building was shuttered after an officer became ill with Legionnaires' disease from the building's water system, leaving the department operating out of modular units on the property. The department will move into a new station located on Tucker Road, where the Gidley School stood before it was demolished for the to-be station.

On July 10, the Planning Board voted down the idea of rezoning 249 Russells Mills Road from single-family residences to neighborhood businesses. The neighborhood business zoning district currently covers the opposite side of Russells Mills Road, from just west of Elm Street to the junction with Slocum Road, and includes Cumberland Farms and several small businesses in that area.

The goal of the zoning change, according to a letter from Cressman, was to increase the land value of the site to entice private parties to cover the estimated $400,000 cost of demolishing the now-condemned building.

According to the letter, the town would be unlikely to sell the property if it does not demolish the headquarters building. With the change allowing for a theoretical ten-unit condominium development matching the blueprint of the existing police station, the value of the property would increase to $385,000.

In a written response from the Planning Board, members voiced concern about spot zoning — zoning of one single parcel to benefit a single owner or company. Members noted the zoning change might need to be applied to several neighboring parcels around the Elm Street-Russells Mills Road intersection.

Others Planning Board members worried about juggling the complex proposal along with other items in the works, including the multi-family housing proposal intended to head to a vote at the fall Town Meeting.

"This letter that we got from [Planning Board members]... there's no reason why. I don't understand it," said Selectman Shawn McDonald. "Can they only do one thing at a time?"

Planning Board clerk Lorri-Ann Miller — who was at the July 17 Select Board meeting — was in favor of Cressman’s proposal and voted against tabling the idea, noting that the building has to come down either way, and the change could help recoup those costs or pass them along to private developers.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.