Land Purchase Approved at Special Town Meeting
Needham residents took up 12 articles on the special warrant on Monday, May 14 before returning to business on the annual warrant.
At the May 2012 Special Town Meeting on Monday, May 14, Needham residents approved a $1.05 million purchase of property on Lincoln and School streets for parking and the possible future expansion of the Needham Police and Fire stations, among other business.
On the third night of spring meetings, voters first took up the 12 articles listed in the Special Town Meeting warrant, quickly passing articles 1-2, 4, 6-7 and 9 by unanimous consent.
Article 8 asked members to approve a land purchase and renovation totaling $1,175,000 for properties at 59 Lincoln St. and 89 School St.—$525,000 for each of the parcels, plus $125,000 for grading, excavation, paving, installation of drainage, lighting and other renovations.
The purchase represents “a solid planning for the future,” Selectman Jerry Wasserman said, and will provide room for a much-needed expansion of the police and fire stations to address several inadequacies, including facilities for juvenile and female offenders and parking.
Once renovated, the land will be used “almost immediately” for employee parking and will provide space for expansion in the future, Wasserman said. The parcels are currently owned by the Needham Community Council and have come up for sale following the council’s move to a new home on Hillside Avenue. Officials are also requesting town purchase of a property at 37-39 Lincoln Street through Article 31 on the Annual Town Meeting warrant. That property will be used for a municipal parking lot, adding about 26 spaces to the downtown area.
Town Meeting will address that article when members reconvene on Wednesday, May 16.
The town is able to pay for the Special Town Meeting Article 8 purchase through the town’s debt limit in part thanks to an excess of free cash left over from fiscal year 2011. That money is being used to purchase a new fire truck that had originally been slated for a five-year bond, Wasserman said. Instead of borrowing for the truck, the town will borrow the $1.175 million needed for the Lincoln and School street purchase over 20 years.
Finance Committee member Steven Rosenstock said the board was concerned about tying up the town’s borrowing ability for 15 years longer than anticipated but that the Finance Committee had ultimately determined that the purchase was appropriate.
Rosenstock noted a trend toward longer term borrowing that has occurred in Needham over the past five years. In 2007, about 4 percent of the town’s debt was in long-term bonds; by 2012, with items to be approved at the annual and special Town Meetings, about 60 percent of the town’s debt will be in long-term bonds.
And while the town’s short-term bonds, percentage wise, have decreased, the town has about $1 million more tied up in those bonds in 2012 than it did in 2007, Rosenstock said.
He said the committee would continue to monitor borrowing to ensure the town’s capital plan is not at risk.
Precinct J member Marianne Cooley, a member of the Needham School Committee, said she felt the town should seriously review its debt plan and that she was concerned that 60 percent of the town’s borrowing capacity was “tied up for the foreseeable future.”
Regarding the purchase itself, Precinct F member Jeff Heller questioned why the Community Council’s property at 51 Lincoln St., which was also up for sale, had not been considered for purchase—saying it seemed to be the best option for a police and fire station expansion.
Wasserman said that that property had been under agreement with another buyer before the town could complete its review process. But he also didn’t agree with Heller that the town was losing out on a better purchase.
“I don’t consider the two that we’re buying as the leftovers,” Wasserman said. “They’re very important to us.”
Other Town Meeting members had questions about green space and drainage on the site. Wasserman said all renovations would be part of a formal site plan review requiring public hearings by the Planning Board.
Precinct I member Paul Denver asked about other plans to develop parking in the downtown area, such as whether officials were looking to build a parking garage.
Wasserman said the town had no plans for a garage and was instead looking to establish more “public-private partnerships” with businesses that already have parking areas that are not well used, perhaps with an arrangement where the town covers maintenance of the lots in exchange for temporary or partial use.
Town Manager Kate Fitzpatrick said that the Article 8 property will be used primarily for employee parking—freeing up spaces employees currently use on streets and in adjacent lots.
For a look at other items on the Special Town Meeting warrant that were approved Monday night, see the PDF above.