Land Deal Sours Board
Selectmen push back on 60-acre land deal on Hill Street.
Selectmen say the state slipped them a fast one by selling 60 acres of state-owned property within Norton's boundaries off Hill Street at an auction this past summer.
The issue has been simmering for months, after board members and Town Manager Michael Yunits learned the parcel, originally said to be assessed at more than $6 million and therefore beyond the town's reach, was sold for $175,000 at a general auction.
Board members say they had no knowledge the value had dropped so precipitously, and say had they been aware, the town could have bought the land for development as part of its own industrial park.
Adding insult to injury, the state "sold" an adjacent 200 acres in Taunton, the former Dever state school property, to that city for a dollar. Taunton intends to create a District Improvement Financing district that will encourage industrial development on property that includes the 200 acres. The town received notification of a hearing on the DIF in November.
Board member Robert Kimball said he held no rancor towards the neighboring city. "Taunton deserves that 200 acres," he said. "It is a wonderful opportunity to develop that land - but we want to do the same."
The board was finally pushed over the edge this week, when Yunits announced he had received a request from the state to allow the waiver of a 120-day waiting period for transfer of the land.
"I told them no," said Yunits. "And I asked them to refuse the offer (to purchase the land) - if we had known the land was going to go for so little, we would have bid on it." He added State Representative Steve Howitt (R-Seekonk) is assisting the town in researching the matter.
The state Division of Capital Asset Management offered the industrially zoned land at auction in a July on-line advertisement by Mass Property Auction, but gave no estimated value for the land. The auction was scheduled for July 26 at the Westborough Doubletree Hotel.
"We were told it was $6 million for the 60 acres," said Kimball. "I was surprised it sold for $175,000."
"I want to send a strong message that we want the same kind of consideration (as Taunton.)" He said the board should direct Yunits to meet with counsel as soon as possible. "I want us to say Norton will not allow the sale of the property," Kimball said.
Yunits added he thought the process of the sale itself was out of order. "If the town tried to do it that way, the sale would be rejected by the state," he said. "You have to have the property appraised first. We need to send a clear message to the state we are not going to back down. We have a right to develop that land."
Chairman Brad Bramwell agreed, saying he agreed legal counsel should be brought into the matter immediately, and calling the land deal "underhanded."