By Brenda Crowell

Staff Reporter

More than 140 people logged in to the remote Zoom meeting of the Upton Board of Selectmen on March 15, most seeking information or a chance to have their say about a proposed affordable housing development on Mechanic and Fowler Streets.

After a great deal of spirited debate, the Board voted unanimously to include Article 23 on the warrant for the May 5 Annual Town Meeting to allow Upton residents to vote on the issue. The article seeks to authorize the Board of Selectmen to acquire the land and place a permanent conservation restriction on it.

The property consists of two parcels, totaling approximately 94.22 acres, at 0 Mechanic Street and 0 Fowler Street. It is currently owned by Richard J. Henderson Sr. and Edward L. Gorman, who are Trustees of the Mechanic Street Realty Trust. In a letter to the Planning Board dated February 14 from Aldo B. Consigli Jr. of Consigli and Brucato PC, Consigli notes that Henderson and Gorman have entered into a bona fide agreement to sell the property for $900,000.

According to Consigli’s letter, the prospective purchaser, Saxon Partners LLC of Hingham, “intends to convert this property to a residential use consisting of a multi-family apartment development with a minimum of 200 Units under the provisions of M.G.L. (Massachusetts General Law) Chapter 40B.”

The Board of Selectmen has 120 days from the date of the letter – until June 14 – to exercise its right of first refusal to meet the offered purchase price for the land or express its interest in not doing so. Article 23 on the draft warrant for the Annual Town Meeting asks for $965,000 to allow the Board to purchase the land.

At present, the parcels are categorized as agricultural and horticultural under MGL Chapter 61B. If the proposed purchase by Saxon Partners LLC becomes a reality, the land would be removed from Chapter 61B and would instead be placed under the provisions of Chapter 40B.

Should the town vote to purchase the property, funding could possibly come from Community Preservation Committee (CPC) funds, unless the town has the property appraised and that appraised value is less than the $900,000 purchase price.

“That is something we have to be mindful of,” said Town Manager Derek Brindisi. “I do know that the CPC has taken a vote and has approved the use of CPC dollars to be used for an appraisal. If the appraisal comes in less than $900,000, we are no longer allowed to use CPC funds for that acquisition at all.”

Per a question from Selectman Stephen Matellian, that would include using CPC funds in combination with other funding sources.

However, if the appraised value was more than $900,000, CPC funds would be allowed to be used for purchase of the property.

“I fully support putting this article on the Town Meeting warrant,” said Selectman Brett Simas. “I don’t and haven’t and won’t support a development like this in that location, or frankly in any location that resembles Fowler Street and Mechanic Street. It’s a country road. Putting large-scale apartment complexes in these types of areas doesn’t make sense.”

Both Matellian and Board of Selectman Chair Maureen Dwinnell concurred, although Matellian cautioned against setting a precedent of the town buying land to block development.

“Whether or not this is the right spot for this project, I don’t know. I think not, but the town is changing and the town is growing,” Matellian said. “When I lived in town as a kid, it was all woods. There were many dairy farms and plenty of produce farms in town. Unfortunately, that’s all gone away. We have to be mindful that we are on a very slippery slope, because what happens when this same developer wants to buy the 100 acres that are for sale on North Street – what do you do if this project shows up somewhere else? Do we just keep buying land to keep trying to block the project?”

He noted that a property on Eames Road had recently been approved for a project totaling eight units on a single-family lot.

“That’s going to be the norm going forward, so this isn’t something that the Board of Selectmen has the ultimate control over,” said Matellian. “I want people to know that I’m in full support of putting the article on the warrant, but I think in this one, we could be in trouble because we are deficient in 40B. It’s important to note that the state of Massachusetts is who is jamming this proverbially down our throats.”

Upton resident Tracy Higgins questioned what kind of plan the town had for affordable housing.

“This will continue to come up if we don’t have a clear plan,” she said. “It’s not that I’m against affordable housing, it’s that we need to do it smartly, and I’d like us to focus on a plan that puts us in a good space.”

Brindisi explained that Town Planner Paul Dell’Aquila is identifying funds so that the town can update its housing production plan, which expired several years ago.

“We know that we need to update it so that we will be more strategic around affordable housing,” Brindisi said.