Select Board Approves New Fire Station Site Purchase and Sale Agreement, Pending ATM Vote

February 1, 2022

The Select Board on Monday approved a purchase-and-sale agreement for 139 The Great Road, a 64,000-square-foot site for a new fire station.

The deal is contingent on town meeting allocation of the $1.55 million purchase, as well as approval by the Board of Trustees of the current owner, Utah State University.

Select Board members celebrated what appears to be the solution to the challenge of replacing the current substandard station at 55 The Great Road. The best-case scenario calendar targets project completion in 2025.

Two years ago, on the brink of an eminent domain taking for five times the new price, the arrival of the pandemic interrupted a proposal to locate the facility at 175 The Great Road (TD Bank). The existing building, which housed Stewart Radiance Lab, was on the original list of possible locations.

Town Manager Sarah Stanton said Monday there will be public meetings and information sessions over the next several weeks, with particular attention to abutters’ concerns,

Those concerns were expressed by the neighbor on the south side of the property, Carol Amick. During the public comment portion of the virtual meeting, the former state senator said she was  unhappy that the board moved toward acquisition “without getting any input from those of us who live near the site.”

Last week was the first public announcement of the choice; up to that point negotiations with the owner, and discussions of strategy, took place in executive sessions, under provisions of the open meeting law.

Amick may have been aware of what was unfolding because her spouse is a member of the Select Board. Bill Moonan said he had to recuse himself from the process, which meant disconnecting from the Zoom call. During Monday’s discussion, he not only did not participate but also was omitted from the vote approving the purchase. Even an abstention was considered a compromise of the recusal.

Amick called for the Select Board, working with the neighborhood, to undertake a noise and light pollution study that proposes “mitigation measures” such as barriers; and isolating contaminants to minimize air and water pollution.

She said the location is part of the Historic District, and a fire station will have a negative impact by interrupting “the continuity of architecture” on The Great Road. Moonan, whose term on the Select Board expires 16 days before Annual Town Meeting, will remain a member of the Historic District Commission.

The neighbor called for community meetings, and for the board to defer executing the agreement until after town meeting. But the point is moot, Stanton said, because Annual Town Meeting approval is required to provide the financing. Stanton said the plan is to borrow the money with a bond issue, which requires approval by at least a two-thirds majority.

Later, Select Board Chair Margot Fleischman said there are plans for meetings with abutters and a public forum, and “all of the concerns will be taken greatly into consideration if we decide to move forward.” Information is already posted at www.bedfordma.gov/new-fire-station.

Stanton said the two sites on The Great Road – 175 and 139 – are the only ones that meet the requirement of at least 60,000 square feet of land within the envelope that ensures a balanced response time by emergency vehicles.

Several months ago, there was a “serendipitous gift of fate” when the town contacted Utah State about the property and found out there were plans to sell it in the spring. Subsequent talks with university representatives “have been respectful and forthcoming.”

She emphasized that public safety and engineering consultants evaluated the site and their conclusions were “overwhelmingly favorable,”

The acquisition will save the town about two years by avoiding eminent domain, Stanton said, not to mention about $10 million between acquisition costs and construction escalators. She noted that plans call for a separate town meeting article funding design of the new station.

“The financial benefits can’t be overstated,” said member Emily Mitchell. “There will be lots of opportunities to talk about it, to walk through it. I feel like this property is going to work really well. We’re very conscious of making sure it fits in the neighborhood.”

The town manager said there will be “substantial work” on landscaping “to ensure that residents have appropriate privacy” as well as addressing sound, light, and “a myriad of other topics.” She pointed out that “our current fire station is in a residential neighborhood.”

“The ones who will feel this most are the abutters. Those are concerns we need to hear and we need to understand,” said board member Ed Pierce. “This is going to change the character of that particular space. We need to know what the neighbors think it would be helpful to do.” Stanton said, “A significant amount of effort will be made to limit impact.”

“This property is a win for the taxpayers, the residents, and the firefighters,” the town manager declared. Fleischman added that, unlike 175 The Great Road, the alternative site has not paid real estate taxes for almost 40 years because it is university-owned.

Stanton noted that the transaction is scheduled to become official on May 2, allowing for a five-week period of “due diligence.”

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763

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Dave Draper
February 2, 2022 9:12 am

I am gald to see the town is looking at locations other than the earlier proposed 175 Great Road. I felt that taking 175 Great Road using eminent domain was a mistake. The new location is better because it is not so close to the shopping center so traffic and congestion should be reduced.

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