Purchase of the site for $1.55 million – a price negotiated between town officials and the owner, Utah State University — was approved by Annual Town Meeting vote in late March.
But after receiving a counter offer for $1.7 million, the Executive Board of the Utah System of Higher Education had second thoughts. That panel voted last week to sell to the town – as long as it can match the higher price by June 9.
Tuesday Emilie Wheeler, the news director for the university, spelled it out:
“If the city does not come back with the offer to match the higher amount by June 9, then USU would go back and put the property on the open market.”
That’s a variation from the original board discussion, which focused solely on the alternative bid – submitted by Carol Amick and William Moonan. Although they are abutters to the fire station site, Amick said their purpose in attempting to buy the property is to ensure that the character of the Historic District is not compromised.
The Select Board is scheduled to meet Thursday at 1:30 p.m., convening immediately in executive session for “discussing strategy related to the acquisition of 139 The Great Road.” The agenda also says that at 2:25 the board will return to open session for a “discussion.”
The same agenda was posted for June 2, but there was no discussion, just a brief statement. There has been no official consideration of the possible town options since then.
If the property is released to the real estate market, rather than sold outright to the higher bidder, that could give the Select Board time to call a special town meeting and seek approval to supplement the original price, perhaps with language enabling flexibility. The original $1.55 million has already been raised through the Town’s bond sale on June 1.
Even if the town overpays for the parcel, the amount would be dwarfed by the projected cost of an earlier proposed site, 175 The Great Road.
Annual Town Meeting in 2020 was expected to decide on that $7.6 million eminent domain proposal, but the arrival of the pandemic delayed and streamlined town meeting for the next two annual warrants.
Several sites were identified in 2019 after a detailed analysis. Only property between Loomis Street and Willson Park along The Great Road was considered for a variety of reasons, including equalizing response times and access to main routes.
Amick and Moonan are the lead plaintiffs in litigation challenging the legality of the procurement process. That challenge was filed on May 3 and remains on the docket in Middlesex Superior Court.
Another potential roadblock is the Historic District Commission, a majority of whose members have suggested they would be unlikely to approve a permit to demolish the existing 19th-century building at 139 The Great Road. The commission can’t act until it can examine plans for the replacement structure; funding for the design of the new fire station was approved at Annual Town Meeting.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763