, Salem, MA


June 10, 2013

Letter: Town shouldn't be involved in land speculation


What the citizens are being asked to vote on at Town Meeting is a land speculation. Will we allow the town government to borrow $4 million to supplant Upper Cross and buy the property? The only sure bet after that is that the property would come off the tax rolls for some indeterminate period, which could go on for years while we pay interest on the debt and many consultants to write RFPs, do engineering studies and all the other things developers do before any construction can start. We the citizens are assured at least five real developers are anxious to buy the property from us and do all the hard work achieving miracles in housing diversity but somehow the details aren’t revealed and the nature of the final product changes depending on the priorities of the audience. It doesn’t inspire confidence and it isn’t “Smart Growth.” There is still no plan for the Patton property, which was given to the town 10 months ago, and other recent projects undertaken by the town have been less than a total success.

The choice seems simple to me. Our town leaders are proposing to enter a risky private business betting with our money without any business plan and only hazy possibilities as to what they intend while the serious responsibility of running the town, which they were elected to do, goes unattended. On the other side, the private buyers of the property will leave it largely unchanged since only two new structures would be built. I calculate the town should receive about $1 million in revenue over the next five years. During that same period, we could expect little or nothing except costs under town stewardship. Also disturbing is that the town boards charged with vetting projects, such as the Planning Board, the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Board of Health and the Conservation Commission, would be under great pressure to accommodate whatever the town ultimately proposes which will be a conflict of interest. At least one Planning Board member has written publicly about this issue.

Jack Lawrence


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