Plenty of interest in Seven Acres Poultry Farm land

Feb 13, 2020 by

Published February 13, 2020

By MAUREEN DOHERTY

NORTH READING — There was no shortage of ideas for future uses of the Seven Acres Poultry Farm at 14 Concord St., if the town successfully moves forward in exercising its right of first refusal for the property.

Senior housing, passive recreation, dog park, cannabis farm, space reserved for a future pump station for anticipated sewerage project from Concord Street to Andover, intergenerational center, sports complex, playing fields, land banking, and more.

That was one take-away after a nearly one hour and 45 minute discussion at Monday night’s public hearing. The Select Board’s meeting room at Town Hall was packed and over 20 residents addressed the board, many of whom have lived in the neighborhood for five or six decades as well as one resident still in elementary school.

Due to its tax status as a farm under MGL Ch. 61A, the town is given the opportunity to purchase the land when such land is no longer going to be classified as a farm. This is the case with the iconic Seven Acres, run by the Magliozzi family for over 80 years. Now that it’s time for Paul Magliozzi to retire and having received a bona fide offer for the property at $1.1 million from local resident Sergio Coviello — who told the board he plans to relocate his electrical business to the site from 55 Concord St. — under state law the town has 120 days to buy it.

But in order to buy it, the Select Board first has to call a Special Town Meeting, which comes with a quorum requirement of 150 voters (unlike the June and October Town Meetings where no quorum is required) to get permission to authorize the funds.

Another caveat to the sale between Magliozzi and Coviello is the agreement to purchase two contiguous lots, one with the single-family white farmhouse and retail store at 4 Concord St. and the other with a two-family home and garage at 12 Concord St., each for $450,000. The family plans to remain in the home for three more years and although its flock of turkeys is gone, they will continue to sell products from their retail store.

Although named Seven Acres, the farm consists of 14 acres of land. It abuts the Ipswich River, residential land on Park Street and Bobcat of Boston at 20 Concord St., which has been run by the Arsenault family of Reading for 40 years. It’s possible the town could purchase all three parcels for about $2M.

Nearly every town department, board or committee submitted their ideas for future uses of the 14-acre parcel in writing to the board, along with a few residents. Two site visits were held for town officials prior to the hearing and given the wetlands on the site, if a Special Town Meeting is called, the town engineer will likely be mapping those wetlands to be evaluated by the Conservation Commission to give the town a better idea of what would be possible for the land.

Possibility of re-zoning

While Coviello has a commercial use in mind if he ultimately buys it, the land is zoned residential, not industrial or commercial so a rezoning request would need to be approved by a future Town Meeting as part of that permitting process. If the land was used as it is currently zoned it could support seven homes by right, but that number could be reduced depending on the extent of the wetlands.

Monday night’s meeting was part of the information gathering process of the Select Board and an official vote was not taken on whether to call a Special Town Meeting. Select Board Chairwoman Kathryn Manupelli called for the public hearing to be closed at the end of the discussion. In keeping with the tight timeline, a vote would need be taken at the board’s next meeting on February 24 for proper notification prior to an anticipated March 30 Special Town Meeting.

During the meeting, Michael Prisco, 12 Bishops Way, of the Economic Development Committee (EDC) and former Select Board member, asked the board members where they stood on the matter. Their unofficial sentiment was trending toward four in favor and one opposed, with SB member Rich Wallner not in favor of it at this time.

Testimony of residents

Long time residents of the neighborhood recalled the myriad of changes they have dealt with over the years, especially the huge increase in truck traffic, and many viewed the possibility of the town buying the land to bank it in order to prevent it from increasing the footprint of the commercial zone into their neighborhood as a possibility of relief from the constant traffic, especially by the trucks that make their homes shake and china cabinets rattle.

Julie Brown, 30 Southwick Road, who said she has lived in town for almost 55 years, recounted many of the town’s past land acquisitions, some of which she favored, such as the Hillview Country Club eminent domain purchase to protect the town’s aquifer. And some of which she did not, such Eisenhaure Pond Park and the Smith Farm property.

However, Brown said she is in favor of the town moving forward to purchase the Seven Acres Poultry Farm. “I think this is one piece of property we cannot bypass,” Brown said. “It is in our best interest to buy this piece of property.”

Brown added, “We’ve been talking about sewer in North Reading since I have lived here. We have done water studies and sewer studies. At one time, 20 percent of our town would be put on sewer and the rest of the town would pay for it, but we would not have it.”

She also asked why the town hasn’t sold the single family house purchased on Mill Street for $755,000 near the Reading town line when that land was going to be needed if the town had gone with the MWRA for its water.

Select Board member Stephen O’Leary explained that the town is in the process of reconfiguring the lot lines on the Mill Street property to enable the town to sell the house while retaining some of the land for a future municipal use.

June Storey has resided at 10 Southwick Road since 1966. She and many other long-time residents of the neighborhood provided perspective of what it’s like to live here as opposed to simply using Concord Street and Park Street as a commuting route to the highway.

“I have seen Concord Street change in very negative ways. We polluted the land up there. We need to look at what we do with this, especially our selectmen, really look at what we do with this property,” Storey said.

“If you go out Southwick Road and try to get out to 93 to go to Cambridge in the morning, it’s a nightmare. I can be 20 minutes waiting at the end of Southwick Road. Often, it will be a cruiser that comes through and stops so that you can get off of that road. So if you put industry of any kind there or any big complexes, it’s going to be a real traffic problem,” Storey said. “That whole area was pristine when I moved in and it is not now. We have a chance to reclaim some of that and I hope the town will buy it.”

Storey added, “I know the family that’s there. That has been a great place, an historic place in North Reading and maybe we can make into something really good in North Reading.”

Jodi DeCleene of 6 Oakland Road said she was concerned about both the traffic and protecting the Ipswich River and what appeared to be significant wetlands displayed on the map at the hearing. This map also had color overlays of the 100-year and 500-year flood zones. “I am very for the town buying this property and keeping it natural,” she said.

DeCleene believes the town also has to take into consideration the number of trucks that pass through here because 14 Concord St. is very close to the three-way stop sign at Concord Street, Park Street West and Southwick Road.

“At the stop sign the traffic backs up a half mile starting at 4 p.m. We never got a (traffic) light there; we’ve always wanted a (traffic) light there. I had to teach my teenagers to honk and be aggressive for everybody that runs that stop sign. If we put industry in that lot, we have no ability to change that corner because we have people that live on those corners, unless we plan on buying Mr. Shaw’s house,” she said. “There is a lot to consider if a commercial property should be given permission to move that quantity of wetlands,” she said.

Chairwoman Kate Manupelli wanted to clarify that this land is currently zoned for residential use. “It has a farm classification right now. It doesn’t have a commercial designation; it would require a zoning change in order to get that designation.”

Manupelli added that residential use is permitted for multiple homes with seven lots as a matter of right. “It is going to face those same permitting issues and address permitting issues, if homes are placed on that lot based on the topography and the wetlands. Because someone buys it does not eliminate those permitting and review obligations, or any other process that a developer would face,” she said.

Select Board member Liane Gonzalez said retaining control over the development of this parcel is the reason the town should buy the property.

“If we don’t buy this someone else comes in and builds houses; we would have no control over that other than permitting,” said Gonzalez, who is also the chairwoman of the Housing Authority.

Earlier in the meeting, fellow Housing Authority member Chuck Carucci, 3 Chester St., said their board is in favor of land banking this site. “We have been looking for elderly housing and this is the best piece of property,” he said, adding, “As Mr. Schultz has said, they are talking about sewerage (for Concord Street) and in order to do that you need a pump station.” This site would give the town an option to locate a pump station there “rather than try to find land elsewhere later” even if it was developed for elderly housing.

Stating that he is a “proponent of buying” 14 Concord St. as well, Select Board member Andrew Schultz added that he also favors “doing a wetland study so we do not have ‘Smith property 2.0.’” As a proponent of sewerage for Concord Street, Schultz believes it will ultimately provide the town with necessary “revenue and new growth” to alleviate the residential tax burden and lead to a higher quality of businesses in the town’s commercial and industrial zones.

Camille Welch, a 60-year resident of 13 Concord St., said she had seen her neighborhood change from beautiful farmland and good neighbors just trucks and cars. “There is nothing left to make it look like a neighborhood. To put more industry in there would not be a service for the town….My house rumbles, my china cabinet shakes, and the road needs repairs that have not been done…you cannot walk across the street to visit your neighbors,” she said.

Mary Street of 379 Park St., a 30-year resident, said she has seen “traffic double on Park Street in those 30 years. I am a strong supporter of the town buying it and doing nothing with it or maybe a small parking lot as it abuts Ipswich River. I feel for the abutters who lives across the street because things in my house shake too.

Rose Marie Vitale a 52-year resident of 11 Concord St., told the board, “If you live on Concord Street you do not get a decent night sleep” due to the constant 24/7 traffic. As if to add insult to injury, she said that both her family and her neighbors, the Welches, constantly have to pick up all the trash that is thrown out of the passing cars and trucks into their yards. “I love this town. My kids had a very good education here,” she said, adding, “Please give us the help on Concord Street. We have put up with it all these years,” Vitale said.

Young voices

The town’s younger residents also had their say. Wearing a t-shirt with an image of her pet dog, a young girl approached the podium and said, “I live at 416 Park St. and my name is Theresa Hornby. I think this space would be perfect for a dog park.” She was applauded.

Thomas Dingman of 16 Marblehead St. had a unique suggestion to keep the land as a working farm.

“I submit that the town should consider this idea without bias and see the practicality of it. My idea …would be to turn it into a cannabis cultivation farm. The stigma against cannabis exists as a result of a misinformation campaign that has run rampant through our nation, unfairly incarcerating people for a victimless crime which so happens to have impacted minority communities in an overly disproportionate manner. Despite the stigma, I encourage you to look at the facts,” Dingman said, which include many protocols to ensure the safety of such an establishment plus it would have less of an impact on sewer demands and emergency services than other proposals as well as being a “source of much-needed revenue,” he said.

Don Kelliher of 3 Sandspur Lane, a member of the Finance Committee, expressed concern over the potential to impact the town’s cash flow if such a large purchase was made.

“My only comment is if we do it I am concerned how it will be paid for — bonding and Free Cash would have a detrimental impact on the funds for the town and funds for capital. We are currently looking at our requests for capital requests and how to fund it, and speed up road (repair) program.

“If we are going to do this I would strongly recommend we use the Pulte money and not encumber any of the funds of the town for Free Cash or bonding,” Kelliher added. “Don’t hang up the rest of the town’s operations by buying (it).”

Manupelli agreed. “We have absolutely no intention to eat up the balance of Free Cash for this acquisition. A general consensus is to utilize these funds from the sale of J.T. Berry land, which is restricted and this is what we can use these funds for.”

She added it’s possible that a mix of JT Berry funds and some Free Cash could be used, but not all free cash. “We are in a consensus we will not be bonding or raising taxes for this because we have the availability of the J.T. Berry funds,” she said.

Select Board member Stephen O’Leary agreed as well that they should not be borrowing funds and that such a purchase “should have no impact on operating expenses.”

Rita Mullin, 29 Abbott Rd., said she could not see how the town could go wrong with either a choice before the town. If the land is banked and used by the town for open space or another purpose, she believes the town “would be a very good steward and put something there to make the Magliozzis proud.” But if the town passes on the option and it is sold to a private owner she believes “you could not have a better person than a Sergio Coviello” to purchase and develop it.

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