HANSON – The Lite Control property, long eyed by the town as a location for a new Highway Department building, has drawn interest from potential buyers or renters.
The property was donated to the town in 2019 for that purpose, but the two remaining buildings have been vacant since. Any disposition of the property would have to go before the May Town Meeting.
Selectmen Chairman Matt Dyer urged Green to ensure the buildings are secured, while moving ahead on parallel tracks — with the Highway Building Committee doing its work while Town Administrator Lisa Green and town counsel investigate the options for disposition of the property. The board concurred with that approach.
“There’s not enough information available now to make an informed decision,” Selectman Joe Weeks said.
The property has become a hangout for people who have been breaking into the buildings — and making bonfires inside the buildings — Green said, adding that Impressed LLC is interested in the property, but that the town would have to follow the procurement process prior to any sale or lease agreement.
“[The vacant buildings are] extremely dangerous since they are surrounded by very dry vegetation,” she said. “We’ve had some interest in the buildings and the property. People who either would like to purchase it or lease it.”
She said the windows are also being used for “target practice,” leaving the floor covered with broken glass.
Green said in either case a procurement process for municipal property disposition would have to be followed. Town counsel is already reviewing the restrictions on use of the property help with that complicated process.
“I just wanted to get the board’s feelings and thoughts on this,” she said. “We know, by the donation deed, there’s a lot of restrictions that follow this.”
For example, the property cannot be used for any residential, medical, day care or outdoor recreation or noncommercial gardening purposes. Wells may not be drilled, but town water is available to the site.
Green said the parties expressing interest are “looking at the buildings as they are” for a particular purpose.
“It would be interesting to get this back on the tax rolls,” she said. “It could bring jobs to the town instead of sitting there being an abandoned property that is a fire risk right now.”
Dyer reminded the board the property was being looked at for a future Highway garage site and asked if she had discussed the matter with Highway Director Jamison Shave in view of the town’s need for a new Highway facility.
“He was actually out there with us [when] we walked around the property. He knows a party is interested,” she said. “I don’t know if a new Highway Department is ever going to see the light in that particular location.”
Green said there is a lot of work to be done there and she is not certain the town has an appetite to fund that kind of project right now.
“The problem that I see is we did a feasibility study for that property that we’re only 70 percent done — $365,000,” Selectman Kenny Mitchell said. “Before we make any decisions, we need to determine whether Highway is going to go up there or not. You may be right, maybe it won’t be, but I think before we exercise this option — for our employees, we need to find out if it’s feasible to put a Highway Department there and, if it’s not, maybe then go to Town Meeting.”
Mitchell, who chairs the Highway Building Committee, said it hasn’t met in over a year because an override was coming last year and the cost was starting to increase. A couple of Highway employees who had served on the committee have retired, as well.
“I’m not even sure we have a quorum, but the Highway Building Committee needs to meet first and discuss this and kind of see where we’re at before we start making plans for that property.”
He also asked if the deed limited the property’s use to municipal purposes.
Green said it did mention municipal purposes, but argued it could go before Town Meeting to see if that restriction could be removed.
Mitchell said he understands the desirability of making the property a revenue-generator, but stressed the continuing need for a Highway garage.
“Our employees need to go somewhere,” he said.
Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett agreed.
“I do think we need to see that process through to figure out what is the price tag we’re looking at?” she said. “In my mind, there’s no denying that the space that our Highway folks are in is not acceptable.”
She said the current building is “literally falling apart at the seams.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett said that process would not only provide an indication of what a new Highway facility could cost the town –— between $5 and $7 million when last calculated, not including the takedown and cleanup of the old building — it would provide an indication of how to leverage the town’s existing assets and get some revenue.
“I’m wondering, do we actually end up getting those Highway guys in a building by somehow making a deal on that Lite Control property and getting money,” she said. “That’s a revenue stream that we don’t have right now.”
“I think Lisa’s absolutely on the right track as far as thinking outside the box, but I do think we’ve got to look at the Highway [Department],” Mitchell said.
Selectman Jim Hickey pointed out that the RFP process that Green was proposing would take “months and months” to complete. In the meantime, he suggested, if she starts it now, it will be complete by May Town Meeting. That would give residents something to compare — the potential revenue compared to projected costs and what has already been spent investigating the feasibility of using the site for a Highway barn.
“All the effort that’s gone into this [Highway building] RFP wasn’t specific to this … building,” Dyer said. He also suggested that the most environmentally responsible thing to do — as well as the cheapest and easiest thing to do – about the current building is to knock it down and build new.
“You can take the building on this piece of paper and move it anywhere,” Mitchell agreed. “I think there’s a few things we need to look at before we move forward.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett said there could also be a use for the property that hasn’t been considered that might make the property attractive. Green reported on Nov. 2 that the building commissioner is gathering quotes for boarding up the doors.
In other business, As Darkness Falls paranormal investigations was granted permission by the board to conduct an investigation of the old Plymouth Hospital property provided they not go near the food pantry building, particularly Tuesday nights when the food pantry’s clients pick up their parcels.
Green said she forwarded the request to Police Chief Michael Miksch who said he did not have a particular issue with the request so long as there is no damage done to the property.
“I am a little bit concerned,” FitzGerald-Kemmet said. “We’ve got the food pantry up there and I want to ensure that people’s privacy is preserved.”
For that reason she requested that the applicant not be permitted to have cameras there, while she also voiced concern for the security of the pantry building.
“I think that’s reasonable to tell them to stay away from the pantry building,” Dyer. “But if they wanted to go to the old paint shack, or down to the incinerator, or wherever, I think that’s fine.”
Green also reminded the board the group would only be there at night.