Excerpts from Selectmen's Decision on MBTA-West Concord Depot

February 29, 1988

Selectmen Present:
Fan Cabot
Nancy Beecher
Terry Rothermel
William Sullivan
(Richard Loughlin removed himself from the discussion because of business dealings with John Boynton)

Nancy Beecher - I think it is important for us to start out by clarifying what is proposed here. First of all, it is not the same as last year's article. We do not have a proposal here that the town do a purchase of the depot. What we have is a proposal that the town be prepared to participate in some acquisition and renovation if and when it is undertaken. We've had an indication, I think we had it at the hearing, from the petitioners that if there appears to be, between now and the time of Town Meeting, no interest on the part of the state, that is to say the MBTA, in pursuing the acquisition which now they are beginning to explore, then it is the intent of the petitioners not to move the article. What they are saying to us is that if this Board of Selectmen does not recommend affirmative action that gives a definite clear and final signal to the state, to the MBTA, that the leadership of the town is not willing to participate so the state, the T, might just as well not go ahead and explore the possibility. It seems to me that it would be very unwise of this board to give that signal.
It seems to me the signal we want to give is to say that if the state is interested, if the T indeed might move in that direction then we believe, we the leadership of the town believe, that it would be desirable for Town Meeting to have the opportunity to participate, to express it's willingness to participate and put forward an amount of money for that purpose. So I think it is immensely important that this board at this time give that affirmative signal.

I would just add a few points as regards the nature of the issue itself. The depot has been there as unoccupied and, as I said it some months ago, a derelict building not improving, not able to be improved because of the impasse that exists there relative to the private ownership. And I find it encouraging that as a result of the explorations and activities of this citizens' group, some state attention is being paid to it, and there is a possibility that the whole thing can get off dead center. It is not an addition now to the beauty of West Concord center. It ought to be and it could be and there are those citizens who say that indeed at the present time it is not only an eyesore but that it has detrimental effects on the behavior of people in the neighborhood and that we as a leadership in the town ought to take
some interest in getting it upgraded. So it seems to me that favorable action here enables us to move off dead center and it gives the state some encouragement to give us assistance and I would urge us to take that position and recommend affirmative action.

Terry Rothermel - I've had a lot of practice recently in giving my point of view in this. I think I can be efficient. This is a very good cause. This citizens' group has worked very hard on it but there are other circumstances at work here. We've got a different but, I would say, similar article or articles as last year's Town Meeting in which it was proposed that the building come under public ownership at our expense and which also the private sector gave a position of wanting to buy the building and do very similar things with it. Town Meeting of last year, not by a margin of six votes but by a margin of more than half the people, voted in favor of not buying the property on a public basis at this time. For whatever reasons we never know at Town Meeting because obviously the case put forward by the private sector to do similar things without town or government must have had something to do with that. My position is that I want to make sure that in this Town Meeting that both parties have a chance to express their points of view in this issue without prejudice. That the citizens' group who would like to see public ownership and control of this building give their point of view in moving the article and the private sector that wishes has the opportunity to make a similar case for itself. I'm not unaware of the importance of the selectmen's vote and support of the article, it means something. In this case I think a little prejudice is attained and I would be in favor of the selectmen taking no position on the article to allow fair debate. Bill Sullivan - This gets to be a lengthy issue for me but I will have to say that I still, in priority, support the private effort that has been made and continues to be made to develop the property with something in place, something I think would accomplish nearly the same goals as the public would. However, I think it is also possible that the private effort will not succeed in the long run and it is also possible the public effort will not succeed in the long run. There's a very complex legal mess surrounding this property and I think in the interest of covering all the bases, I could find a way to support the article if it among other things specifically said that we would be following the initiative of the MBTA and the following the MBTA's purchase with some good faith funds if you will, rather than any inference at all that can be read into this article that we are taking the initiative. I don't think the town should be in the business of taking the initiatives to support the private effort. I also would like to follow the Finance Committee's position and if we were to pursue that avenue go for $50,000 rather than $75,000.

John Boynton - Bill Boland and I have been trying to buy the property and have been since about a year ago. As you vote I think you should have the benefit of knowing the exact status of the property. After about six or nine months of negotiations, we finally did sign a purchase and sale agreement with Mr. Pappas about two months before Town Meeting last year with the closing scheduled about a month before Town Meeting. Mr. Pappas did not show up at that closing nor did his lawyer. We believe that was because he had been in the interim approached by the group wishing public ownership and they had offered a price something like $385,000 and we had promised to pay and our contract called for $309,000 so he had been offered about a $75,000 premium by the group and we believe that's why he didn't close with us. However, because of the delay in closing and still before Town Meeting, one of Mr. Pappas's creditors came in and placed a $160,000 lien on the property. The sum of the liens including the mortgage exceeded our purchase price and really exceeded the value of the property and as a result the authority to work with the property was kind of taken away from Mr. Pappas.

Then we went to Town Meeting and the town voted not to buy the property or get involved and the buying interest went away. Since that time we have been trying through the courts to force Mr. Pappas to sell us the property for $309,000 and we are making progress towards that but as any lawyer knows it takes time. In the interim there has been another $100,000 of liens placed against the property, one of federal taxing of about $50,000 and a further mortgaging of about $50,000. In addition, our understanding is that Mr. Pappas has conveyed ownership of the property to one of the creditors. Now, in two ways he has violated a court order, an injunction against him selling the property. We're not sure who the owner is at this point. We have a lot of money invested in this thing and as was pointed out I think we basically had the same intention as everyone here who want to see the property renovated, back to its original identity. The only difference is that we would like to see a private use of the property. We think a private use would support the renovation process at no expense to the town in fact.

Of course, there is another view that says that it should be in public ownership for various reasons and that's legitimate too. I would say and I think Bill feels the same as I do that if the town really felt that it wanted the building to be in public ownership whether its the MBTA or the town owning it, who are we to buck the whole town. We'll sell the property to the town or to the MBTA probably for less then Mr. Pappas or whoever owns it would sell it. But the disturbing thing to us is that as private citizens we're trying to buy the building, doing our best, I think we have the best intentions in mind and certainly intentions that are substantially similar to those of the activists. And yet it seems as though by taking a position on this issue the town through the selectmen is working against us. I'm not sure what we've done wrong. So I'm a little confused about the situation and I think a vote on your part to support the effort sends a kind of mixed message.

Nancy Beecher - I would like to thank John for being here and giving us that information so we can take that into consideration and have some dialogue about it. I certainly would not like to have it thought that affirmative action recommended on our part implied that you had done anything wrong, which is the phrase that you used. Clearly you have been part of the victim in this situation as well. I would just say that our experience is that in one year the matter hasn't cleared itself up and who knows how soon it will and an affirmative vote on Article 28 would be a kind of clear indication of the town's interest in having something go forward. By encouraging the state to get involved, that doesn't necessarily write you out of the picture as far as I am concerned. It also suggests that we recognize that there is a public interest in having some kind of shelter, some kind of availability of services in that building again for commuters, which we lost as we lost it in the Concord Center depot. And as we have an interest, and we talked about this with our balanced transportation
committee, in beefing up and improving our public transportation services particularly as we see in Route 2 being with us for a while, I would say it behooves us to indicate that interest as well and to make sure any private buyer who might like yourself end up being involved recognize that that's an important element that we are concerned about. The way this is worded it says "to provide partial funding for the purpose of acquisition and renovations." Under such wording it is conceivable to me that if miraculously all the private issues cleared up and you were able to become the owner, then that would suggest that the town could participate with you in some way, with a private developer in some way in going forward with this. What it does is represent the town's interest in getting some forward movement in this matter as far as I am concerned.

Gordon McCouch - I would like to point out the wording in the article which shows your intent for public ownership in regard to Mrs. Beecher's comment.

Nancy Beecher - You're right, I accept that correction, sorry.

John Boynton - I will indicate that our plans do call for a public waiting room as is required in the deed to the property. We don't have an option on that.

Fan Cabot - I'm going on the assumption that it looks more like the MBTA will acquire this and if that is true, then $75,000 or $50,000 whatever is voted will be a help.

Helen McDonald, 56 Border Road - I would like to make a quick summary on this issue. I became involved with this when I first heard that Mr. Boynton was planning to buy the depot. At first I thought it was a great idea because I had seen what he had done at Walden Station and I felt it was so attractive and he improved the building and that I could envision the West Concord depot have something like that happen there because it is architecturally a very attractive building and I thought it would be a wonderful idea and a person from our town who would be really interested in upgrading the West Concord area and the depot. Somewhere along the line I happened to hear about these residents that were interested in it becoming a public transportation facility and the more I heard about it the more I thought it became a viable use for that building which was its original intent. Then as the group proceeded the possibility became even more exciting to think that in fact we could again regain a transportation facility and that it had been done in other cities and towns, mainly one which is about to open in Newton Center. Well my thought was if other towns have seized this opportunity, why would Concord want to let it go. Another thing that made me think it would be a great use for this building is that I know the town leases some land right now from Stop & Shop for their parking lot, and I thought that if at some time that is no longer available to the town and since the T is expanding the parking lot adjacent to this depot, it would be used by even more citizens of the town and therefore become a real asset to the town. Another feeling I have about Mr. Boynton buying the building now is I have seen his restaurant in Walden Station and I have seen his new place on Route 62 in Maynard, both of those although I feel attractive are restaurants and also have a bar area which is
fairly good size. In West Concord we already have the 99 Restaurant which also has a bar area. I happen to go down to the restaurant quite often because I take care of the flowers in the island and I see the type of people who go into this restaurant, Saturday afternoons being a very good example, and I also see all the cars that are parked right now next to the depot, most of all who are in the 99. I don't like the idea of having another restaurant with a bar area in West Concord just adjacent to the 99. I think it would be a mistake of the town not to use the opportunity to show the T that we are interested in this being a public transportation facility while we have the opportunity. I think it would be an asset to the town and all our citizens and it would be a much less intense use of this facility. I think the Newton Center station is an example of how this can be done and be attractively done and provide a wonderful place for our people to go and take the T. It would be safer and used and it would be just a shame to miss our opportunity when the T has even offered
to purchase this facility for us and all we have to do is cooperate with them. Thank you.

Michele Touw, Laws Brook Road - I think that the board's support for this article would send a message to the MBTA that we would like the building to be a train station once again and it would help convince them to get them to earmark those funds towards the purchase of the depot. If private interests are still concerned and the legal wrappings make it available to the private concerns then the money is still there available for the MBTA to offer that private concern the funds to purchase. In other words for the MBTA to purchase the building from the private owner. What the town message sends is not against private ownership, its for the train station to be there and for the MBTA to earmark those funds for possible purchase of the station in the future.

Bill Sullivan - There is another dimension when we get into discussing this surrounding the use of the property. I would support public efforts in that priority but I don't think it benefits the argument or discussion whether it's a train station or anything else because I have a problem with publicly justifying how I spent in terms of 4, 5, 6, $700,000 for a train station when both parties propose to have a waiting station. Judy Scotnicki, 52 Prairie Street - I've lived in West Concord now for almost 14 years and I've seen changes in that depot-and the problem with it when it is a restaurant is you never know how long any particular restaurant owner is going to own it. There is no guarantee if it's only a private interest in the building that we will have the amenities such as ticket sales, newsstand, bathroom facilities. I know my children do use the trains and I'm sure there are other people here in the room who have all members of their family use the train. It is my understanding that there will be a shelter that will be built across from where the waiting area is under the overhang. If we lose control as a community of having a say in the use of this building for amenities for all people in the town potentially, we lose an opportunity, if you don't vote tonight to at least give us an opportunity to let the MBTA know we have enough interest. And I don't think, Terry, that you can or I can speculate from that vote at Town Meeting last year didn't mean that people were concerned about the money in the town or whether they were concerned about John Boynton, or what. I think the fairest way is to let this have a chance to go to Town Meeting if in fact the MBTA is truly interested in the building. Your vote in the affirmative tonight gives that chance to go the next step of the process, and I think that's why many of us are here tonight to say please give all of us that chance.

Anna Thompson - Just a point of clarification, it can be brought up on the floor of Town Meeting regardless. It's petition option, isn't it?

Fan Cabot - Yes, it is.

Anna Thompson - So whether or not the selectmen support it.

Judy Scotnicki - Anna, there is a reason for my saying that. The MBTA is going to note whether or not the selectmen tonight vote in the affirmative action.

Anna Thompson - I hear you. I was just asking for a point of clarification because it sounded as though if the selectmen decided not to support it tonight it was impossible to bring it up on town floor, and I don't think that certainly is the case.

Michele Touw - The point is if the selectmen sent a message to the MBTA that they are not in support of it, it lessens the chance the MBTA will earmark those funds. And if they decide not to, the motion will not be moved at all at Town Meeting. It will kill the motion for Town Meeting, that's the point.

Norman Weinberg - This is the second time in a year that the motivation of the activists have been put in question. Mr. Boynton said last year that Mari Weinberg was a dangerous woman** and right after that the debate was cut off. Tonight he said that the citizens offered $385,000. Excuse me, this is far removed from the action of the motion itself but because it was brought up publicly and itself was removed, I want to straighten it out. Mr. Sheiffer last year authorized the citizens, because he would not himself deal with Mr. Pappas, to find out how much he was asking for a price. The citizens met with him and it was not cloak and dagger, it was under the auspices of the Town Manager. They sat down with him and he set the price, they did not say the price to him. So you were wrong about that. And really you ought to give a public apology for making speculations about things that you know nothing. I was there, you were not. You owe a public apology not only to Mari Weinberg but to the rest of the citizens who've worked so hard and so long to see this. They have no financial interest in this, this is for the good of the town. You, on the other hand, have a direct private interest. At least if you are going to have a fair fight say the things that you know what you're talking about. Tonight you made accusations about the citizens that are far off base and I resent it. **[Mr. Boynton disclaims having said this.]

John Boynton - May I ask one question? Was it relevant that the property was under contract at the time Mr. Pappas was approached?

Norman Weinberg - It has nothing to do with it. The citizens wanted to know, Steven Sheiffer wanted to know how much the depot was being sold for. And he would not ask him himself so he asked the citizens to go find the price out. What you ask is irrelevant.

Fan Cabot - I think that is enough discussion.

Terry Rothermel - I just wanted to say that I will continue to vote against this article with the board. That does not mean that I am not in favor of public ownership, I am. Because of the circumstances, I feel that it needs a fair hearing.

Nancy Beecher - Well, because I believe that it can't get a fair hearing without being before Town Meeting I would move this board recommend affirmative action.

Gordon McCouch - I think you need to do more than recommend affirmative action if you want to be clear as to what it is you're endorsing Mrs. Beecher because the way the article is worded is extremely general.

Nancy Beecher - That's helpful, Mr. McCouch. The assumption that I made at the outset in my first remarks was as follows that the citizens would be moving the article if they had an indication, if there was a clear indication the T was going to proceed, so my assumption is that there will be an expression of or articulation or clarification with regards the T's proposal at the time the motion is made and that this board is recommending affirmation action on a motion which will propose town participation in acquisition or renovation and I guess we should specify the price that we're willing to recommend with the Finance Committee the sum of $50,000.

Fan Cabot - Is that clearer Mr. McCouch?

Gordon McCouch - I think that is clearer.

Bill Sullivan - I would like another clarification. There is no specification that we're talking about the MBTA in the article at all and it says by publicly owned transportation facility and maybe they are the only ones meant but I think it's very relevant because I don't think we want the inference that the town will be the public community that owns the transportation facility. I would also like to have some specification that we are not taking the initiative of putting up the money.

Nancy Beecher - I would be happy to withdraw my motion and have it reworded if that would be helpful. For the purpose of participating in purchase and renovation by the MBTA in the amount not to exceed $50,000.

Fan Cabot - Any further discussion? All those in favor. All those opposed. 3 to 1 - Mr. Rothermel voting against. Mr. Loughlin is abstaining.

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Text mounted 6 May 2015.-- rcwh.