WILMINGTON, MA — Should the town purchase the 75-acre Sciarappa Farm (333 Andover Street)? Selectman Mike McCoy made his pitch at Monday night’s Selectmen’s Meeting and his colleagues were interested in what he had to say.
McCoy began his presentation by providing his colleagues and the Town Manager with two past agricultural land tax liens signed between the Board of Assessors and the Sciarappa Farm, as well as state guidelines, all of which indicate a “municipal right to purchase.”
“A landowner who has property classified under one of the Chapter 61 (forestry/agricultural) laws must notify the municipality when all or a portion of the land is being converted to a disqualifying use,” read McCoy from the state guidelines. “Land owners cannot sell land or convert land to another use for an additional one year after being taxed under Chapter 61 without giving the municipality a notice of intent to sell or convert. The notice must be sent certified mail or hand delivered…. To a selectboard of a town, board of assessors, conservation commission, and planning board. The proper notice triggers a 120-day option period during which the city or town has the right of first refusal to meet a bona fide offer to purchase the land or, in the case of conversion by the land owner, an option to purchase the land at full market value, to be determined the impartial appraisal.”
“Under 61 chapter laws, Sciarappa Farm, for decades, has received tax benefits because it has been considered an active farm. The tax benefits were designed to maintain the presence of a farm,” emphasized McCoy. “By receiving these benefits from the town, there’s a stipulation that the farm must first notify the town in writing if they decide to sell the property they own for a non-agriculture use. Wilmington would then have 120 days to take action and make a decision whether or not to purchase the property. We were never notified on this.”
“It seems like this phase has come and gone,” admitted McCoy. “Bottom line, what bothers me is I’ve been on this board for a long time, and not once have been I notified relative to this property. I have to give credit to the former Town Manager Mike Caira. He put us in a good position to, some day, when this property became available, be in a position to buy it. And that hasn’t happened.”
“It bothers me that we don’t have an opportunity to buy it, after giving them tax breaks for years and years and years,” repeated McCoy. “We have money in free cash. We can call a special town meeting. We should buy that land. God’s not making any more property… We want the full 75 acres (62.5 in Wilmington). This is one of the best parcels out there in town. There’s a lot of dry property there. We could make beautiful use with that.”
When asked from an audience member what McCoy would want done with the land, he responded that the town should hold on to it and decide the usage at a later date, like it’s done with Yentile Farm, the property next to St. Dorothy’s and the Camp 40 acres land.
McCoy asked his colleagues to “rally around” his push to by the farm.
“I would encourage the Town Manager and, perhaps, the Board of Selectmen Chair to sit down with the developer and sit down with the owners of the farm. Let’s do everything possible to work out a deal with the developer and the Sciarappas. Let’s take a wrong and make it a right,” said McCoy. “Somehow, over the last three years, this thing fell through the cracks. I think we need to explore our options.”
Town Manager Jeff Hull then explained the history of the property and why the town does not have a right of first refusal any longer.
“The property did have a 61a designation for a number of years, since 1986,” confirmed Hull. Over the course of time, the number of acres covered varied. During the last several years of the designation, it was just 5 acres of property that was sought designated under 61a. The owners have to apply every year. The 61a designation was last in place in 2014. They applied in 2015, but their application was incomplete and denied. They never pursued the designation again.”
“The opportunity for the town to have the right of first refusal only applies if they’re seeking to sell the property while the 61a designation remains in place. The 61a designation expires 4 years ago, so as a consequence, today, if the Sciarappa family is looking to sell, the town does not have 120 days to offer up funds to purchase it,” explained Hull.
“I believe in the mid-2000’s, there was an effort to purchase the property. There was some discussions and perhaps even Executive Sessions. The Town Manager and Board of Selectmen considered the purchase, but the price ewasn’t right, and, as a result, no sale transpired,” recalled Hull. “There was a subsequent situation where the Sciarappas were interested in selling the property, sent a letter expressing a desire to sell to the town, and then, shortly thereafter, rescinded the offer. Since that time, to my knowledge, there’s been no communication between the town and Sciarappas about a possible purchase.”
To further complicate the matter, Hull noted, in the past, Sciarappa family members weren’t “on the same page” in terms of what to do regarding a potential sale, complicating past discussions over the property.
“The town should make an overture to the Sciarappas to understand what their intentions are with the property,” said Chair Mike Champoux. “It doesn’t mean we’re considering any purchase, as that’s premature. But we haven’t even tried to have a conversation with the owners in 5-6 years. Maybe we ought to…We need a seat at the table.”
Champoux asked that Town Counsel review the documents that Mr. McCoy provided the board. Champoux also asked Hull to research if the property is currently still being taxed as a farm, even though the 61a designation no longer applies.
“I’m concerned about a loss in revenue over the past several years, potentially, from an underassessment,” remarked Champoux.
Selectman Kevin Caira shared the concern.
“Is the farm still being assessed as a farm? If they are, they’ve been paying at the wrong tax rate. And if they have been, they should be still be considered [a farm],” asked Caira. “There a lot of questions we have that need to be addressed.”
Hull said, to the best of his knowledge, he’s not aware of any active agricultural activities taking place on the farm today.
“They’re not being taxed currently as an active farm. The last time they received the 61a benefit was in 2014 and on 5 acres,” responded Hull.
An audience member, resident Anthony Saragosa, challenged Hull’s response, noting the farm is currently being assessed at just $767,800 based on the town assessor’s online database. (Wilmington Apple confirmed the 2018 assessment of $767,800 for 333 Andover Street using the database.)
“It should be worth a lot more than that with 62.5 acres. I’m getting the impression that they’re still being accessed as the farm. Something is not adding up regarding the assessment and its use,” said Saragosa.
“I’m being assessed at $719,000 and I have 1 house on a 4,400 square foot lot,” responded Selectman McCoy.
After hearing from Selectmen, Town Manager Hull agreed to contact the Sciarappa family to find out their intentions with respect to the property and express a possible interest from the town.
The 45-minute did get a little heated at parts. Selectman Ed Loud, for example, took a couple of minutes to rip Selectman McCoy during the 45-minute discussion.
“I have a major problem with Mr. McCoy telling everyone in town that there’s going to be 760 apartments built [on the Sciarappa site if the Welch Town Meeting article passes] because he doesn’t have his facts rights,” said Loud. “It took a simple phone call to Mr. Welch’s business and, within an hour, Jackie and Mr. [Kevin] Welch called me back, saying there’s no way in heck they’re going to build 760 apartments. There’s no way there’s even 76 buildable acres there. They have a 200-foot easement throughout the entire property, so that limits development. There’s 30 acres of wetlands there, which limits development even more. That’s what I have a problem with.
Loud also pointed out that McCoy’s letter referred to Jackie as Kevin’s wife, when she’s her daughter.
“McCoy continues to scare everybody,” said Loud. “First, he had the Xpedex site wrong. Then he had the [Welch proposal] wrong. Now he wants to buy the land out from underneath somebody. I think that’s awful.”
Regarding Xpedex, McCoy noted that other individuals, including Attorney Kim Peterson, heard the same rumors he did. McCoy claimed neighbors saw people surveying the land and talking about housing units going there.
Regarding the Welch proposal, McCoy stands by his numbers, saying what he presents at Town Meeting will be 100% accurate and very close to what he’s been saying since “day one.”
Also during the conversation, Loud, Caira and McCoy all voiced opposition towards Welch’s petitioned Town Meeting article to rezone the Sciarappa Farm land to neighborhood mix use. Champoux said he wanted to learn more about the proposal at the upcoming Joint Finance Committee and Planning Board Public Hearing.