Dear Wilmington Residents,
As many know, I represent the owners of property located on Andover Street known as Sciarappa Farm. This property is the subject of several Articles coming before Town Meeting, as well as the “Special Town Meeting within the Town Meeting” put forward by Selectman McCoy. I watched the interview of Mr. McCoy on WCTV recently, and I am stunned that Mr. McCoy knowingly and intentionally continues to put forward incorrect and inflammatory information designed to sabotage an opportunity that the owners of the land have to sell their property.
In the interview, Mr. McCoy mentions no less than four times that: “For over three decades we (presumably the Town of Wilmington) have given them (presumably the land owners) special agricultural tax discounts…”. He said that he won’t get into the “legality” of the so-called “tax-discounts” and the fact that “we” never had an opportunity to buy the property, but then he gets right into it anyway. The not-so-subtle message is that the property owners did something illegal. Mr. McCoy fails to state the property owners were entitled to receive favorable tax rates by law. Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 61A allows the owner of agricultural land to apply for a reduced tax rate. This law was enacted by the Massachusetts Legislature in the early 1970s. Property owners must apply each year to the municipality, which then decides whether to grant the reduced tax rate. In return for granting the reduced tax rate, the municipality gets what is referred to as the right of first refusal to purchase the land if the owners have received a bona fide offer. The owners are required to notify the municipality and provide a copy of the Purchase and Sale Agreement. The municipality then has a certain amount of time to decide if it wants to match the offer and purchase the land. The owners of the Sciarappa Farm had applied for 61A designation, as was their right, and the Town of Wilmington approved. However, as the owners scaled back and ultimately ceased farming the land, in 2014 the owners did not reapply for 61A designation. The land was then taxed at the full rate, which the owners have paid ever since.
During the time that the property was still under Ch. 61A, the owners received several offers to purchase their land from third-party Buyers which they would have liked to have accepted. As required by them under the law, they notified the Town of the offers. However, each of the offers were withdrawn by the potential buyers, and no further action was taken. Mr. McCoy stated in his recent WCTV interview (as he has on many prior occasions) that the owners withdrew their offers to the town. This is simply not true and he knows that. What is important to note here is that the Town was put on notice on each of those occasions that the owners were interested in selling their property. During all that time, Michael McCoy sat on the Board of Selectman. Yet, on countless occasions, including in his recent interview on WCTV, he says that “we” (again, presumably the Town) were never notified” that the land was available.
I addressed these very issues in a letter which I wrote to the residents of Wilmington dated March 28, 2018 which was published in the Town Crier and also in The Apple. The following are excerpts from that letter:
“In a recent Board of Selectman meeting, Selectman McCoy stated that the town hasn’t had the opportunity to buy the property, “…after giving them (the owners) tax breaks for years and years and years.” This property has been in the Sciarappa family for nearly 100 years, being operated as a farm for most of that time. Massachusetts General Laws Ch. 61A allows for municipalities to reduce property taxes on qualified farm land, with certain restrictions placed upon the land if it is to be sold while under 61A designation. During the time that the property was designated as 61A, the owners paid the full amount assessed by the Town each and every year. In 2014, the property was removed from 61A designation, and a higher tax was assessed. The owners have paid the full amount of real estate taxes assessed by the Town each and every year. Proof of assessment and taxes is a matter of public record which Selectman McCoy could easily have discovered. For Selectman McCoy to insinuate that the owners have received some benefit to which they were not entitled by law is uninformed, unfair, and just plain wrong.
As far as Selectman McCoy’s incorrect remark that the Town hasn’t had the opportunity to buy the property, nothing could be further from the truth. Over the course of the past ten to twelve years, there have been several offers to purchase the property made by individuals and companies. On at least two occasions while the property was under 61A status, the Town was notified of offers that the owners were considering. This was done so that the Town could have an opportunity to exercise its right of first refusal to match an offer, reserved to it under the statute. None of the offers was ever consummated, but the Town has been on notice of the owners’ desire to sell. It has been no secret for more than a decade that the owners would like to sell their property. I believe that Mr. McCoy has been on the Board of Selectman for that entire time. Neither Selectman McCoy nor anyone else on behalf of the Town has presented an offer to the owners to purchase this property. It is blatantly false to state that the Town hasn’t had the opportunity to buy it, and Selectman McCoy knew or should have known this.”
Over a month later and Mr. McCoy is still spreading the same false information. One has to wonder what his true motivation is. It wasn’t until the Article to rezone Sciarappa Farm was filed (#53 on the Town Meeting Warrant), that Mr. McCoy took notice and began his campaign to acquire the property. He has sponsored two Articles which are designed to sabotage an offer which the owners have received to sell their land. Mr. McCoy gets very creative in his efforts of sabotage. It is interesting that he calls for a “Special Town Meeting within a Town Meeting”. Obviously this was done because he didn’t anticipate that a re-zoning article would be on the Warrant so he pulls out this procedural move out of desperation. Then, he proposes one article which will gut the provisions of the very Zoning that the voters of the Town have approved for mixed use by eliminating multi-family housing from that zone. This is the topic of Article 53 which seeks to allow the rezoning of Sciarappa Farm. In his presentation on WCTV, as he has on many other occasions, Mr. McCoy employs scare tactics by intentionally stating that “There could be more than 680 residential units built there!” At one time he said there could be 760 Units! He just pulls numbers out of the air in an intentional effort to scare people. Mr. McCoy knows that the developer’s proposal is to fill two significant needs for affordable housing in Wilmington: smaller houses that are priced at the lower end of market rate and housing for seniors, rather than the larger homes that are priced near or above $ 1 million. The vision is to build approximately 210 market rate residential units in both single and multi-family structures, and approximately 40 units that will be designated as “affordable”.
The second Article which Mr. McCoy has on his “Special Town Meeting within the Town Meeting” is the one that everyone should be deeply afraid of. He proposes that the people of Wilmington authorize the Town to obtain the Sciarappa Farm by any means possible, including TAKING BY EMINENT DOMAIN. In his interview on WCTV, Mr. McCoy speaks so casually about eminent domain as though it is done all the time and everyone should just let it happen. I want to stress that Eminent Domain is defined in Black’s Law Dictionary as: “The power to take private property for public use by the state, municipalities…”. There must be some public urgency or public good to justify the taking of someone’s private property. In his WCTV interview Mr. McCoy says that maybe “we” (again, presumably the Town) could have some open space like Boston Common, or recreation, or maybe we could have a cemetery, or maybe a farm stand where we could sell apples to the schools. Or maybe the Town won’t do anything with the property. Is this urgent? Is this what Mr. McCoy deems to be “for the public good”, sufficient enough to warrant taking someone’s property? He goes on to show maps of land owned by the Town that abuts the Sciarappa Farm and which is located on the north side and the south side of Route 125. This comprises nearly 40 acres of land. Why then does the Town need to purchase an additional 62 acres? Where is the urgency or the public good?
In his televised interview, Mr. McCoy was asked about the price that the Town would have to allocate in order to purchase the land. In his typical fashion, Mr. McCoy pulls a number out of thin air. He states that he “got some back door prices” from “very reliable sources” of $ 8.2 million. He then “adds” $ 200,000.00 to that price for other costs associated with a taking by eminent domain such as appraisals. He then goes on to say that the existence of an easement that runs through the property will “drive the price down”. I am left to wonder what a “back door price“ is, who the so-called reliable sources are, and on what bases did these sources come up with that number? Mr. McCoy’s taking by eminent domain would require that the Town spend significant money to pay for an appraisal of the property. Then, the Town would propose to pay that price to the owners. But, what if the owners of the property don’t think that the value as established by the Town’s agent (very likely to be to the benefit of his employer) is as high as they believe their property is worth? Now, the property owners are forced to spend THEIR money to get their own appraisal. Is this fair, or right? This process could go on for a very long time, during which time no other potential buyers will come anywhere near this property. The owners are forced to take what the Town offers, or spend years and fortunes fighting it. The true value of anything, whether it be a used car or land or anything else, is how much a good faith buyer is willing to pay to purchase it, not some made up “back door” price.
So, I ask everyone to think very hard about this. Should the owner of private property be allowed to sell that property to whomever they want and for the highest price that they can get? Or, will you allow your municipal government, by and through the efforts of one elected member of the Board of Selectmen, to take that property for whatever price it sets, just because he wants it? Who will be next victim? This is a very dangerous precedent.
Mr. McCoy was asleep at the switch for more than 12 years when he, as a member of the Board of Selectmen, had a chance to approach the owners of Sciarappa Farm to see if they’d be interested in selling the property to the Town and he failed to do so. Now he’s doing all that he can to sabotage an opportunity for them to sell their property, by taking the property by eminent domain, and by gutting the zoning bylaw that was previously approved by the residents of Wilmington so that the developer can’t do what he envisions which is needed and beneficial to the Town.
Please go to Town Meeting on Saturday, May 5th. Vote NO to Articles 1 and 2 of the Special Town Meeting Warrant, and YES to Article 53 on the regular Town Meeting Warrant. Send a message to Mr. McCoy that he can’t bully his way anymore.
William F. Crowley, Esq.
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