Ripley's sponsors Acton's Special Town Meeting on August 4, 2015

Ripley's Believe it or Not, which runs a series of tourist attractions in major U.S. and international cities, has agreed to be the lead sponsor for Acton's Special Town Meeting on August 4, during the Dog Days of Summer.

Yes, believe it or not, Acton's selectmen have scheduled a town meeting when most residents are away on vacation. Those that are still in town are unlikely to be interested in dealing with town business.

The topic of this meeting is a proposed settlement of the Next Generation Children's Center (NGCC) proposed daycare site at the intersection of Route 27 and Route 2, near the Route 2 Westbound off-ramp exit.

When the daycare center was first introduced, many residents opposed the new development, citing concerns about traffic, safety, and increased daycare competition in town. Some nearby residents were also concerned about neighborhood traffic cutting through a private road nearby. NGCC filed the development under the "Dover Amendment" which allows daycare centers to bypass local zoning ordinances (sort of like 40B developments can bypass most local zoning to increase the stock of affordable housing in the state.)

Because of vocal opposition, the town decided to appeal to the courts where the issue has languished for several years. Reportedly, there is now a tentative agreement for the town to purchase the land for $1.8 million. I tried going online to review the documents, but as of today, July 14th, exactly three weeks before the scheduled Special Town Meeting, there is nothing posted on the town's website.

$1.8 million sounds like a very high price for Acton to invest in land with no clear purpose. I did some research on the town's GIS website and found that NGCC appears to own five parcels of land purchased over 10 years on that side of Route 27. There are three house lots zoned R-2 (all vacant land now), plus the Kennedy land with storefront, and one additional small lot. All told, the assessed value of these lots is $1.027 million, which makes the purchase price $773,000 more than the assessed value. This is assuming that the town would be getting all five lots which cannot be confirmed without any posted sale information.

The location might have some value for the town in the future, but we are investing a lot of money each year in open space (through our CPA surcharge) and I do not favor spending more taxpayer money on this type of investment. Spending taxpayer funds today to set aside land for future generations should have some reasonable limit and unless there is a consensus to increase it, we are already there.

So unless the Selectmen have a plan to do a land swap to pay for this purchase, or to use CPA funds for it, I would most likely be opposed.

A "land swap" option would allow NGCC to build elsewhere without the traffic and safety concerns, or would allow for other development by someone who pays cash for unused town land, allowing us to mothball the land on Main Street instead and pay off NGCC for their investment. The "net amount" of land to be developed would remain the same.

Another reason to oppose the proposal is because of the timing of the Special Town Meeting itself. This is an example of a bad process decision. Something that has been on our town's agenda since 2008 does not need to be decided in the summer.

If you do come to the Special Town Meeting, bring your beach chairs and umbrella, and I hope they will serve a nice summer BBQ for the 25 or 50 people who have nothing better to do on a warm summer evening.

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