Every tax is a pay cut.  Every tax cut is a pay raise.
Citizens for Limited Taxation

Morency Woods September 23, 2003
George P. King, Jr.  
I recognize the Morencey Woods debate has been ongoing for some time.  I appreciate the passion Nicola Cataldo and others have for the property and their position on its future use.  However, I do think it is important that any interest group that passionately lobbies for its position also fairly and accurately state the facts.  Nicola's email of earlier today and some other recent statements has misstated factual items, and I believe it colors the debate in a manner that is not desirable.  I am going to take the opportunity to clarify the historical record, and then explain where the issue is at presently.

The existence of this land first came to my attention in July of 2000.  There had been a serious dirt bike accident on the property and the victim had to be airlifted to the hospital.  At that time the Fire Chief brought to my attention both the accident and the fact that it had occurred on Town of Framingham property, located in the Town of Natick.  I was perplexed and surprised we were holding such a large piece of land in another town.  I researched it and found the former use had been sewer beds, and it had been vacant for over 50 years.

Being an enterprising, and with the aide of hindsight apparently a somewhat naive Town Manager, I felt the potential for selling a large parcel of land that we own in another Town would make great sense, a no brainer.  Clearly I was wrong.  Before realizing the error of my way I approached the Board of Selectmen in April of 2001 suggesting that we try to determine the value of this land.  We did this by putting out an RFP inviting bids, but clearly stating it was subject to the approval of Town Meeting.  The highest bid was $1,000,000 for the entire 14 acres.  The request for Town Meeting permission was put on the warrant for that Fall, however it was never acted upon by Town Meeting.  It was withdrawn after concerns were raised by the Real Property Committee and other interest groups.  So for Nicola to state in her email that in the Fall of 2001, "Town Meeting voters rejected it with a caution against forcing solutions on them" is just not an accurate portrayal.

Once the matter had been raised in 2001 we were approached by the Town of Natick, expressing interest in working with us to preserve the land as open.  However, they offered no money to actually purchase it from us as was suggested to them as the most direct option.

After the withdrawal from the warrant in 2001, the issue was not addressed for several months in Framingham due to other pressing issues.  The Board of Selectmen discussed the issue again during the summer of 2002 and lots of ideas were exchanged, yet nothing was decided.  After the discussions the Board directed that I meet with representatives of several interest groups including members of the housing coalition and the neighborhood group.  Nicola was an active and helpful participant in those discussions which resulted in a compromise plan in the Fall of 2002.  Briefly stated the agreement, which included the Town of Natick as a participant offered the following:

  • The vast majority of the land would remain open and ownership be transfe rred to the Natick Conservation Commission.
  • A small portion of the 14 acres (just over two) off Pumpkin Pine Road in Natick would be developed into a small subdivision comprising four lots.
  • The Town of Natick, as their contribution, would obtain all the legal approvals necessary, and actually construct the subdivision including the road and utilities.
  • The four lots would be sold, two for affordable housing and two at market value.
  • The proceeds, estimated at $500,000, would be the property of the Town of Framingham, for appropriation by Town Meeting.
At the time this compromise was considered a win win for everyone.  Most of the land would remain open.  Framingham would get some money.  Framingham would be able to offer two units of affordable housing.  Natick would own, manage and care for the land in their Town, but it would be available for all to use.  Natick's "purchase price" would be the cost to construct the subdivision, allowing for the sale of the lots.

As well crafted as this agreement was, it required significant legal work be completed with Natick to assure all interests were protected.  Over the winter this legal work ensued and it was our intention to have final approval on the spring town meeting warrant.  Although the framework of the deal with Natick was agreed upon, all the legal I's had not been dotted and T's crossed by the time Town Meeting discussed it in June.  The issue was referred back to the sponsor after some debate.  Town Meeting did not want to consider it until all the legal issues were totally ironed out.  This was the only time Town Meeting has ever discussed this issue.  To suggest that citizens turned out night after night between October 2002 and June 2003 to discuss this issue at Town Meeting only to see it tabled, again is not accurate.  The only time it was tabled was in May of 2003, when it was tabled to await the resumption of Town Meeting in early June.

After that Town Meeting a group of people joined forces to advocate for the entire parcel being transferred to the Framingham Conservation Commission.  Despite the land being in Natick, this can be done legally by Town Meeting.  This group, that includes Nicola as she longer supports the compromise plan she helped craft, filed a citizen's petition to include such an article on the October 7th warrant and it will be heard at that time.

As of this writing the Board of Selectmen has not taken an official position on their recommendation for Town Meeting.  It is scheduled to be discussed tomorrow evening.  The Board had previously adopted the compromise plan.

At this time I no longer support the original compromise plan either, but I also do not support the idea of Town Meeting transferring the entire parcel to the ConCom at this time.

My concerns about transferring the parcel to the ConCom are numerous.  Though the land may be used for good purposes by neighbors, the land has also been used as dumping ground for years.  In addition elaborate dirt bike trails and jumps have been constructed on the land.  As fast as we have knocked them down, the kids have built them back.  It is a difficult enforcement issue, because although we have posted the land several times, we must rely on the Natick police to enforce.  Our police have no jurisdiction.  Simply putting the land in the hands of the ConCom is not going to solve these issues.  Whatever land management plan they develop to solve these issues will have to cost money.  In addition the Town of Natick has the right to tax the land, since we do not hold it for a municipal purpose.

I am recommending that the compromise plan be changed, but the principles still be adhered to.  I am recommending the Town once again try to finalize an agreement with Natick.  If we are successful, I recommend that we sell all four lots Natick pays to construct at market value.  It is estimated this will bring in $800,000 to $1,000,000 to Framingham.  Although any ultimate appropriation requires Town Meeting approval we should consider an agreement that indicates and intent to earmark the funds.  I am recommending we consider using 1/3 of the funds to further our ambitious development plan at Tercentennial Park, which is creating usable open space in south Framingham.  Open space that is easily accessible with plenty of parking for all.  The second 1/3 is put towards affordable housing initiatives in FRAMINGHAM.  The final 1/3 is deposited into our open space fund that was established some time ago, but has seen little if any activity.  It would seem that this kind of approach again is a win win for all.  The Town of Framingham gets money for very popular initiatives, while still preserving almost the entire parcel as open .  Further, the Town is not responsible for the management or upkeep of the land and the associated costs, but still has full access.

The compromise still needs work and will not be presented to Town Meeting on October 7th.  We have to finish the legal negotiations with the Town of Natick and obtain a result that gets us the protections we need.  If we can do this, I would like to present the finalized version to Town Meeting either in the winter or no later than next spring.  I am hoping the Board of Selectmen and Town Meeting support this approach.  If we are unable to reach agreement with Natick, nothing is lost, as the land is still open and Town Meeting can again consider transferring the land to the ConCom with no damage being done.  If the land is transferred now by Town Meeting, then no other options exist, and no money can be obtained, and in fact additional costs will likely be incurred.

I am truly sorry that Nicola feels that the administration is trying to "stall and wear down the will of the people" and that the whole episode is a "farce".  That is not the case, and I believe it is unfair and unproductive to suggest it, therefore I have taken the opportunity to clarify it.  This is a n issue with very important interests on all sides.  A compromise is always the best approach if it can be reached and I am confident it can be.  A compromise that achieves nearly the full objectives of all interested parties is a very good compromise.  I believe that kind of result is in the best interest of all the Town's residents, both financially and in terms of public policy initiatives.  Achieving those kind of results is what the administration is really trying to do.

The only present cost to achieve this is to wait a few more months before taking final action.  In the meantime the land stays as is, and the object of the citizen's petition remains fully viable for debate and action at a future date if no other alternative is possible or desired.

Thank you for your consideration of this important issue.

George King

Send comments to: hjw2001@gmail.com