The Fairhaven Selectboard received input and heard concerns at a special meeting on Wednesday, 4/13, from residents regarding the proposal for sale of the Oxford School building.
The North Fairhaven Improvement Association, which occupies a town-owned building on the site, had suggested the meeting to be held at its building. However, the Selectboard decided that if all three board members would be there, it should be held at town hall.
With the room full of residents, and more waiting in the hallway, the Selectboard took a five minute recess to move the discussion upstairs to the auditorium. During that time they realized there was no way to video the meeting upstairs as there was no camera available from government access. They went back and forth on how they were going to tape it, with board members calling or texting school committee members to see if their meeting was over yet, since that was where the portable camera was.
Finally, they decided that Selectboard Administrative Assistant Anne O’Brien would tape the meeting with her phone, until a camera arrived. About 20 minutes into the meeting, the government access camera did arrive. The meeting should be available online through the town’s website.
At 7:50 p.m., with approximately 50 residents in attendance, the meeting moved upstairs. No representatives from the Stratford Capital Group were present. Town Planner Bill Roth, Town Administrator Mark Rees and Selectboard member Bob Espindola, who negotiated with the SCG, were at the meeting.
Mr. Espindola apologized for the SCG saying they were out of state, but were reachable by phone.
Mr. Roth went over the site plan that was proposed stating it was two parcels and two paper streets creating the two lots. He stated there was still a final site survey due.
Lot 1, said Mr. Roth, is where the NFIA is with 3-4 parking spots behind the building and an access easement to the back. There would be a second easement on Morton and Livesey Park Way to a 30-space parking lot for the public.
The SCG is proposing to build 63 units with 80 bedrooms, eight units in the existing building and the rest in a new building.
Town Counsel Tom Crotty spoke about the purchase and sale agreement. He said it was a draft that was close to being finalized.
The P&S is an option to purchase the building for $325,000 with a proposed closing date of December 31, 2018. Mr. Crotty stated that if SCG does not receive the low income tax credits by that time they had the option to extend it out one year, subject to approval by the town.
He explained that the SCG could cancel if they didn’t get approval from the Town. Mr. Crotty also stated that the Town could rescind the offer if any changes to the 62+ senior housing are proposed.
Negotiations capped the building department fees at $90,000, which Mark Rees advised was negotiated down from $101,000. These would be fees for all building permits, electrical, and plumbing through the building department.
Fairhaven resident and NFIA member, John Medeiros said he had read the P&S and called it the “B&S” agreement. He said that the SCG has a project in Bourne they have been working on since 2011, and have only recently received the tax credits in 2016. He wondered if the same thing would happen in Fairhaven.
Mr. Crotty answered that with the proposed closing in 2018 and a one-year extension if needed, the town is looking at only a three-and-a-half-year wait.
Bob Cormier, President of the NFIA, introduced himself and then said, “And yes, I live in New Bedford.”
Mr. Cormier referred to specific sections of the 28-page P&S, noting that there were no exhibits A, B and C. He also asked if the new building would match the brick of the old building.
Mr. Crotty rebutted every question with an answer and/or a change that would have to be made to keep things consistent in the agreement.
Mr. Espindola said that the SCG would offer up the exhibits once they know that the proposal is passed at Town Meeting. He stated that the SCG did not want to spend more money on engineers to write up a site plan for the exhibits if the proposal wasn’t going forward.
Resident Gary Lavalette, who sits on a number of committees, said that he had read the P&S and he believed the town is nickeling & diming it to death. He said he would have liked to see the Town ask for a larger down payment commitment from the SCG, versus waiting two+ years to get started on the project.
“I’m disappointed that SCG is not here,” said Steve Parr, a north Fairhaven resident. “This is the second neighborhood meeting that I have been to that they haven’t been present.”
Mr. Espindola said that he had asked for people to give the board questions in advance, and they would have gotten answers from SCG. He offered to call them if anyone had a specific question to ask.
“I appreciate your comments,” Mr. Parr said. “But they should want to be here.”
North Fairhaven resident, Ann Richard, who is also a Planning Board member and member of other town committees, asked what the building was going to look like, since there were no drawings of the buildings listed on the exhibit pages.
She also stated that on the SCG’s website it listed 25-35 people and she hoped they would be able to send at least one to Town Meeting to really hear the neighborhood concerns and answer our questions.
Again, Mr. Espindola said that he would be happy to call them on the spot with any specific question.
Ms. Richard asked questions regarding the parking lot alongside Livesey Park.
“They’re not giving us anything,” she said. “It’s our park. Will it be paved?”
Mr. Roth answered that it would be paved and would not be used for their overflow parking, but for Livesey Park. He said it would be up to the Town of Fairhaven to put up tow signs and monitor who parks there.
He did explain that the project falls under the Zoning Board of Appeals, “comprehensive permit,” which is 40B affordable housing where everything is negotiable. He stated that the ZBA will be the authorizing board for the permits.
Selectboard chairperson Charles Murphy reiterated that he was one of the Selectboard members who originally voted against the project. He stated that whenever something like it comes before him he has to think about it as if he were going to be the purchaser, and would he do something like this at the facility.
He said there are too many “what ifs” on the project; and he too is wondering whether or not the SCG will be at Town Meeting to hear the concerns and answer questions.
Mr. Murphy said his question to the SCG was whether or not they would allow the seniors to vote at this facility in the future and they said a resounding, “NO.” He was not too fond of that answer.
Mr. Espindola said that the SCG said they would be at the will of the board, if the board wanted them at Town Meeting, they would make efforts to get there. Regarding the voting for seniors held at the facility, Mr. Espindola said that the group was concerned for about security and that the gymnasium would no longer be there to have the room for voting booths.
Mr. Cormier spoke again regarding the NFIA lease agreement.
“With all due respect to Attorney Crotty,” he said. “Where [are] the Selectmen now in giving the building to NFIA?”
He stated the NFIA is there without a signed rental agreement in place; and the building is in need of repair however with all the monies that the NFIA has spent over the years, they were not going to put any more money into it until they were sure there would be a signed rental agreement in place.
Mr. Crotty said that now that there is a proposal from SCG to do a survey the next step would be to sign a lease agreement with the NFIA.
“There is no intention to throw you out of there,” he said.
“Do we have to wait until 2019,” asked Mr. Cormier.
Resident Margaret Gray referred again to the proposed town parking.
“Let’s be honest,” she said. “They are going to use that parking lot as overflow.”
Another resident shouted out that it seems the selectboard was not listening to the people that live in that neighborhood.
Mr. Espindola stated this his role in this was to bring something to Town Meeting to vote on.
“It’s not finalized with the Selectmen,” he said. “It has to be voted for or against at Town Meeting, by the members. If Town Meeting does not vote in favor of it, it would not go through.”
“How is the parking lot going to be monitored?” North Fairhaven resident Anne Gardella asked. “Come on, parking is a big issue in this town, I believe we laid down and let them walk all over us. I’m sorry, but I just had to vent. I think the senior housing is a good idea, but not how they are proposing it.”
As it was nearing 10 p.m., Mr. Murphy noted that they had to end the meeting soon, as it was being taped for government access and the camera operator is under the age of 18, and “we have to abide by the Child Labor laws.”
Mr. Murphy announced that there openings in all precincts for Town Meeting members, and encouraged people to go to the Town Clerk’s office to learn how to become a TM member.
In the meeting’s final words, newly elected Selectboard member Dan Freitas said that he is definitely going to request that the SCG be present at Town Meeting and that he has no problem with the NFIA staying in their building.
In other business, the Selectboard heard Council on Aging Director Anne Silvia, who informed them of new groups and events starting at the senior center, including a pet loss support group, Soup for Healthy Souls, a Mother’s Day tea party, the Fairhaven Rotary sponsored Senior Talent Show, and a bike group. She asked residents to call her for additional information, at 508-979-4029.
The board also heard from some auto dealers/service stations and marina operators concerned about a proposed bylaw change.
Fairhaven Shipyard owner Kevin McLaughlin was added to the agenda at the last minute, so the board noted that it could allow discussion, but would not deliberate
Mr. McLaughlin told the board that he was there representing himself as a taxpayer and business owner, and that he was upset and concerned about a zoning bylaw change that the Planning Board has proposed for town meeting in May.
Mr. McLaughlin stated that he was never informed of the proposed change, and neither were his fellow business owners that will be affected. He said that many businesses met with the PB about their concerns, and although the PB said the changes would not affect the waterfront businesses, Mr. McLaughlin was still concerned with the wording, and that someday it may affect them.
“I don’t understand why this burden is being placed on businesses in this Town, especially with so many businesses leaving Fairhaven,” he said. “Why do we think this change in this by-law is necessary?”
Mr. Roth said the planning board would discuss it at its next meeting on April 26th.
Mr. Crotty did state that the article is on the warrant for the May 7th town meeting and at this time the Board of Selectman could not pull the article, but could recommend passing it over.
Mr. Murphy, stated he would place the issue on the agenda for May 2.