News Articles

TIF deal stalls: June Town Meeting is canceled

By Michael Kane/ Staff Writer Beacon Villager
Thursday, June 10, 2004

MAYNARD - The special Town Meeting planned for June 28 to decide on a tax increment financing agreement between the town and 129 Parker Street LLC. has been canceled. The issue, along with proposed changes, will be taken up in the fall.

Metro West Technology Campus owner John Wolters, attorney John Sokul Jr. and consultant Lynn Tokarczyk appeared for what selectmen had previously said should be the final meeting between the parties before June 28. Instead, a discussion that lasted more than an-hour-and-a-half descended to a point where chairwoman Ann Thompson felt she needed a police presence and ended with the possibility of two articles at the special Town Meeting that will most likely be held in the fall.


"We don't want to win tonight and have something that will be shot down at Town Meeting," Sokul said. "Ultimately, for this to succeed, everybody has to be happy with it."


He and Wolters said they were reacting to concerns raised by the public, including a Voice of Maynard meeting with Tokarczyk on June 26.


Wolters said he had concerns that if the deal was approved, and he then found a tenant immediately, the public perception would be that the deal was too much in his favor. In addition, Wolters wants part of the project rezoned for retail stores.


"Not big box retailers," he said. "But maybe an upscale grocery store...and small complimentary retail stores to help rent office spaces."


In return for rezoning part of the property, Wolters said he would agree to a request the selectmen made previously that he not seek an abatement on the property for five years. Wolters said he would also exclude all retail from the TIF abatements.


Selectman William Cranshaw said his understanding from previous meetings is that TIF abatements are given to a project, and that specific areas within the project targeted by local language cannot be enforced. Although Tokarczyk, who at one time worked for the state office that handles the three party agreements (state, local, business), said she had personally written such clauses into TIFs in the past, Cranshaw said he wanted a written legal opinion.


Even if the selectmen's portion of the TIF was approved on Wednesday, Sokul acknowledged the zoning issue would have been "vague" since the issue has not gone before the Planning Board yet. He noted the parcel, while under single ownership and assessed as one property, has been subdivided by Land Court. He said a building already exists on the property.


"If you want the honest truth, we are not ready to stand before Town Meeting on June 28 and saying this is the rezone line," Sokul said. "If we can leave here with an agreement on the concept, we could do both this and the rezone in the fall."


Sokul also spoke in favor of the TIF, noting it was an "excellent tool" to help utilize a property that is hampered by age, location and appearance. He said the TIF would encourage new investment in a property that may otherwise depreciate in value.


"We think this proposal is generally fair," he said.


In response to concerns raised by the Voice of Maynard, he said any new construction would still be subject to planning and zoning board reviews. He also noted Wolters already pays more than $400,000 in taxes on the property.


"I think for what John pays he is entitled to police and fire protection," Sokul said.


Superintendent of Public Works Walter Sokolowski said, while he would need to see plans to be exact, a business with roughly the same amount of people as before - about 2,000 according to Tokarczyk - would not burden the sewer and water lines.


Wolters said he was looking for a "great relationship" with the town, and had concerns that he may lose prospective retail tenants if there was a perception they were unwanted by the community.


Selectman Mark Wesley called the retail proposal an "innovative" idea in response to concerns raised by residents.


"My perception is that he is not asking for another concession over and beyond what was already discussed," Wesley said. "He is being responsive to what he has been the community."


Wesley referred to earlier concerns by Selectman Robert Nadeau about "unbridled success" at the site and being able to lessen the abatements if that happened. Wesley said those concerns were addressed by taking the retail businesses out of the abatement schedule.


Wolters proposal called for a limit of 75,000 square feet for a single retailer and 150,000 for total retail space. It also listed which chain stores, like Wal-Mart and Home Depot, would not be allowed. Wesley suggested taking that language out, noting those businesses did nothing to Maynard "why should we disparage them." He also suggested removing the caps on space, leaving that jurisdiction up to the Planning Board.


Cranshaw and planning consultant Carolyn Britt, however, suggested leaving some restrictions, noting the actual size of 75,000 square feet by example. Sokul said a modern Market basket is about 80,000.


"It's pretty large," Cranshaw said.


Selectman John Barilone also raised the issue that if rezoned, any type of business could go into the building, such as a bar. Nadeau, however, said any plan would still be reviewed by the proper boards.


Resident Vic Tomyl raised an issue that was later raised by Britt; that the business community should be approached for input about a new retail district on Parker Street.


"We've spent 20 years trying to reinvigorate the downtown," Tomyl said.


Selectman Mark Wesley later suggested Britt solicit remarks from business owners rather than wait for a merchant meeting in early fall.


Tomyl also suggested an increase in a clause calling for $5,000 for legal and administrative costs accrued in the preparation and review of TIF documents and reports, noting legal fees would most likely run higher. Resident Tom Papson requested a financial plan from Wolters.


Resident Ginny Marino also questioned the proposal, saying it failed to address infrastructure needs, such as a traffic light near the property, and what type of business could go into the building. She also called the $70,000 that would be gifted to the town over the life of the TIF "piddly squat" and "chump change" for a "mammoth project."


"If your willing to sell Maynard out for $70,000, shame on you," Marino said. "What they are offering you is a joke. Please understand it's an absolute's as loose as a goose as I've ever seen."

Wolters responded, defending both the TIF and the board, saying residents need to "trust" the board is doing the right thing for the town.


"This board has done a great job," Wolters said. "Contrary to what people think, this is far better than anything done in the first two TIFs (Clock Tower and Stratus). I am a much smaller project than Clock Tower, I need the town's help and I'm asking for it...I will explain the benefits to all of you. There is no harm coming to the community. I am maintaining my taxes (on the property as it exists now). There will be outreach. I think you will be pleasantly surprised when you see the benefits."


While she allowed several comments from residents, at one point Wesley urged Thompson to continue the discussion with Wolters and open public discussion later. Thompson agreed, but when some residents failed to stop questioning the board, she called for a police officer and said the meeting would continue under the threat of removal. Under criticism and the threat of media exposure, Thompson pointed out the proceeding was not a hearing, but a meeting of the board. While open to the public, she noted, it was still a business meeting of the board and not a public forum.


Later she said it had been the first time she was forced to use her gavel.


In a comment on the TIF changing again, Barilone told Wolters the public is not yet convinced of the TIF's benefits.


"This is a 20-year TIF and its mind-boggling to a lot of people. They haven't bought it yet," Barilone said. "You need to quantify everything, get it down pat so the board can support this. Right now, I can't."

Wolters said he knows "public outreach" is a priority.


"I've got a lot of work to do," he said.


Wolters returned around 11 p.m. to again address the board and to explain why he proposed changes at the meeting after a final draft had been given to them earlier.


"I want you to understand I did it with the best intentions," Wolters said. "I hope you all feel that way."


At that time, Wolters also said he hoped the agreement on the TIF could be settled by June 22 so that he could move on to other boards and start "reaching out to the public."


Cranshaw suggested he meet with the Finance Committee as planned, and not wait for the selectmen's response.


"You already know 95 percent of it," Cranshaw said. "Don't wait to go to the Fin Com."
© 2004 Beacon Villager