CHATHAM — At the request of downtown merchants, selectmen reconsidered their earlier vote not to purchase the Eldredge Garage property for use as a municipal parking lot. In a new vote last Wednesday – they again rejected the proposal, seeing it as potentially too pricey for taxpayers.
Announcing the board's decision Tuesday, Chairman Jeffrey Dykens said that, in passing on the offer, the majority of members expressed “many of the same concerns as previously stated.” The board weighed the benefits of acquiring the property, either for a parking lot or for some other municipal use, or merely to prevent its development, “balanced with the potential consequences of the long-term use of this property as a gas station and auto repair facility,” Dykens said.
Concerns that the ground under the property might be contaminated with fuel, oil or other industrial chemicals prompted the board to consider commissioning a detailed environmental study before making an offer on the parcel. Instead, in a meeting closed-door session Wednesday, the purchase itself was put to a roll call vote. Chairman Dykens and Selectman Amanda Love voted in favor of the purchase, with Dean Nicastro, Seth Taylor and Cory Metters opposing the idea.
There were no members of the business community present at Tuesday's meeting to react to the board's brief announcement, which came before its regular business.
With more than an acre-and-a-half of land overlooking Mill Pond and fronting Main Street, the land is a rare parcel. The initial offering price was $2.5 million, a figure that may have later increased. For Nicastro, the asking price wasn't the whole problem.
“We had to take into account the price over all,” he said, referring to the cost of the potential environmental cleanup and any redevelopment by the town. Turning down the offer was “long-term, the most prudent thing,” Nicastro said.
Taylor concurred, saying the potential cost of the property had to be weighed against the total number of parking spaces it might have created, and the value of those spaces. The majority of the board felt there was not a reasonable benefit to taxpayers, he said. Because the property is within the Old Village National Register Historic District, the town might have been forced to preserve some of the buildings on the property, which are in various states of disrepair.
“There were just too many unknowns,” Taylor said.
Taylor said he's confident that the next owner of the property will develop it in a way that will benefit Chatham.
“Because of that location, it will be really nicely developed,” he said. Any redevelopment of the land will also be done under the watch of the historic business district commission, Taylor noted.
As the owner of a downtown business, Metters said he knows the value of parking spaces, but said turning down the purchase was “in the best interest of the entire town,” given the potential costs.
Echoing the comments of other board members, Dykens thanked the Eldredge family for working with the town.
“But we have taken a pass, and that pass is permanent,” he said.