Special Meeting Called To Buy Eldredge Garage Land

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Town Meeting , Parking

The Eldredge Garage property. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – Selectmen voted Tuesday to call a special town meeting for Monday, Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. to ask voters if they want to purchase the Eldredge Garage property.

A group of residents and business owners have a purchase and sales agreement with the Eldredge family and intend to assist them in getting the property ready for town acquisition, potentially to be used for public parking.

The board also voted Tuesday to release Oct. 25 executive session minutes as well as the purchase and sales agreement between the Eldredge family and the private group. The documents reveal the agreed-upon purchase price – $2.5 million. There are also numerous contingencies the family is obligated to follow through on, including determining whether there is any environmental contamination on the site; if so, developing a clean-up plan; and obtaining permits to demolish the existing buildings.

Selectmen voted to release the documents over the objection of town counsel. Board members said they felt it was important to be transparent about the proposed purchase and stem any rumors or misinformation that may be circulating. The board previously opposed purchase of the property due to the environmental uncertainties.

“I do think it's important that we get these minutes out there so the public knows what was discussed,” said Chairman Jeffrey Dykens.

David Oppenheim, spokesman for the consortium, agreed. “There's a lot of speculation going on, and we'd rather have the information out there so the public can deal with reality of the agreement,” he said.

Executive session minutes from Oct. 25, when the board met with David and Gail Oppenheim and Becky Voelkel, representing the private consortium, indicate the group had negotiated a purchase price of $2.5 million, which would remain the price if the town takes over as buyer. But there are numerous contingencies that must be satisfied before the deal can move forward. The Eldredge family must fund a Phase 2 environmental study of the property and would be responsible for any clean-up and compliance with state department of environmental protection requirements.

The possibility exists of some contamination being found on the property. A Phase 1 environmental site assessment done on the property for the town in May by Bennett Environmental Associates found several instances where oil and/or gasoline spills had occurred on the property in the past. Oppenheim said the Phase 2 site assessment was due to start Wednesday morning, “and that will be extensive,” he added.

If the clean-up is cost prohibitive for the family, the town is under no obligation to purchase the land, even if the acquisition is voted by town meeting, according to the purchase and sales agreement; it does not spell out the point at which the cleanup cost become prohibitive, however.

Likewise, if the family cannot obtain permits to demolish the buildings on the property, the town does not have to follow through with the purchase. Oppenheim indicated Tuesday that they might seek to keep one of the structures, the former gas station nearest Main Street.

The board will discuss its position on the purchase next month. Oppenheim agreed to keep the selectmen briefed on the group's progress as it works to satisfy the agreement's contingencies.

“It's not a done deal,” he said. “There are unknowns.”