Eldredge Garage Focus Of Monday's Special Town Meeting

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Parking , Town Meeting

An aerial view of the Eldredge Garage property, which voters at the Jan. 23 special town meeting will be asked to purchase for $2.5 million. CHRISTOPHER SEUFERT PHOTO

CHATHAM – Town purchase of the downtown Eldredge Garage property will be the main focus of next Monday's special town meeting.

The 11-article warrant also includes another land acquisition, several expenditure requests and a number of housekeeping measures.

The meeting was called in large measure to bring the purchase of the Eldredge Garage property at 365 Main St. before voters. Article 4 seeks $2.5 million to acquire the land, most likely to be used as public parking, although the article leaves the use open for any municipal use. A previous appraisal commissioned by the town valued the two parcels at $2.75 million.

Selectmen initially rejected purchasing the property, but after concerns were raised about losing the land as potential downtown parking, a group of residents and business owners entered into a purchase and sale agreement with the Eldredge family. Their intent was to address the concerns of the selectmen – mainly possible contamination from the land's use as a service station – by assisting the family in cleaning up the property.

Some contamination was found, and the cleanup is mostly completed, David Oppenheim, who represents the group, told selectmen Tuesday. Most of the contamination was found around the former gas station building, but there was no evidence it extended beyond 25 feet from the back of the structure. There will be a bit more soil removal, he said, but ground penetrating radar, delayed due to last week's snowstorm, recently found no further evidence of underground tanks behind the livery/garage building. Consultants are putting together a final report, he added.

The group plans to transfer the property to the town with all buildings except the former gas station removed. In approving demolition of the livery building, which is more than 100 years old, the historic business district required that it be documented; a survey and elevations have been completed, Oppenheim said, and a protocol for documenting the unique architectural elements of the structure with photographs has been received from Sarah Korjeff of the Cape Cod Commission and that will be done soon.

“On behalf of the Eldredge family, we look forward to the town to having the opportunity to vote whether or not they want to purchase this,” Oppenheim said.

The article authorizes the selectmen to borrow the money, but the actual borrowing won't happen until the property is purchased; selectmen may opt for a lease until the cleanup is completed. Funding will come from within the tax levy and won't require borrowing; the town may seek Community Preservation Act funds or grants to offset the cost, and engineering design funds for the property could be sought at a future town meeting. Approval to borrow the funds requires a two-thirds vote by town meeting; the impact to the tax rate at a 3.5 percent interest rate would be three cents.

Voters will also be asked to use $125,000 in Land Bank money to buy a .64 acre parcel on Valley Farm Drive, off Barn Hill Road in West Chatham, for open space and conservation. The lot is adjacent to conservation land owned by the town which is part of a wide corridor of open space held by both the town and the Chatham Conservation Foundation. The foundation will pay an additional $55,000 toward the $180,000 purchase, and will contribute another $5,000 to remove a foundation on the property. The town will own the property, with the foundation holding a conservation restriction. The finance committee and selectmen, along with the land bank and open space committee, voted to support the purchase.

In order to accelerate the conversion to an automatic water meter reading system, $375,000 is being sought from existing water revenue. Of the 7,206 water meters on the system, 3,670 remain to be converted to the automatic meters, which enable staff to read by driving by rather than manually checking meters house-to-house. Having the automatic meters, officials say, can help detect leaks faster and provide more real-time data on water use. If the funds are approved, conversion to the new system will be completed by December 2018, more than two years ahead of schedule.

Other articles include a $13,180 appropriation from free cash to bills left over from prior years; repealing $315,000 in borrowing authority for three previous appropriations that's no longer needed; establishment of a tax title payment agreement bylaw (see separate story); a “moral obligation tax abatement” (see separate story); $175,000 in free cash to cover costs associated with fire department medical supplies and salary adjustments to cover shortfalls in the current budget; two articles to authorize selectmen to resubmit two home rule legislation petitions that are due to expire; and a placeholder to fund two collective bargaining agreements should settlements be reached. As of this week, that article was not likely to be moved.

The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 23 at the Monomoy Regional Middle School gym.

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