Strapped For Revenue, Town Looks At Properties It Could Sell

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Infrastructure , Municipal Finance

During an August 2018 tour, DPW/Natural Resources Director Tom Daley stood in the old DPW garage on Bay Ridge Lane. FILE PHOTO

ORLEANS — “Nearly every usable piece of land owned by the Town of Orleans is being used for a public purpose,” Director of Planning and Community Development George Meservey reported in a letter to Town Administrator John Kelly last month. At the select board’s Nov. 18 meeting, the planner reviewed three of those properties: the former American Legion Hall across from town hall at 139 Main St., the former highway garage at 18 Bay Ridge Ln., and open space and community gardens at 54 Hopkins Ln.

Meservey looked into the properties as part of the select board’s fiscal stability work sessions, which are examining opportunities to increase town revenues to balance rising operating expenses. He said the building and 2.2 acres at 139 Main were purchased by the town for $398,000 for general municipal purposes. The basement is being used by the town’s Information Technology department and water quality lab. The leach field and reserve area for town hall’s septic system are under the gravel area on the Main Street side.

“Since we’ve pretty much vacated that for town uses, it could be considered to put it back on the market,” Meservey told the board. “It probably is dividable, with ample frontage on Main Street and School Road even if an easement is given to the historical society.”

Noting that “our record retention at town hall is busting at its seams,” Finance Director Cathy Doane suggested looking at 139 Main for that purpose, perhaps with community preservation funds.

The three-acre Bay Ridge Lane property, now being used for materials and equipment storage by the DPW, is in the General Business District. “It could support 30-plus dwelling units by special permit,” Meservey said, adding that an environmental survey found that the ground was clean and that some asbestos was present in the buildings. “That’s a valuable piece of property,” he said. “Given the town’s budgetary needs, it may be a luxury to maintain in our ownership if we’re not putting it to active use.”

Board member Mark Mathison pointed to the proposed Cape Cod Five operations center acquisition for affordable housing, for which the developer is asking $2 million from the town toward the purchase. “Here we are with a property on Bay Ridge Lane that could support 30 housing units and we already own it,” he said. “We need to either develop it for housing or look at putting it on the market, and consolidating all our DPW stuff in the one big new site. We either sell it or have it developed into some kind of housing property that can generate tax revenue instead of sitting there now with a few lawn mowers sitting in the building.”

Colleague Cecil Newcomb took another tack. “If that cold storage moves out of there,” he said, “Mr. Daley will come back and ask for that $2 million to build his cold storage (elsewhere), so it’s a no-win situation.”

Chair Kevin Galligan agreed that “the DPW project for the new building is not done yet until this is resolved,” and said the board needed to have DPW/Natural Resources Director Tom Daley “lay out what the game plan is. We don’t want to hear just that it’s $2 million or $3 million.”

People around town, Mathison said, “when they have a storage issue, they solve it without building a $200,000 garage. The town needs to be looking at the same kind of thing. There are a lot of structures you can put up that don’t need to be $2 million or $3 million.”

Board member Mefford Runyon said he didn’t favor selling the land, given that its sale would make a “financially inconsequential” contribution to the town’s multi-million-dollar budget. “Housing, I think, is a good possible use,” he said. “If I were to pick my non-housing use for that, I would start using it for boat storage and charging. I think we’d make a ton of money… You drive around town and you see these shrink-wrapped monstrosities every corner you turn. I think it’s one of the visual blights of the town.”

Board member Andrea Reed cautioned her colleagues to “assume the professionalism of our staff” and be “really respectful when talking about storage needs. We’ve got to take care of the things we own and use.”

The board got a brief update from Daley at its Dec. 2 meeting, when he gave one of his regular departmental reports. “The cold storage concept study (is going) slower than I want it to be,” he said. “We had a kickoff (meeting) Aug. 17 and talked about some concept numbers, all based on size. I don’t like the numbers. We’re fine-tuning the size.”

Meservey said the 10.9-acre Hopkins Lane property discussed by the board on Nov. 18 is dedicated to open space and community gardens under the conservation commission. Any change of use would require a vote of the commission, the board, town meeting, and the state Legislature.