MOULTONBOROUGH — The committee convened to consider possible uses for the so-called Adele Taylor property, the acquisition of which will be the subject of a warrant article at Town Meeting in March, will present it to the Board of Selectmen next week.
The 5.09-acre lot at 970 Whittier Highway (Rte. 25), which abuts properties belonging to the school district, Bank of New Hampshire and Huggins Hospital in the village commercial zone was a centerpiece of the Village Charette Report accepted by the Planning Board in January 2013. In June the trustees approached the Board of Selectmen and the School Board with an offer to sell the property to the town and donate the proceeds from the sale to the School District.
A price of $240,900, matching the assessed value in 2012, was negotiated and in October the selectmen agreed to place a question on the warrant after obtaining an independent appraisal of the property and estimate of the cost of addressing environmental issues. At the same time, the selectmen formed the committee to explore how the property might be used. The property is currently assessed at $234,800 and was appraised for $223,000.
Although 56 specific uses were suggested in the course of committee meetings and public hearings, when the panel met this week chairman Mark Borrin suggested that the basic question is "do we want to control it or do we want to just let it go. If you want to control what it looks like in the future, buy it," he continued. "If you don't want to control what it looks like in the future, you're going to have to jump some hurdles."
Likewise, Peter Jensen of the Planning Board told the committee. "we shouldn't jump into a use until we decide what we want to do with the village as a whole."
In that vein, the report presents four perspectives for the property, in no order of priority, should voters approve its acquisition by the town, with the caveat that "the property is well suited for combining any number of uses and it is not the intention of this study to suggest that there is only a single potential use for the property."
In keeping with the Village Charette Report, Safe Routes to School Travel Plan and 2008 Master Plan, the property could provide access and egress to the school district property from Rte.25. The School District expressed no misgivings with the one way in and out via Blake Road. Nor did Police Chief Leonard Wetherbee and Fire Chief David Bengston, though both said that a second route could enhance safety.
Alternatively, the committee found that the property could house a multi-purpose community center, noting that in 2011 The Blue Ribbon Commission Report on Community Services and Facilities recommended that "the town pursue development of a facility that includes an indoor gymnasium, recreation department office, program and storage space that would be on existing school land or property adjacent to school facilities." Both the Village Charette and Master Plan also referred to development of a community center.
The committee also heard that the property offered an opportunity to develop a park in the center of the village, perhaps with walking trails and recreational space. The Master Plan envisioned a "village green" and the Village Charette Report also referred to creating green space. Some suggested a park might be compatible with some additional parking space.
Finally, the report notes that residents expressed "considerable concern" that if the town does not acquire the property "anything can happen there" in compliance with the zoning ordinance. There was significant support for reusing the buildings on the property and, if they could not be rehabilitated, for ensuring that new structures should be "stylistically sympathetic." The committee noted that the site offers "many commercial applications," including small shops and restaurants, that would be compatible with either green space or a parking lot.
The committee recognized the challenge of reaching consensus about how to use the property and suggested that if voters approve its purchase, the Board of Selectmen consider a feasibility study to "identify what different options may be available." At the same time, noting that there was discussion "about the possibility that the property had no public use," the committee agreed to represent such concerns in its report by stating there may be no compelling need for the town to buy the property and therefore no public use for it."