Selectmen table action on controversial agreement to buy parcel for $1
BEACON FALLS — The town is eyeing a parcel of land next to the public works garage on Lopus Road with the intent of using the land as a bulky waste site for brush and debris.
The town and O&G Industries, which owns the roughly 5.5 acre of land that borders town property, have drafted a purchase and sale agreement for the parcel. Under the agreement, the town would buy the land from O&G for $1. O&G has the right to buy the land back for a $1 after 15 years, unless the town and the company reach a mutual agreement to extend the deal for five years. If O&G takes no action after 15 years, or 20 years if the deal is extended, the town takes ownership of the land, under the agreement.
The town has no dedicated site to dump brush. A solar panel array, which was installed a couple of years ago, sits on the land the town used to use to dump brush between the public works garage and the wastewater treatment plant. The town buys the power generated by the solar panels from Jordan Energy, a company out of Troy, N.Y., under the state’s Zero Emission Renewable Energy Credit (ZREC) Program. The town has a 20-year agreement with the company.
The lack of a bulky waste site came to a head in May when a tornado touched down in town leaving thousands of cubic yards of debris in its wake, putting the town in a difficult situation of what to do with the massive amount of debris. The town stored some debris at the Beacon Falls Recreation Complex on Pent Road at first, and paid a company to haul away debris as well.
During a discussion on the agreement at last week’s Board of Selectmen meeting, First Selectman Christopher Bielik said officials have been looking into the issue of a new bulky waste site for a couple of years.
“This is the site that’s in play right now,” Bielik said in reference to O&G’s land. “It’s the best possible option for us.”
Selectman Michael Krenesky, who wasn’t in favor of the deal last week, said the town will end up in the same situation it’s in now if O&G wants the land back at the end of the agreement.
Bielik, who contended O&G is unlikely to take land back because there is no valuable commercial commodity on property, said the alternative would be to move some solar panels to the roof of the public works garage.
Krenesky also felt the agreement should go to a town vote.
The $1 purchase price is under the $20,000 expenditure threshold for a town meeting, and the board has the authority to approve it. However, Krenesky said the amount of money the town would lose in tax revenue and the cost of work needed to make the land useable puts the price of the project over the limit.
Krenesky said it’s the taxpayers’ money and they should make the decision.
“That’s where I am, plain and simple,” he said.
The land is assessed at $146,790, according to the property card. Based on the town’s 2018-19 tax rate of 35.9 mills, the land generates about $5,270 in tax revenue, which would amount to about $79,000 over 15 years.
Bielik said the town has an opportunity to acquire industrial land for pennies on the dollar, even factoring in the loss of tax revenue, and called the deal a “tremendous bargain.”
The site would need some work in order to obtain a permit from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
In a subsequent interview, Bielik said the work includes clearing some land, building an access road, evening out the grade of the land and building a fence around what would be the bulky waste site. He said the town is working with O&G to keep the town’s expenses to a minimum.
Aside from using the land for bulky waste, Selectman Peter Betkoski said the site could also eventually be used to expand the public works garage. He described the deal as a “no-brainer” but felt the board should take it’s time to make a decision.
The board tabled action on the agreement, which has to be referred to the Planning and Zoning Commission for its review.
A handful of residents spoke on the agreement at the board meeting, most of whom were against moving forward with the deal.
Former First Selectman Gerard Smith said the deal should be brought to the public for a vote with an estimate of the cost for the work on the land and the likelihood of getting a permit from DEEP. He said the cost of the work is likely to go above $20,000 and would have to be approved at a town meeting. It could potentially be voted down, he said, leaving the town with idle land.
Smith pointed to the Tracy Lewis House at 35 Wolfe Ave. The town bought the property in 2008 with the intent of building a new community and media center on the land. That plan has yet to move forward, and the house is falling into disrepair.
“Why would we end up with another Wolfe Avenue? If the town says no, you’re nowhere because you can’t develop the piece,” Smith said.