WINCHESTER - After last week’s Board of Selectmen meeting, the board finds themselves in a bit of a conundrum. Although they received four bids for the 12.5 acres at Wright-Locke Farm, two of them didn’t even comply with the minimum requirements set forth in the RFP.
Their solution was to ask those two non-compliant bidders for more information as to why they failed to comply. Tonight, they should discuss the information they received. Once that happens, the question becomes what should they do next. They either a) accept the information and allow the non-compliant bidders the chance to move on to the next step, b) reject the information and don’t allow the non-compliant bidders the chance to move on or c) accept one and reject the other, which could lead to legal issues if one bidder chooses to protest not being selected.
There is one other option, which would see the board reject all four bids (even the compliant ones) and start all over. The rationale behind that move would be to assume a defect in the RFP if two bidders failed to comply with the minimum criteria. If the RFP has a defect, it would make sense to find said defect, correct it, and give every bidder a fair chance to submit a proposal.
However, that opens Pandora’s Box, because it would tell developers that any issue that arises would force the selectmen to start all over again. Plus, as Selectman Forrest Fontana noted at the board’s last meeting, starting all over again would cause the town to lose all credibility.
This is the third RFP for the farmland. The first one yielded several interested parties, one of which eventually won the bid. When they defaulted, the second RFP yielded three more bidders. None of those bids were deemed sufficient enough to even bring to Town Meeting. Should the board scrap this RFP, it would essentially be telling developers “we don’t know what we’re doing.”
Although this piece of land is located in the western part of town, its sale affects everyone. In 2007, the town approved an override to purchase the land from the family to stop an undesirable project from Avalon Bay. If the land isn’t sold, taxpayers will have a large bill come due in a few years.
So, while the taxpayers probably want to lower their upcoming tax bills, many have expressed a desire to not see a high density development on the farmland. That leaves the town with limited options: a low density plan (or no development) that would return limited funds or a higher density plan that would return the most money.
Two taxpayers, Bob Johnson, who has been speaking on behalf of the abutters, and John Natale, both submitted letters (in today’s paper) arguing both sides of the issue. Johnson asked the selectmen to move forward without the two non-compliant bidders. He also suggested they favor the Wright-Locke Farm bid because it would give the town money and keep the land as open space.
Natale, on the other hand, argued that the town made a promise to taxpayers back in 2007 that it would get them their money back when they sold the farmland. That’s why the town ultimately rejected a favored bid from Taurus and went with Abbott Development back in 2008. Abbott offered more money.
This has become such a complicated issue because the farm itself has become such a success. Thanks to the Wright-Locke Farm Conservancy, the farm has grown over the years and could continue to grow depending on what happens with the other 12.5 acres. The farm has popular raspberry picking, educational programs, plus all the farm animals like chickens and goats that attract youngsters and their parents.
Therefore, it doesn’t seem possible for the town to satisfy both sides of the issue - to get its money back and keep the conservancy happy. Either Johnson’s argument that the land should be left as is wins out or Natale’s argument that the town owes the taxpayers their money back wins out. That means someone leaves the table disappointed. It’s just a matter of who.