WINCHESTER - After countless meetings, several informational sessions, and months and months of planning and discussion, the Wright-Locke Farm RFP is finally complete. The Board of Selectmen officially sent it out to bidders this week.
Town Manager Richard Howard said there will be a bidder’s conference on Monday, Nov. 17. Bidders will then have until Jan. 6, 2015 to send in proposals to the town. A special Town Meeting could be held in March.
How did we get here?
Why does the town need an RFP in the first place? Seven years ago, when the last family member who owned the farmland passed away, the town purchased the acreage (20.1 acres) to stop an undesired 270-unit development by Avalon Bay. It had first right of refusal thanks to the farm’s designation as agricultural land and the family not having to pay taxes on it.
After purchasing the land for nearly $14M thanks to voters approving an override, the town set up the Wright-Locke Farm Conservancy to take care of the farm and surrounding land (7.6 acres) once the selectmen sold the additional 12.5 acres.
The following year, the town released the first RFP. Several developers answered including Taurus and Abbott Development LLC. Although members of the selectmen admitted later to favoring the Taurus plan, Town Meeting wanted more money (at least $11M). Therefore, the selectmen brought forth the Abbott plan, which they approved.
Abbott offered to build 14 townhouse units in the northern portion of the site along High Street Extension and 48-flat style units in the southern portion of the site off Edward Drive. While clearly a very dense project, Abbott did offer the town the money it desired. However, before the project could even begin, Abbott defaulted on its final payment thereby leaving the town holding the bag, so to speak.
If at first you don’t succeed . . .
Undeterred by past failures, the town came back three years later, in 2011, and released another RFP. Being basically the same RFP that Abbott responded to, the town received three bids that were almost carbon-copies of the Abbott proposal. Unfortunately, while the three bidders could offer Abbott’s plan, none could offer Abbott’s money. Therefore, the selectmen, after reviewing each bid, chose not to send any to Town Meeting.
The developers, CMC Partners, Duffy Properties and Northland Residential, offered between $6M-$9M.
If at second you don’t succeed . . .
This year, the selectmen re-opened the idea of putting an RFP back out for the 12.5 acres. This time, though, they chose to revamp the document so as to avoid receiving the same Abbott proposals they did three years ago.
This RFP gives developers a clearer picture of what the town deems acceptable and unacceptable. High density projects would be considered less advantageous. For instance, a proposal that offers “more than 0 units” in subzone 1A (lot E extended), 21 or more units in zone 3 (southwest corner near Edward Drive) and more than 40 units would be considered less advantageous. However, a proposal that offers 0 units in subzone 1A, up to six units in subzone 1B (northeast zone near Ridge and High streets), up to eight units in zone 2 (south zone near Pepper Hill Drive), up to 12 units in zone 3, and 0 units in sone 4 (west zone on hill) would be considered highly advantageous.
The selectmen also want any developer to work with the Wright-Locke Farm Conservancy. The RFP says that the conservancy has interest in purchasing portions of the land in subzone 1A. Any bidder may offer to sell or lease long-term portions of the land. The RFP then gives a brief history of the conservancy and how the have a 30-year lease.
Now complete, the board is confident in the work they did. Some stakeholders might suggest it’s too developer friendly, while those who want to recoup the most amount of money might suggest it’s too conservancy friendly. It obviously won’t please everyone.
With the first bill due in 2017, if Town Meeting rejects all the bids, or if the selectmen choose not to send any to Town Meeting, the town may not have enough time to try for a fourth time. Residents may have to start paying the full price. Of course, there’s a chance, though it hasn’t been specifically stated, that if this RFP fails to produce any legitimate bids, the town may have no choice but to hold onto the land. That, obviously, would please some and anger others.
Only time (and Town Meeting’s vote) will tell.