WOBURN - The City Council recently clashed over the suitability of a common special permit provision that blocks the transfer of normally restricted property-use rights to new landowners.
During a their latest gathering in City Hall, the aldermen debated the merits of non-transferability clauses after a Boston-based real estate firm asked the council to strip that exact stipulation from a 2015 special permit for the Jack Young Company's operation at 80 Holton St.
According to Eric LeClair, the vice-president of investments at Boston-based GFI Partners, his firm is interested in purchasing the 2.1-acre site by the Winchester line, but won't consummate the deal unless the sale includes the special permit rights.
Planning to transfer ownership of the real-estate to a CRE Management, an apparent subsidiary of GFI Partners, the transaction would not affect the auto parts supplier's status as the primary user of the approximate 48,000 square foot warehouse building on the industrial lot.
"It's the same tenant and the same use," said LeClair. "A lot of times in a real-estate transaction, time is of the essence and time can make or break a sale. We're willing to abide by all of the other conditions of the special permit."
Ultimately, the City Council in a 6-to-3 vote agreed to remove the non-transferability clause, but added four other conditions to the original 2015 special permit, including a clarification on current trucking traffic restrictions.
Alderman at-large Michael Concannon also convinced his peers to insert a requirement that all future landowners be required to appear before the Special Permits Committee within three-months of a real-estate sale to review the terms of the special permit.
According to Concannon, he believes its inappropriate to grant special permits that restrict continued business operations of a tenant under a new owner. Ward 6 Alderman Edward Tedesco has also during his council tenure rallied against such exclusivity clauses.
"We should be careful about issuing special permits to certain people instead of for uses. It's about what the business [does], how many vehicles they have, and what they do," the alderman at-large said at the recent meeting.
The Holton Street property in question is situated within a sensitive area, as the industrial area abuts a number of residential homes by Nashua and Green Streets. Sitting by the Winchester line, the mixed-use neighborhood straddles the dividing line between East Woburn and the South End.
In fact, when the Allston-based Jack Young Company first announced its plans to occupy the warehouse at 80 Holton St., both area abutters and city officials alike voiced concerns about business-related trucking traffic and other potential after-hours nuisances.
According to Ward 2 Alderman Richard Gately, whose district includes 80 Holton St., since the underlying use at the site is not changing, he has no issue with the petitioner's request.
"They're not building the Taj Mahal. They're asking for a little relief from something approved years ago. Let's make it work," said Gately.
Less willing to compromise was Ward 5 Alderman Darlene Mercer-Bruen, who contends the council shouldn't loosen neighborhood protections in order to make it easier for a real-estate corporation to flip properties or transfer segments of its portfolio to new holding entities and umbrella companies.
According to Mercer-Bruen, she was willing to endorse a compromise proposed by Ward 7 Alderman Lindsay Higgins, which would allow the special permit to transfer to entities that are directly-controlled by CRE Management or its principal agents.
However, LeClair and an attorney for the petitioner insisted that relief was not enough.
The East Woburn official also criticized Concannon's view that the reputation of each company should be taken into consideration before a special permit is granted.
"99 percent of the time, when someone steps up to the podium, they don't just talk about the use. They talk about how the operate, their character, and their reputation as a business person. So we are giving these permits to people and not just uses," she said. "It's not our job to make sure somebody's property is more valuable [by removing non-transfer protections]."
A standard stipulation in special permits, non-transferrabilty clauses began being attached to the council's decisions after a Dunkin' Donuts franchise was able to move into the former Einstein Bagels store on Montvale Avenue in 2005.
When the Einstein Bagels store was granted its original special permit in 1997, the council — though worried about a new fast-food chain by Montvale Avenue Washington Street — endorsed the petition largely because the breakfast chain's operations were nothing akin to a Dunkin' Donuts location.
However, because no prohibition was placed on the special permit regarding its transfer to another fast-food entity, Dunkin' Donuts was controversially able to slip unfettered into the Montvale Avenue storefront after the bagel shop shuttered.
As of late, the council has granted several petitioners relief from that standard condition over the objections of Mercer-Bruen and Higgins. During the most recent meeting, Ward 3 Alderman Jeffrey Dillon joined with the pair to oppose the CRE Management request.
In the past, Ward 1 Alderman Joanne Campbell has also at times defended the use of non-transferability conditions.