© The Stoneham Independent
STONEHAM, MA - Most selectmen remain unconvinced the town would reap a significant financial benefit by selling surplus municipal land.
During a recent gathering in Town Hall, the board declined to pursue a potential revenue generator proposed by Selectman George Seibold, who wants to gauge private parties' in acquiring underutilized or abandoned land parcels across Stoneham.
This week, Town Administrator Thomas Younger advised the elected officials that there are at least 80 such properties containing 1,500 square feet of more, but about 30 percent of those spaces contain municipal buildings or public parks.
Though Seibold pressed his peer to seriously consider disposing of some of the remaining plots, his peers believed the Board of Selectmen had more pressing priorities.
"If a lot size is big enough and someone gains enough land to make a new buildable lot, it could be valuable. I think there's enough pieces out there, where we could make a considerable amount of money," said Seibold.
"I'm not against the idea in the sense that I think you're right. I just don't know that it's on the top of my priority list in terms of things we need to do," responded Selectmen Chair Anthony Wilson.
Last month, Seibold first raised the possibility of getting rid of surplus property after the board discussed the process for getting rid of small slivers of municipal land by Perkins, Hill, and Tremont Streets.
Voters had approved the sale of all three parcels to abutters at previous Town Meetings. According to Younger, though the land was technically of little value to the community, the delay in completing the transactions related to questions about whether the sales are subject to the bidding process.
The selectman, referring to the Perkins Street matter in particular, recalled a residential abutter was eager to buy the parcel, because her family wanted to erect a fence to prevent her children from running onto Franklin Street. The land had been taken as part of the Franklin Street realignment project, according to local officials.
Seibold believes there are likely a number of other homeowners and private businesses who might similarly purchase nearby parcels, were they made aware of the town's interest in selling.
Last week, the town administrator generally agreed with that premise and suspected there are a number of other smaller pieces of municipal property that were not included in the list provided for him.
Specifically, Younger pointed out that there were no plots smaller than 1,500 square feet included on a printout provided to him by Town Accessor Brian MacDonald. He believed further research was warranted, and he also advised several further steps, such as asking a subcommittee or the accessor to estimate the value of each parcel, should the board want to explore the matter further.
"I'm not so sure these are all the parcels. This is what's recorded on our [mapping system]. I'm not seeing a lot of small slivers of land," said the town administrator.
According to Selectman Shelly Macneill, the town should be taking a broader look of all land across Stoneham before impulsively selling off municipal property that might be needed down the road.
In particular, she advocated for forming a subcommittee to create a master plan that establishes an overall vision for rezoning initiatives, land use concepts, and other actions to foster economic growth and development.
"When we look at our buildings and land, if there's a master plan done, that would be all incorporated into a big picture. Then we'd have an idea of what makes sense to get rid of," she said. "That's a much bigger undertaking that just looking at land, and I don't think we should take a look at that tonight."
Frustrated by that lack of interest, Seibold challenged his peers to consider even smaller-scale revenue streams as a worthwhile endeavor. In his view, the town has been too reluctant to pursue initiatives that don't have the potential to raise significant windfalls, but town officials all too commonly spend thousands of dollars on a whim.
"That would be on the top of my list, bringing in more revenue," said Seibold, responding to Wilson's indifference to the idea.
"When we sit here and make decisions about finding $5,000 here, and 15,000 there, and $10,000 here, it seems like we have no problem voting for that. This is an opportunity to make up for all those [smaller outlays]."
According to Selectman Caroline Colarusso, she is open to studying the proposal, but only if there is further research provided that gives an estimated return on the endeavor.
"If the number is worth looking at, it's worth a discussion. If not, why waste our time?" she opined.