WASHINGTON – (RealEstateRama) — Earlier this evening the Board had a meeting in executive session with Town Counsel to discuss issues relative to the Ellis Estate. This discussion was precipitated by recent activities by a small group of individuals who contacted the Office of the Attorney General regarding the Town’s Public Safety Complex on land formerly under the care and custody of the School Committee.
Evidently, these individuals contend that the transfer was either not proper or the Town acted inconsistently with state statute relative to this parcel. While we have and will continue to discuss this legal matter in Executive Session we feel it is important to discuss facts with the public in open session.
First, some history – In 1969 Scituate residents at Town Meeting appropriated $146,000 in funds for the purchase of 101 acres of land from the Ellis Estate. The land was deeded to the Town to be managed and controlled by the Conservation Commission. Shortly following that, the Conservation Commission voted, as required by state statute, to transfer a portion of that land (40 acres) to the care and custody of the School Committee. The transfer was approved by Scituate residents at the 1970 town meeting. In 1994, 16 acres was transferred back to conservation. The remaining acreage has been under School Committee control since then despite two subsequent town meetings that endeavored to retransfer the land back into conservation. Over the years, this property has been considered for public uses other than conservation. In December of 2014, after being voted by the School Committee in 2013, Town Meeting approved the transfer of six acres on the Ellis parcel for the construction of the Public Safety Complex.
The location of the Public Safety Complex on the Route 3A site was determined as the best site after a feasibility study was undertaken by Dore and Whittier on three sites. Prior to this, a public forum was held in June of 2012 at the Scituate Harbor Community Building, informing residents of the Town’s intent and specifically mentioning the Ellis parcel. Since 2012, and leading up to the December 2014 Town Meeting, there were multiple public meetings and presentations on this project in addition to an educational campaign prior to the ballot question approving the project. Each time the project went before voters it was approved. It is important for you, the residents of Scituate, to know that over the past four decades, each and every time any discussion went before voters about the use of this parcel it was reviewed by the Town’s legal counsel. There is a legal opinion from 1977 from Town Counsel Edward Ryan, laying out the proper process for transfer and the Town’s appropriate actions. There is a legal opinion from 1994 from the Town Counsel, Barbara St. Andre, reaffirming the Town’s actions, and there was review and guidance from Town Counsel Jim Toomey for the transactions at the April 2013 and December 2014 Town Meetings.
The Board would like to clarify inaccurate statements by a small number of individuals that there was confusion over the project and what the Town was asking voters to approve. Two separate ballot questions, one for the school and one for the Public Safety Complex were presented before town voters, both completely independent of the other. The vote in December of 2014 was the culmination of three years of work at regularly posted public meetings, viewable on cable and anytime on YouTube, and a comprehensive independent educational campaign by the Yes for SMS/Yes for Public Safety organization. While the Board understands not every resident supported the project, the Board made every opportunity for the public to be informed and participate about the project.
We are further dismayed that the information circulated with a proposed warrant article for the coming Fall Special Town Meeting which states that the Town submitted documents to the Attorney General and “(the Town) maintains that because local taxpayer money only was used to purchase the property, the Town has the right to transfer the land in and out of conservation at any time.” In point of fact, no such representation was made.
We have provided a significant amount of information to the Attorney General’s Office culminating in a meeting with the Assistant Attorney General on June 28, 2016. The meeting was held with Town Counsel Jim Toomey, Selectman John Danehey and Town Administrator Patricia Vinchesi, along with Assistant Attorney General’s Carol Iancu and Alicia Pradas-Monne.
At the June 28, 2016 meeting Assistant Attorney General Carol Iancu indicated her office was of the opinion that legislative approval should have been obtained before the six acre parcel was committed for the Public Safety Complex. The Town representatives strongly disagreed with that assessment based on the legal opinions of our current Town Counsel and prior Town Counsels in 1994 and 1977 as well as case law. In an effort to be conciliatory, the parties agreed to temporarily put aside their legal disagreements to explore how the impasse might be resolved. The Assistant Attorney General Iancu suggested a resolution of placing additional land under conservation restrictions. At the present time the Town of Scituate has 940 acres of land in conservation. This represents 14% of the Town’s total acreage of 6,715.
After this review the Board feels that the Town has complied with the letter and spirit of the law, that all Town actions leading to the construction of the Public Safety Complex comply with all legal requirements and it is hopeful that upon receipt of additional information recently supplied to the Assistant Attorney General, the Assistant Attorney General will agree with that position.
The Mariner editorial in the July 28, 2016 paper, stated in part: “It’s easy to go on line and post comments that spew hate, over festivals, ideas, people, whatever. We see a lot of comments from people who clearly aren’t going to meetings, reading articles or otherwise getting sourced information before they post.”
This Board will continue to provide correct information to the public and will continue to work cooperatively with the Assistant Attorney General to address her concerns.