, Newburyport, MA

June 25, 2013

The folly of the Terrasphere agreement

Newburyport Daily News

---- — To the editor:

The June 12 Daily News article about Fafard and the Bailey’s Pond development re-ignited my thought of the utter municipal mismanagement of this project. While the initial malfeasance dates back to Mayor David Hildt’s administration, anyone must see that the current administration has done very little to correct the problems for the benefit of Amesbury taxpayers.

In the past 10 years, there has been a population turnover. Many residents don’t know about Bailey’s Pond and the approximately 23 acres owned by the town. Its sale was to produce income. In the constant struggle to raise tax revenue, a major industrial development called Terrasphere was proposed to create hundreds of thousands of dollars in industrial tax revenues that would in turn reduce residential taxes. Ever hear that dream before?

Terrasphere became the “Holy Grail” of the town’s future. Because this development was so critical to our revenue stream, the town decided to throw in Bailey’s Pond and the surrounding acreage as a bonus to be awarded to the winning bidder of this massive industrial development. Local developers who were interested in purchasing the pond area for housing development were told that parcel would only go to the winner of the bid for the larger Terrasphere project.

Now let’s look at the incompetence demonstrated throughout this process. First, there was only one bid on the project! Second, there has been absolutely no industrial development in the years since the bid was awarded. We gave Fafard the property as its reward for the industrial taxes they were going to generate. Worse yet, the purchase and sales agreement between Fafard and the town had no closing date, it was open-ended. Can anyone fathom signing a purchase and sales on their home with an indefinite period for the closing?

Farard controls this property but they haven’t take possession because as soon as they do, they will have to start paying the taxes. They won’t take title until they get numerous zoning variances to allow them to maximize their own profit by crowding in a huge apartment/condo project that will result in the maximum burden on the neighborhood and the town infrastructure. Amesbury has not collected a single dollar in taxes on this land in all the years since the Terrasphere bid. Mayor Kezer will say he inherited a tough situation. He did, but he inherited it from his political ally without any criticism of the process or those who enacted it.

As a town councilor at the time, I was very concerned about the contract and wrote a letter to the state inspector general. He responded, saying he believed the contract was seriously flawed and probably illegal. The town should have gone to court and had the whole thing voided, but the current mayor “renegotiated” the contract instead. If there is any new major advantage for the town, it hasn’t been made obvious to the public. Residential taxpayers still have no reason to rejoice over taxes we have been spared as a result. Thankfully, it appears that in our next election cycle we will have a slate of candidates determined to finally lessen our residential tax burden.

Jim Chandler