New committee planning future for old police station

Jun 11, 2019

What will become of the Dartmouth Police Department’s soon-to-be-former headquarters on Russells Mills Road? That’s the question a new committee is tasked with answering.

On June 11, the new Police Station Use Review Committee met for the first time. The new committee is tasked with coming up with a set of recommendations for the future of the 247 Russells Mills Rd. property to present to the Select Board for final approval.

Construction of the police department’s new headquarters on Tucker Road will be finished this fall, leaving the department’s current 1.97-acre property vacant. The property includes the department’s former main building, a 21,000 square-foot former town hall which has been vacant since bacteria in the water supply made an officer sick in early 2014, trailers and modular units the department currently operates out of, and several garages.

“We want this whole committee’s feedback on what we should do,” Town Administrator Shawn MacInnes said.

Committee members — a mixture of town residents and officials — came ready with a few ideas. David Cambra lives on Elm Street just south of Russells Mills Road, and shared what he and his neighbors want to see: Senior or veteran housing.

“That’s what I’m hearing from a lot of people, they’d like to see that happen,” Cambra said.

Norman Potochney said he’d like to see an income-generating use for the property, noting how difficult cleaning it up could be with underground storage tanks and water issues.

Sue Crosby, who lives along the property, said she’s heard of support for senior or veteran housing, green space, or keeping it residential and allowing a developer to come in and use the land.

“The thing that neighbors don’t want to see, and I found this very consistent not only properties that directly abut but going further down too, is zoning it neighborhood business,” Crosby said. “The concern then is trash, additional security measures, lighting.”

The neighborhood business district runs along the south side of Russells Mills Road from Slocum Road to Elm Street. The station itself is in the single residence A zoning district.

There was also discussion about the viability of reusing the building itself. There have been complaints about shoddy and improper construction, leaking roofs and ceilings, and problems with the building’s HVAC system. The current condition of the building due to being vacant is also unclear.

Dartmouth Director of Development Deborah Melino-Wender said the cost of remediation could be off-putting to potential buyers, and similar buildings are typically reused for housing or office space which must conform with zoning.

There was also discussion about how the reuse of the property could tie into the town’s needs and an in-development master plan, and what to do with the trailers and modular units which the department currently uses.

There have been several attempts to reuse the property in the past. After the Dartmouth Police Department moved into modular units, the department pitched an $8.5 million renovation project to save the original station. Voters rejected that proposal in the April 2016 town election.

In 2017, then-Town Administrator David Cressman attempted to drum up support for a zoning change to entice condominium developers to purchase the property.

In a June 21, 2017 letter, he said it could increase the land value, making it more appealing to development due to the cost of cleaning the site up. The Planning Board decided against proposing a zoning change article for Town Meeting.

The reuse committee will meet again next month. In the meantime. MacInnes and town officials will be compiling data on when the building was last inspected and its current condition, scheduling a site visit, and getting more information on the modular units and trailers.