Officials clash over land for proposed recreation center

Oct 6, 2020

Tempers flared at an Oct. 5 Select Board meeting as board members argued over what to do with land for a proposed project to build a new community recreation center on Reed Road.

The board was voting whether to recommend a Town Meeting article allowing the sale or lease of the town-owned property, which consists of two parcels on the northwest corner of State and Reed Roads. 

The northernmost parcel consists of two lots on the northwest corner of State and Reed Roads. The northernmost parcel stretches from Reed Road almost to the edge of Lake Noquochoke and consists of 30 acres with about 12 acres of wetland, while a smaller parcel with frontage on State Road consists of 12 acres with about two acres of wetland, Town Administrator Shawn MacInnes stated during the meeting.

Burgo Basketball Association founder and president Steve Burgo had presented plans for the nonprofit to build a $6 million recreational facility to the Select Board at a meeting in July.

At the time, the plans met with unanimous approval from the board.

As proposed, the project would include outdoor fields as well as a large indoor facility with basketball, volleyball and tennis courts, an indoor track, baseball diamond and batting cages, a weight room, a rec room with pool and ping pong tables, concessions stand, conference rooms, and two classrooms, Burgo said in July.

Dartmouth’s Finance Committee had unanimously rejected the article at an Oct. 1 meeting due to concerns about the property’s value, potential Parks and Recreation uses for the land, and the timing of the lease or sale, committee chair Teresa Hamm said at the Select Board meeting.

Hamm noted that the article itself makes no reference to Burgo’s plans. If approved, it would simply authorize the town to lease and/or sell the lots with a restriction for recreation use only. 

“We did not hear directly from the person who had asked,” she said. “It sounds like that person does good work.” 

But, she explained, in its discussion the committee looked at the town’s assets and whether Dartmouth should sell or lease the parcel for recreation purposes. 

“People were concerned it was premature,” she noted, adding that Dartmouth’s Parks and Recreation department had expressed opposition to the article.

Select Board member Stanley Mickelson said that he was concerned that the town would be giving up an asset that will likely increase in value, and that Dartmouth might want to turn it into a Parks and Recreation facility for residents’ use down the line.

“It’s not a good deal,” he said. “We would rue the day that we ever gave this property away...It’s a giveaway, as far as I’m concerned.” 

“What Parks and Rec is planning to do, no one knows,” said Select Board vice chair Shawn McDonald. “Is the town in a position to fund this type of project?”

“This town has a history of not supporting recreational activities, only through private nonprofits,” he added. “It’s time that we step up and support people coming in and wanting to do something...I feel this is necessary, I feel this is right.”

“I agree with Mr. McDonald,” said board chair Frank Gracie III. “If there is a different plan on the table, the town is in no position to fund it, now or in the foreseeable future.”

At one point, the conversation grew heated, with some board members unsure whether the proposed plans should be part of the discourse.

“The question on the ballot has got nothing to do with this man’s business,” Mickelson argued. “The discussion we’re having now is out of order.” 

However, Gracie said he believed the plans for the property were relevant to the discussion and allowed it to continue.

“I’d like to see that the people in the northern end of town have something,” noted board member John Haran.

Town Counsel Anthony Savastano stated for the record that the town obtained the property through tax title proceedings in 1990, while Gracie and McDonald noted that the land has been sitting unused for years.

The Select Board ultimately voted 4-1 in favor of recommending the article, with Stanley Mickelson the only dissenting vote.