Opinion: Former police station should not be demolished

Jul 12, 2023

Two members of the Select Board peeked into the meeting room on Monday, July 10, a few minutes before the start of the Dartmouth Historical Commission’s public hearing to discuss whether a 6-month delay should be imposed on the former police station at 249 Russell’s Mills Road. Regardless of their support for the commission’s right to hold this hearing, their message was clear––that building will get demolished no matter what. Maybe so, but not without a fight.

Neither the Select Board nor their Town Administrator could or would attend this meeting because they had a conflict with their own meeting that evening. Attempts were made by the Historical Commission to try to schedule its hearing sooner but apparently the Town Administrator was unavailable. Since the Select Board can’t make a move without its Town Administrator, the Historical Commission had no choice but hold its hearing on July 10, since their usual first Monday of the month was pre-empted by the July Fourth holiday break.

Why should the commission make an exception to its bylaw just because it’s a town-owned property? That point was made at the commission’s June 5 meeting when the newly hired Assistant Town Administrator was sent to represent the higher-ups to speak for a process about which he knew little. Notice a pattern here.

If this building asset, which some value at over a million dollars, was owned by a private entity who wanted to tear it down, the commission would have followed the same procedures as provided by the town’s demolition delay (review) bylaw. Without a plan for its replacement, and if this private entity had stated that it wanted to keep its options open, there would be no special treatment to green-light the demolition. 

It's clear by the public record that this town used delay tactics against the commission hoping to run down the clock while simultaneously making plans to hire a demolition company to tear it down for an estimated $500,000. The town delayed a commission request for a visit to the site until the day of the public hearing. In a last-ditch effort, Town Counsel Anthony Savastano issued a letter to the commission dated July 10 and presented at the hearing to in effect cease and desist any public hearing because the commission had run out the clock. Why do I get the impression that town counsel didn’t get the full story?

In May 2019, the town formed an ad hoc committee to assess the future use of the building and was disbanded due to Covid restrictions. While the town had opened its doors for business sometime back in 2022, this ad hoc committee of unknown members was never reassembled. Don’t you think a member of the commission should have been asked to join this group to weigh in earlier on the process? Where are the good faith efforts by the town to work with the commission and to genuinely try to exhaust all possibilities for rehabilitation without resorting to the wrecking ball?

In the city of Philadelphia, one of its historic hotels, the 1904 Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, was found to have Legionnaire’s disease in 1976. Was it demolished? No! It was remediated and still stands as part of the Hyatt hotel chain. Increasingly so, this town shows a lack of vision and is disinclined to do the hard work necessary to do something positive like adaptive reuse because a tear-down is so much easier.

Isn’t it arrogant for town officials to operate as though they know what’s best for the town, at the expense of public input? All are free to take sides on the town’s demolition plans, but the town cannot employ unreasonable and unfair delay tactics to thwart the letter and intent of the demolition delay bylaw because it believes it can.

Actions speak louder than words! While the Select Board gave a citation to former commission chair Judy Lund for her many years of service to the town with great accolades, I’ve no doubt it was disappointed that a few minutes earlier, a delay to demolition was imposed. The commission has limited authority, but it can work with the Select Board to figure out adaptive reuse alternatives over a period of 6-months.

DCTV’s media center recorded the hearing, and everyone is invited to view this special hearing online. Here’s the link:


Respectfully submitted,

Diane Gilbert

127 Rockland Street

Dartmouth, MA 02748

(508) 965-7265

Former Select Board Member who served two terms on the Historical Commission.