NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council voted to enter into a purchase and sales agreement with Cumberland Farms for the DPW facility.
Mayor Richard Alcombright asked the Council to approve an agreement Wednesday between the city and Cumberland Farms that would start the process of a $575,000 purchase from the city - $475,000 above the appraised amount.
"Cumberland Farms has been a strong partner in the community, building two new store on Route 2 and 8 and for quite some time they have been interested in a new and more appropriate sized store on Ashland Street," he said. "I respectfully request the approval of this purchase and sale agreement."
The regional chain of convenience stores, that has been renovating and constructing larger facilities, has eyed the property for some time now. The current Cumberland Farms on Ashland Street is smaller and landlocked by streets and residential properties with virtually no room to expand upon.
The Department of Public Works facility itself has aged out of use for the city with all operations moving from the more than a century old facility to the former anodizing plant at Hodges Cross Road purchased last year.
According to the agreement, the city will share 50 percent of any cleanup costs up to $287,500, or half the purchase price. Cumberland Farms will undergo an environmental study of the property and can back out of the purchase if there are unsatisfactory findings.
Alcombright said the city looked at possible contamination issues through the Department of Environmental Protection and could only find two reportable issues: a diesel spill and a gas spill.
He said other than that, he does not anticipate any hiccups.
"Worst case they look at it and it is lit up really hot and they back away," he said. "Intermediate case there is a larger cleanup and we harbor half of it but we still end up with a clean site, a productive commercial site with a new building, more tax revenue, more jobs and $287,500. Again, we have no reason to think there will be a need for substantial clean up."
Cumberland Farms will pay for the environmental test.
Councilman Eric Buddington, one of the two no votes, said he thought there was a better use of the land and the city did not need another gas station that would add to a "strip mall" look.
"I am not excited at all about having another gas station, and I think we have plenty and we are not filling an obvious need," he said. "I wish we could find a use for this land…it is close to the college it could be a really nice walking corridor."
Alcombright said the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts looked favorably upon the project because it would mean a convenience store closer to campus. He added that the new location would also be closer to the Housing Authority.
He added that with the city’s efforts to improve the Ashland Street corridor the modern convenience store would be a good addition.
"With some of the things that are happening in that condor there is a possibility to make Ashland Street the linkage from the college to the downtown," he said. "I think it has cleaned up well…and the only true blight left there is our DPW facility."
Alcombright added that Cumberland Farms will try to sell the old location on Ashland Street and there have already been two serious developers who have contacted the city.
Councilman Robert Moulton, the second no vote, said he would prefer an agreement that put less liability on the city if there are environmental findings even if the bottom line is smaller.
"I would be more comfortable with getting less and not being responsible for it," he said. "It is an unusual property…and it is in that corridor near the college and they weren’t interested in it but maybe down the road they will be."
Alcombright said MCLA did not return a proposal and he added that selling to MCLA would mean the city would get no bump in tax revenue because the school is tax exempt.
"When we are talking about hitting tax ceilings in a few years and the need for new growth there is an opportunity in front of us," he said.
Councilman Wayne Wilkinson agreed and thought the city should just get rid property while there is an offer on the table.
"Selling this property means the city is no longer liable for what is underneath it and I don’t think anyone else is going to come along and buy it," he said. "It could be a real liability down the road and it is good to get rid of it at a reasonable price."
Wilkinson did pick up a possible issue with the agreement itself and noted that at some points the agreement only points to selling a portion of the land.
Alcombright said he would run it by the city solicitor but noted Cumberland Farms needs the entire property for their facility.
Alcombright said if all goes as planned and the project successfully moves through the permitting process, doors could open in early 2019.
With the recent water violation where water users were informed that the city failed to use a soda ash additive to adjust the water's pH for three years, Councilman Buddington asked if there was a way to get routine information out to the public about tests and water treatment.
Alcombright said he planned to bring to the next meeting a summary of how often the city has to test the water and what they look for.
He reiterated that there is and was never an issue with the water.
"The water coming out of the plant is extremely safe and drinkable," he said. "If the pH is below a certain level it can cause corrosion in homeowner’s pipes."
He added that the pH has to be around 6.5 for some time for this to take place which was not the case for the city.
He said when the water’s pH falls below 7 DEP requires treatment. He said DEP mandates water remediation if it reads below 6.5.
"It basically tells us when our water goes below 7 we should start to treat it so it doesn’t get to 6.5," he said. "It went below to 6.9, 6.8 maybe 6.6 and we didn’t treat it. What the plant did was let the pH come up naturally which it did."
The mayor said even though it was not an emergency the city does take the violation seriously.
"It does pose a health hazard and we didn’t do it right and we are doing it right now," he said.
The City Council also appointed Colin Todd to the North Adams Housing Authority and moved a resolution declaring North Adams as a Pollinator Friendly Community to the Public Service Committee to vet before they vote on it.
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