GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 5, 2013

Manchester looks to advance MAC land deal

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — MANCHESTER — Following up on an offer of about 10 acres to the town, the Board of Selectmen have now formed an ad hoc committee to handle the prospective land deal that could yield new field and other recreaction facilities for Manchester.

In mid-June, John Donovan, owner of the Manchester Athletic Club offered the land to the town — with the contingence that it build a track and field on site and get the project started in a timely manner. Another stipulation to the offer is that Donovan would name the fields.

The ad hoc committee will include members from the Board of Selectmen, the Finance Committee, the Community Preservation Committee, the Parks and Recreation and other officials as well as youth organizations in Manchester.

While officials said the offer is a generous one, there are still many factors the town has to consider.

”It’s an enormously complicated process,” said Paul Barclay, who chairs the Board of Selectmen.

Barclay said the town needs a formal letter of intent and other information from Donovan to move forward

From there, it will be up to voters to decide on whether or not to accept the deal.

Other details such as what material the fields will be if the offer is accepted also need to be discussed.

The Community Preservation Act, expanded last year to allow cities and towns to use their CPA funds to not only acquire, but to upgrade existing municipally-owned open space, nontheless prohibits CPA funding for facilities using artificial turf.

The town’s Community Preservation Committee needs to look at different ways the fields can be set up and arranged before any solid cost projections can be made, chairman Charles Kelly said.

“That’s a major decision that needs to be made, as well as others,” Kelly said.

Matt Casparius, the town’s director of Parks and Recreation and a member of the new committee, said the finer details will be ongoing throughout the summer.

“This is something the town desperately needs,” he said of the land and recreational space.

But while officials and residents are working through the details of the land offer, others are unhappy with the way Donovan has managed the entire 72-acre parcel behind the MAC.

Rebecca Jaques, who co-chairs the Planning Board, issued a letter to Building Inspector Paul Orlando, asking him to look into issues the board has found. The letter, issued June 6, came just days before Donovan made his offer to the town.

Activities on the land behind the Manchester Athletic Club “appear not to be in conformance with various permits in the past seven years and possibly not permitted at all,” according to the letter.

The letter states that a site plan review permit, granted in 2006, was never properly filed, a small holding pond to retain storm water goes against local bylaws, and indicates that a trench drain was never installed. In addition, earth removal permits granted between 2005 and 2010 did not result in the proper work being done and the MAC is out of compliance with parking, according to the letter.

Donovan disputes those contentions.

“They just have their facts wrong on many of the items,” Donovan said of Planning Board officials.

Donovan said members of the Planning Board did not reach out to him before hand to talk about the land.

Donovan, who is suffering from adrenal cancer, said he was “disappointed” with the board’s approach, and has since tried to reach out to members to discuss the issues in the letter.

Greg Bladgen, who also serves as a co-chair of the Manchester Essex Playing Fields Committee and was involved with the Manchester soccer club for 12 years, said the fieldmspace is needed, adding that the soccer club and other youth organizations have struggled to find playing fields to practice in Manchester.

“This is a really important opportunity for our community,” said Blagden, who is also ad hoc committee member. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

The Board of Selectmen is actively looking for two residents to fill out additional spots on the Donovan Land Ad Hoc Committee.

The work of the committee is expected to culminate in a presentation and vote at either a special or next spring’s annual Town Meeting. Individuals with backgrounds in land use planning or real estate law are particularly encouraged to apply; the deadline is July 15, and interviews will be done later that day at the Board of Selectmen meeting.

For more information on the committee, call the Board of Selectmen office at 978-526-2000. A copy of the committee volunteer form can be found at manchester.ma.us/Pages/ManchesterMA_BOS/Volunteer%20form.pdf

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.