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BRIDGEWATER

Town aims to buy Taunton River parcel - if state law allows it

By Christine Legere
Globe Correspondent / October 20, 2011

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Bridgewater’s Town Council has voted to trump a developer’s bid for 140 acres along the Taunton River targeted for a 97-home subdivision, but provisions of a state law may prevent this deal from going through.

At issue is Childs Bridge Farm off Cherry Street, which developer Angelo D’Emilia, who is also the town’s state representative, has agreed to purchase for $3.5 million.

Because the farm has enjoyed years of reduced taxes due to its agricultural designation, state law gives the town first crack at its purchase. To get the land, a town must meet the agreed-upon price between the developer and the property owner.

Town Manager Troy Clarkson said a second state law may ultimately make the purchase impossible. He had an outside appraisal done on the farm, which placed its value at only $1.3 million. Under Chapter 40, Section 14 of the Massachusetts General Laws, a municipality cannot pay more than 25 percent above appraised value for land, Clarkson said.

“That definitely hamstrings us,’’ he said. “I’ve been working on this with the treasurer/collector and bond counsel, and I don’t believe the town can pay more than $1.3 million.’’

Town Councilor Michael Berolini, who favors the town’s purchase of the farmland, argues appraisals can vary. Land can be valued at far more, he said, if value is considered in terms of full build-out. He noted the appraisal Clarkson contracted placed the property value at about $12 million once houses were built.

“I read the appraisal, and there were a lot of different numbers in there,’’ Berolini said. “To me, a developer is willing to pay $3.5 million for that land, so that is closer to its real value.’’

Berolini said he would urge the council to seek another outside appraisal.

“Hopefully, that one will be higher and put an end to this whole issue,’’ he said.

While town leaders initially questioned whether Bridgewater had the money for the purchase, some donors have since come forward. Faelton Perkins, one of the four Perkins family members who own the farmland, has offered his $800,000 share of the profits toward the town’s purchase. The Nature Conservancy, Wildlands Trust, and the state Department of Conservation and Recreation have pledged a total of $875,000.

Some of the money offers might be withdrawn when donors learn of the low land value, Clarkson said. “The Department of Conservation and Recreation committed $400,000 to this, provided the appraisal was $3.5 million,’’ he said.

Meanwhile, the Bridgewater Community Preservation Committee recently voted to authorize as much as $2.62 million.

“When we ran our bonding numbers, we were very comfortable with that amount,’’ said committee chairwoman Marilee Hunt. “The Town Council can accept the amount, deny it, or lower it.’’

All tallied, the town would appear to have more than enough to pay the $3.5 million price. Hunt, who was aware of the snags caused by state law, predicted it could take some time to resolve the value issue.

“It looks like there are a few state statutes involved,’’ she said. “The Town Council will have to do some due diligence on this.’’

The Town Council waited until last week’s deadline to take its vote, and the land purchase narrowly passed, with four councilors in favor and three opposed. Councilor Michael Demos abstained because he lives near the farm, and council president Scott Pitta left for work before the panel weighed in.

Councilor William Wood said he was in favor of buying the land, but voted against it based on the outstanding legal questions.

“We had a letter from bond counsel that said we couldn’t make the purchase because the value was so low,’’ Wood said.

Clarkson said the decision to purchase has since been recorded at the Plymouth County Registry of Deeds, which begins the 90-day time frame to come up with the money.

“Every day the clock ticks further, but we are working very hard to meet the will of the Town Council,’’ Clarkson said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to resolve the issues that are still up in the air.’’

D’Emilia refused to comment on the issue for this story, saying it’s part of his personal business rather than his public life.

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.