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Did Peace Abbey sell for too little?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 26, 2012 10:54 AM

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The long-running real estate saga of Sherborn's Peace Abbey is finally over, but questions remain.

The center's long-time owner, activist Lewis Randa, struggled nobly for years to keep his nonprofit afloat, seeking donations to keep the bank at bay.

Randa last week wrapped up a sale of the old 1917 colonial and its mini campus, which sits on a prominent perch near the center of Sherborn, for a relatively modest $300,000.

For anyone even half-acquainted with the sky-high real estate values of Boston's western suburbs, that number should be a shocker.

In fact, it won't even be enough to clear out the debts accumulated over the years, which amounted to $337,000, at least according to this report.

The fact is, sale amount is extremely low - there are clearly a number of restrictions, including keeping the property's statues and memorials in place. The buyer, a like-minded venture financier, has made rumblings about renovating the buildings and creating some sort of facility for the town.

Of course, money isn't everything, but the property was clearly worth at least $700,000 as is - and a lot more if there were no restrictions on development, such as a tear down.

Wouldn't that simply have provided more money for a good cause?

Randa launched the center in 1998, turning into a hub for activists far and wide, complete with a statue of Gandhi and pacifist museum. There was also a bed and breakfast and an old cow named Emily, who, at least as the story goes, escaped on her way to the slaughterhouse and found refuge at the Peace Abbey.

Randa's collections will live on, with the center incorporated into the University of Massachusetts Boston's Center and Archives for Peace.

I must confess I spent a pleasant and reflective afternoon at the abbey with a group from my Natick church.

I just wish Randa had sold it for more. And no, I don't think that would have been selling out.

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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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