ARTICLE 1: Will the Town vote (1) to authorize, but not require, the Board of Selectmen to acquire by purchase the property located at 335 Lincoln Street, Hingham, Massachusetts, in accordance with the terms and conditions of a Purchase and Sale Agreement between the Town and 291 Mystic, LLC; and (2) to authorize, but not require, the Board of Selectmen to grant and accept all easements necessary to develop said property; and (3) to raise and appropriate, borrow or transfer from available funds, a sum of money to be used by the Board of Selectmen to acquire said property and to take all actions necessary to complete said purchase, or act on anything relating thereto.
(Inserted by the Board of Selectmen)
COMMENT: This Article asks Town Meeting to appropriate $5,525,000 to purchase a 3.07 acre parcel of land at 335 Lincoln Street (Route 3A) (the “Property”), shown on Assessors Map 36 as Lot 111, to be used as the location of a proposed public safety facility, which the Town may in the future choose to build. The requested appropriation consists of the purchase price of $5,475,000 and closing costs of up to $50,000. In June 2020, the Board of Selectmen entered a Purchase and Sale Agreement to acquire the property subject to Town Meeting approval. Under the terms of the Agreement, the Town has until November 30, 2020 to complete its investigation of the Property and obtain Town Meeting approval; the Town may terminate the agreement without penalty at any time through that date. This Article is solely concerned with the purchase of the Property; any decision to move ahead with a new public safety facility will be made by a future Town Meeting.
Last June, action taken under Article 12 of the 2020 Annual Town Meeting authorized a feasibility study to determine whether the Property would be an appropriate location for a new public safety facility combining the functions of the current North Fire Station on North Street (“North Station”) and Police Headquarters. Pursuant to Article 13, approved at the 2020 Annual Town Meeting, the Board of Selectmen and Town Moderator appointed a Public Safety Facility Building Committee to study the Property. That committee met through the summer and fall of 2020 to determine whether the location could house an appropriately sized facility to serve the needs of Hingham’s current and projected population. The Town retained Kaestle Boos, an architectural firm with strong experience in designing municipal public safety buildings, to prepare conceptual floor plans and site plans and evaluate traffic issues. Subsurface environmental and geotechnical investigations were also completed. As part of its work, the committee visited facilities in other communities to further understand considerations in the design of fire and police stations. On October 8, 2020, the committee unanimously voted that the Property is a feasible location for a public safety facility.
The physical location of the re-sited station is important. Since the development of the existing fire stations, the population density in Hingham has shifted from the middle of town to the north and south ends. Moving the North Fire station to Route 3A aligns well with current call volume. The new station must accommodate appropriate response times to all of north Hingham and must be sited north of the train tracks. The Property meets these criteria, and the Fire Chief supports this location.
Questions have been raised concerning the purchase price in the present real estate market. Although the purchase price exceeds the appraised value determined by the appraiser retained by the Town, the Project proponents believe the price is reasonable in light of the current strong market for industrial real estate on the South Shore and the limited availability of parcels suitable for the Town’s needs.
The Town has long recognized the deficiencies of the 80-year old North Station and the need for a new fire station to serve north Hingham. The 2015 Town Meeting formed a Fire Station Building Committee and authorized the Town to borrow up to $500,000 for design work to renovate North Station; to date, $33,250 has been spent. The committee determined that renovation was not feasible given the small size of the site, the nature of the soil, and the presence of Town Brook running under the building. In 2016, Town Meeting authorized the Town to borrow additional monies to find a new site; to date, none of these additional funds have been spent. The Town has unsuccessfully pursued several properties for North Station. An exhaustive search was conducted in the target area; sites considered included the Selectmen’s Parcel on Beal Street, the old Credit Union building on Fort Hill Street, and numerous commercial properties in the Fottler Road/Route 3A area. None of these locations worked because of traffic issues, environmental concerns, or unwillingness of the current property owners to sell their property. Article 12 of the 2020 Annual Town Meeting also noted deficiencies in the existing facility, as well as in the police station, and authorized the study.
Proponents of a new public safety facility point to the deficiencies in the existing buildings and argue that the Town can expect many benefits from a modern combined public safety complex. In particular, they note that North Station has had minimal upgrades since it opened in 1942. It still uses many original systems, has no sprinkler system, and is neither sized nor configured to accommodate modern fire equipment. Moreover, the housing areas in the station do not have proper bathrooms and living space for both male and female fire fighters. Similarly, the Police Department is housed in a 1967 addition to Town Hall when it was a school. This addition was never designed for a police station, and has inadequate entry areas, meeting rooms, and training spaces. Areas used for booking, holding, and bailing prisoners are not separated from spaces used by the public doing business at the station. As with North Station, the Police Department facilities were not built with both female and male officers in mind. Proponents of a new facility maintain that a modern, combined facility will be sized for Hingham’s current population and density and will provide operational efficiencies, such as shared meeting rooms, training areas, and work out facilities. Both departments will be able to adequately accommodate both male and female living spaces and bathrooms. Proponents also point out that moving the Police Station would solve another facility problem – the Senior Center. The current Senior Center serves a large portion of the Town’s population in an inadequately sized space with limited parking. If the Police Department were to move out of Town Hall, space for a new Senior Center as well as space to expand the School Department offices would become available.
Opponents have raised concerns about devoting money to public safety when other pressing needs exist, particularly with the schools. The Town will soon be confronted with a variety of large capital needs, including Foster School, the senior center, repair of wharves along Hingham Harbor, and numerous other projects. Whether these projects all get addressed and their timing and scope will be up to future Town Meetings. The current Article does not preclude or delay any of these projects. Rather, the Article seeks to acquire an asset that can be used to resolve some of those needs on a schedule to be determined at a later time after weighing the Town’s financial resources and other municipal priorities. As noted above, finding suitable property that meets the siting criteria of the North Station has been difficult; no other comparable sites are immediately available. Given the difficulty the Town has had in finding an available property that is appropriate for a public safety facility, the Advisory Committee believes it is prudent to take this opportunity and gain control of the Property. Were Hingham later to determine not to proceed with a public safety facility project, the Town would have an asset to sell or use for other purposes.
We are in a very favorable period for borrowing based on our Aaa bond rating and historically low interest rates. If Town Meeting approves the Property purchase, it initially will be financed with one-year bond anticipation notes (BANs). The debt service for FY22 is expected to be approximately $27,000. Using our current financial model and practices, if the Town keeps this Property the debt will be converted to long term debt, most likely a 20-year bond. Using a conservative interest rate of 3.5%, the tax impact on the average homeowner in Hingham will be $60 in Year 1, decreasing to $48 in Year 10.
This Article requires a two-thirds vote by Town Meeting.
The Advisory Committee and the Board of Selectmen voted unanimously in support of this Article.
RECOMMENDATION: That the Town (1) authorize, but not require, the Board of Selectmen to acquire by purchase the property located at 335 Lincoln Street, shown on Assessors Map 36 as Lot 111, Hingham, Massachusetts, substantially in accordance with the terms and conditions of a Purchase and Sale Agreement between the Town and 291 Mystic, LLC; (2) to authorize, but not require, the Board of Selectmen to grant and accept all easements necessary to develop said property; and (3) appropriate an amount not to exceed $5,525,000 to be used by the Board of Selectmen to acquire said property and to take all actions necessary to complete said purchase. To meet said appropriation, the Treasurer, with the approval of the Board of Selectmen, is authorized to borrow said sum under Massachusetts General Laws chapter 44, section 7 or any other enabling authority and to issue bonds or notes of the Town therefor.
Any premium received by the Town upon the sale of any bonds or notes approved by this vote, less any such premium applied to the payment of the costs of issuance of such bonds or notes, may be applied to the payment of costs approved by this vote in accordance with Massachusetts General Laws chapter 44, section 20, thereby reducing the amount authorized to be borrowed to pay such costs by a like amount.