New road weighed; Industrial park access stunts marketing efforts.
SOUTHBRIDGE - Town Manager Christopher Clark is inching closer to marketing the first 10 acres of town-owned land at the industrial park.
But his detractors say there is no real park, and the road the town built for it leads to nowhere.
The road, Commercial Drive, was billed to open up town and privately-owned industrial park land as it connected Route 169 to Barefoot Road. It opened in 2010.
The first 10 acres became a public right of way with infrastructure on June 4. The parkland was recently appraised at about $30,000 an acre.
The access road fronts 40 acres of town-owned industrial park property.
Mr. Clark said he is developing a concept to make the other 30 acres more attractive to a buyer - but he's received heat for it.
Last week, Mr. Clark showed a reporter a section of that land, standing on about 11 acres of what he called "the prime piece of land," because it's reasonably level and flat. A company would be able to build a 100,000-square-foot building here.
The problem, he said, is its topography would prevent a buyer from accessing the acreage from the new road. The buyer would have to blast out 30 feet of rock, the manager said.
Consequently, the town would like to see industrial park tenant Casella Waste Systems build an approximately quarter-mile extension from Commercial Drive to nearby H. Foote Road, which leads to Charlton.
About 75 percent of the planned extension is on Casella-controlled property; and Casella in fact wants to build a road for its own purposes, a company spokesman said.
Once the extension is built, there would be a need for "a roadway stub" to facilitate development of the 30 acres, which is on the upper plateau of the town's section of the park.
This is a more business-friendly approach than making a tenant blast through 30 feet of ledge, which is expensive, the manager said.
This section would be able to be developed as part of a subdivision plan or sold to one owner.
The town has been talking with Casella about Casella building and paying for the roadway extension. Talks are too preliminary for cost estimates, officials said.
In exchange, the town would give Casella two parcels: a 3- to 4-acre triangle near Commercial Drive on which the company has said it wants to build a welcome center or office building, and 7 to 8 acres on Barefoot Road that could conceivably be used for depositing waste - if Casella got additional permits.
The benefits to Casella for building the extension are that it would make movement and traffic around the landfill more efficient and safer for the company and public, and it would create a new access to the industrial park, company spokesman Joseph Fusco said.
Rather than calling it a land swap, Mr. Clark said it would be an expansion of an electrical facilities program that would bring methane gas
to developed parcels.
Since January, the company has been using methane from municipal solid waste that is brought to the landfill. The gas is converted to energy and sold back to the power grid. The town gets 10 percent of net proceeds.
Town Council candidates Steven S. Lazo and Dennis J. Martinek assailed the need for an extension.
Mr. Lazo, a self-employed contractor and former councilor, said he never supported the road, because there isn't enough developable town-owned land. He said the land is steep in areas, winter traveling is dangerous, with large trucks coming down the slopes, and he questioned why the town would tie up its bonding capacity on the road for Casella.
The candidate also noted that someone looking to develop in this area would look first to Charlton,
where direct access to Route 20 is more convenient.
"It's a road to nowhere, right now," Mr. Lazo asserted.
Mr. Martinek said putting up a sign that says "access road to an industrial park" does not make it one. It's simply an empty lot.
The plea from supporters two to three years ago, he said, was build it and they will come.
"We built it, we haven't marketed it and they haven't come," he said.
Giving Casella land in exchange for the roadway extension isn't negotiating from a position of strength, Mr. Martinek said.
"It's throwing one's hands up in the air," he said.
The access road also fronts 17 acres of United Lens property, and more than 124 acres owned by the McKinstry family. If the road's second phase is built, another 133-plus acres of town-owned parkland will be accessible.