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Selectmen, resident wrangle over land taking near Nichols.

Byline: Debbie LaPlaca

DUDLEY -- Selectmen Monday night formally accepted 23 donated construction easements and took by eminent domain a 24th property to begin a $2.8 million road improvement project on the Nichols College campus portion of Center Road.

Nichols and Dudley officials began working on the project to rework about 2,700 feet of the public road in 2006. Since then, the college has contributed more than $400,000 for the design work.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation is heading the project, in which Dudley officials were to acquire two permanent and 22 temporary construction easements from abutting property owners.

Twenty-three of the 24 abutters donated easements without compensation, with the lone holdout being Raymond L. Sullivan of 122 Center Road. Mr. Sullivan was given until Monday to comply, or face a land taking by eminent domain.

At the selectmen's meeting Monday, Mr. Sullivan said he would sign the five-year easement if town officials promised to draw the college into a payment in lieu of taxes program, known as PILOT.

The college, he has said, is exempt from paying taxes to the town, yet uses its services such as police, fire and ambulance.

Additionally, Mr. Sullivan said, the private college is benefiting from a project that is fully funded with public money, including 80 percent from a federal grant and the remaining 20 percent from the state.

"I agree with the concept of a PILOT program and I hope we can agree to it sometime down the road,'' Selectman Paul M. Joseph said. "Your proposal has not fallen on deaf ears.''

Mr. Sullivan asked selectmen vote no to the land taking and thus end the project that he said will not benefit the town, only the college.

Town Planner Nancy A. Runkle told selectmen their action could not be delayed.

"I cannot say with certainty, but I believe the project will be halted and MassDOT District 3 would have to return the money to the state of Massachusetts,'' Ms. Runkle said. "This has to happen tonight and I need to record the plan tomorrow.''

In turn, the three selectmen present, Mr. Joseph, John J. Marsi and Peter E. Fox, said they believed the project will benefit the town, road abutters and the college. They also stated they support the land taking because it is temporary.

Each voiced support of a PILOT program with Nichols, and Town Administrator Greg L. Balukonis has begun the discussion with Nichols College officials.

With the project due to go out to bid in a couple weeks, the state has been pressing the town to secure the last easement, which led to decision to take it by eminent domain.

An Aug. 12 letter from town counsel Brackett & Lucas to Mr. Sullivan said the taking entitles him to just compensation of $1,500, as set by an independent appraiser.

Mr. Sullivan alleged to selectmen Monday that he was deceived when Ms. Runkle said he would receive about $6 compensation for the temporary use of his land. The attorney's letter, he said, offered $1,500 because he held out.

Property owners were eligible to receive appraisals and just payment for the impact to their land, yet the 23 waived their right to compensation.

Center Road resident Scott Provost was among them.

Mr. Provost told selectmen he was told that if he didn't donate, he stood to receive $6 for the temporary easement. Mr. Provost said he based the decision to donate on that amount but may have thought differently if told he would receive $1,500.

"It's about the truth, and I don't think I was told the truth. It's about being honest with your residents,'' Mr. Provost said.

Ms. Runkle responded, "It was a figure I was given by someone from the state. I'm sorry that you feel that the $6 figure was misleading.''

The plan calls for improvements from the Dudley-Oxford Road intersection to the Nichols athletic field entrance. It includes new sidewalks, bicycle lanes and granite curbing to manage storm water runoff. Four raised "pedestrian tables'' will be installed as crosswalks to slow traffic, and the intersection with Healy Road will be realigned.

The finished roadway will be lined with new trees and ornamental street lighting.

Selectmen Steven P. Sullivan and Jonathan Ruda were absent from the meeting.
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Title Annotation:Local
Author:LaPlaca, Debbie
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Sep 9, 2014
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