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Former Cumberland Farms still in limbo

Negotiations to resume but likely to sit through winter

TURNERS FALLS — The former Cumberland Farms building on Avenue A seems likely to sit unoccupied a few months longer.

A joint meeting of the Montague Board of Selectmen and the Montague Economic Development and Industrial Corp. resulted in no votes — the selectmen do not have authority over the EDIC and that body did not have a quorum — but EDIC members and selectmen agreed to look into a bare-bones patch to preserve the building for next year while the EDIC resumes discussions.

“The last thing I would want and I think probably (any member of EDIC) would want is that the building becomes unsalvageable — though that’s another option to deal with — because we had failed to act to stabilize the building,” said EDIC member Donald Valley.

Valley told the board he is new to the discussion but feels that while Montague Community Cable Inc. is a good candidate, its plan for the building is nebulous and needs to be made more specific.

Valley said more meetings are required to make the plan specific enough to pass muster with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.

The DCR gave up the deed to the building this year but attached aesthetic and use restrictions.

Valley said he sees a path to making the deal with cable access group, but it’s not a quick one and the building should be stabilized in the meantime.

Kristi Bodin of the cable board said her board had been ready to talk.

“We had anticipated a lot of future negotiation with the EDIC and we couldn’t meet with the EDIC because there hasn’t really been one for a while,” Bodin said.

Following three resignations, which sometimes left or threatened to leave the board too small to vote, and four new appointments this year, the board now has five of seven seats filled.

Recently, the EDIC has been occupied with the question raised by a former member of whether it has legal authority to dispose of the property.

Town Planner Walter Ramsey said the state Department of Housing and Community development has confirmed the EDIC has authority to act.

The building carries an order from the town Inspector of Buildings and Director of Public Health to repair the leaking roof and clean out a severe mold infestation. MCCI had hoped to take and fix the building before the end of the construction season.

The EDIC now holds title to the Cumberland Farms building, which has sat largely unused under state ownership for years, and voted in August to sell the building to the cable group pending an agreement on the details.

The existing agreement to sell did not enter the discussion until late in the meeting, with two of the three members present appointed after that decision.

Town Planner Walter Ramsey agreed on the suggestion of Selectman Mark Fairbrother to look for a price quote to patch the leaking roof and approach the health and building agents to work on removing the already expired deadline.

Fairbrother said there was no reason to waste money cleaning the mold from the vacant building while there is a risk of it recurring.

Town Meeting voters approved $32,000 to clean and repair the building as a safety net for the deal, given the EDIC’s empty coffers.

The sum is based on a quote for the cost of demolition, an option stripped from the money’s potential uses by an amendment on Town Meeting floor without a downward adjustment.

Ramsey said it was reasonable to assume remediation costs to the town could be recouped through the sale.

Functioning as a town proxy, the quasi-official EDIC’s members are appointed by the Board of Selectmen but independent of that body, existing to handle real-estate without the restrictions binding towns.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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