APPROVED: Town Meeting OK’s $10.95M Bid for Scottish Rite Property
It’s now up to the Supreme Council of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of Free Masonry’s building committee to decide whether to sell to the town what could be the future home to a Lexington community center.
It was a special start to Lexington’s 2013 annual Town Meeting on Monday night at Cary Hall.
In the most basic sense, it was special because a large portion of the night was spent on a special Town Meeting, which ultimately—and by a rather anticlimactic roll call vote—authorized the Board of Selectmen to purchase a portion of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of Free Masonry’s land off Marrett Road for $10.95 million.
The land purchase is not a done deal, however, as the bid still has to go before the Scottish Rite’s building committee, which is expected to take up the matter today. A decision could be made in time for a public announcement when Town Meeting reconvenes tomorrow, March 20, officials have said.
According to Monday night’s Town Meeting vote, just under $7.4 million of the funding would be through Community Preservation funds, while $3.56 million would be raised through the tax levy.
The approximately 10 acres of property the town is looking to acquire is located behind the National Heritage Museum, which the Scottish Rite is not selling, and includes the 17,840-square foot “mansion” or main building, a 5,260-square foot carriage house, about 88 parking spaces and additional acreage.
If Lexington’s bid is accepted, closing on the property would likely occur sometime between October-December of this year. The town would then create a Community Center Advisory Committee, as a community center is the most widely discussed use for the property.
When it came time for discussion, the lines at the “Yes” and question microphones stretched significantly longer than at the “No” mic, where Town Meeting member Charles Hornig stood alone.
Hornig, who is also a member of the Planning Board, was the only one to expressly speak against the proposed acquisition, saying he was not convinced the location was ideal for a community center and “the price is quite high.”
Hornig also said he was disappointed in how little time voters had to digest information about the potential purchase, a factor he suggested could feed into the perception of a lack of transparency in town government.
Among those speaking in favor of the potential acquisition was Adam Hoffman, a student at Lexington High who addressed Town Meeting from the citizens microphone in the balcony above Margery Milne Battin Hall.
Hoffman said he felt there is a general need for a community center, and also a pragmatic for teens to have a place to congregate other than Cary Memorial Library, where their presence can be a disruption at what should be a quite place.
“Merely having a shared space, a shared space that everyone has a vested interest in” is an investment in the community as a whole, Hoffman said.
The vote, taken as a roll call, ended up being 173-2 with a handful of abstentions.
Discussions about purchasing the property began over the summer, when the Scottish Rite reportedly offered the town first dibs on the land, prompting the Board of Selectmen to approve an appraisal and study of the property. As talks progressed and other potential buyers emerged, the town's bids, according to a presentation from selectmen Chairwoman Deb Mauger, climbed from $8 million to $10.5 million to the $10.95 million approved last night.