Thank you all for your phone calls and e-mails to Matt Hanson and George Dixon. Your messages, in concert with a threatened class action lawsuit against the selectmen on behalf of the town’s residents, finally convinced the chairman last Thursday to put the matter of Center Park on the agenda for Monday, August 23.
I am not sure why the matter was not placed on the agenda for the Selectmen’s meeting August 9. Although it is a small victory to have the matter scheduled for a hearing, it is a defeat for the good residents of Chelmsford that it took so much energy and pressure to even get the matter to come before the Board. It is very distressing.
Although the developer has been warned by the court that he is proceeding at his own risk, the Center Park construction project is indeed proceeding, facilitated by a recently issued construction permit. There is no assurance that the final authority on enforcing the deed restrictions that protect our historic Village Green as Center Park, the Board of Selectmen, will in fact decide to act. In fact, they may still decide that “we are saving the taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars by not litigating the issue,” which makes no sense to the residents but has been articulated by selectmen as the advice of Town Counsel. The illogic of such a posture and Town Counsel’s conflicts of interest are cogently explained in an open letter released to the BOS today from Chelmsford resident and lawyer Dick McClure, which you can access by clicking here.
I have been asked by some to address statements by Paul Cohen, Phil Eliopoulos, and various Planning Board members that what I’ve communicated to date is not true. In fact, virtually everything I communicate is simply a synthesis of the public record. I have no knowledge of whether Cohen knew about Eliopoulos’ plans prior to February of 2009. But Cohen’s public statements make it clear that he knew of the plans by March of 2009 and didn’t brief the Selectmen regarding the project for at least six months. In fact, he didn’t brief anybody. Despite the fact that the disposition of the Center Fire Station was an issue front and center for the entire year of 2009, and that the Center Park land is central to both repair and rebuilding options for the fire station, Cohen never saw fit to brief the Permanent Building Committee, the BOS, the Planning Board, the Community Preservation Committee, the Conservation Commission, or any other public officials about the possible loss of the options afforded by that space.
The town had lots of options in the spring and summer of 2009. It could have fought to buy the land. It could have taken all the land and compensated the owner (whether Eastern Bank or, eventually, Eliopoulos) using money that is already available in the land acquisition account (money that can only be used to acquire property for the town). Ironically, that account contains almost exactly the appraised amount of the parcel. Or the town could have acquired a strip of the land by eminent domain. Cohen unilaterally rejected all those options without seeking advice from his bosses on the BOS, and without briefing them afterwards.
Cohen says he “brought the matter up” at a closed session of the BOS in early March of 2009. Cohen also says he cannot find the minutes of that meeting. Two selectmen have no recollection of the matter being addressed. For goodness sakes, stating that the options for the fire station were being researched would be “bringing the matter up.” Regardless of how thoroughly or not Cohen “brought the matter up,” he readily admits that he did not again broach the subject even when he found out that Eliopoulos intended to develop the land and “needed all of the land for his plans.”
There have been public statements from Planning Board members (and even the Town Moderator) criticizing my “understanding of the process,” and claiming that “We have to follow the bylaws,” and “if the petitioner complies with all the requirements of our town bylaws, the Planning Board must approve the application,” and “the Planning Board is not a policy-making body.” Those are true statements. But what the planning board did was to pass multiple special permits circumventing bylaw protections. In other words, they did the exact opposite of “following the bylaws.” And they certainly ignore the town charter, which states very clearly that they are to consider the overall benefit of a project to the town before issuing any permit. By skirting the protections in the town charter and existing bylaws, they are most definitely making pro-development policy. I am disappointed that the Town Moderator has decided to join the desperate Planning Board members in using such intellectual dishonesty. What they did in granting all those special permits is bad enough; to try and mislead the town’s residents about it after the fact is even worse. That’s why we have over a thousand signatures advocating recall of Carter and Zaharoolis. If you want to add yours, the affidavits are available online at
Mail to Chelmsford Better Not Bigger, PO Box 156, Chelmsford MA 01824.
Folks, I can’t respond to all of the disinformation and misinformation that’s out there. The chief editor of the Lowell Sun even penned a half-cocked editorial based on “anonymous submissions” blasting me even though he admits right in the editorial that he “doesn’t know what’s going on.” The Sun has repeatedly published incorrect information and libeled me and the Slow Growth Initiative in prominent stories but avoids lawsuits by publishing small corrections days later buried in inside pages. It’s no secret that the Sun’s editorial board supports 40B and they simply have little objectivity regarding growth and development. The editor would do well to recall that the smear job libeling George Dixon and the Slow Growth Initiative during the 2009 election cycle also consisted of “anonymous submissions.” It is now common knowledge that it was a member of the Planning Board who was “Anonymous.”
Phil Eliopoulos has a letter in the Lowell Sun that makes incorrect statements about me, puts words in my mouth, and contains blatantly wrong information. It’s part of a massive, well coordinated effort by these people with personal interests at stake, to muddy the public perception of what the facts are. As just two of the shortest examples, Eliopoulos 1) claims that he’s not acting unethically because the Ethics Commission hasn’t decided to perform a full investigation. Um, that’s not the definition of being ethical. And 2) he states that his “footprint” is small enough and therefore he’s not violating the preservation restrictions. The preservation restrictions refer to “square footage” not “footprint,” so that little rewording cut his size calculation by two thirds.
I say let the dispassionate court interpret and enforce the deed restrictions, not the developer. We are much more likely to get a rational and lawful result.
Again, thank you for applying pressure on the BOS to do the right thing. We are not interested in a penny-wise, dollar-foolish approach of spending nothing to defend the interests of the town’s residents. We want the BOS to vigorously defend our interests and to vigorously defend the town’s assets for the benefit of all current and future residents.
Yours with best wishes and hope for the future of our town,
Roland Van Liew