The Town Council voted Tuesday night to purchase a home in the center of town to help expand the Community Path through the center of town, but not all councilors agreed with the move.
The owners of house, which sits on Winter Street just off Church Street, approached the town to see if officials would be interested in purchasing the property, said Town Manager Michael Driscoll.
After a few months of negotiations, the town agreed to pay $796,000 for the house at 10 Winter Street. The money will come from the town’s Free Cash funds.
The land will help the town link the multi-use path, that runs along Arsenal Street and comes into Watertown Square, but stops before starting up in Saltonstall Park, across the field from the back of Town Hall.
Councilor Aaron Dushku said the purchase of the home will help the town build the path, while not impact parking in Watertown Square.
“All the other scenarios involve a big loss of parking,” Dushku said. “I don’t want the Community Path to do that, be burdening on the patrons of the Square.”
The town will essentially be trading one piece of property for another, Dushku said, because the town is in the process of looking to sell the former East Branch Library on Mt. Auburn Street.
Councilor Angeline Kounelis represents the East End, and she said many people in her district have told her they don’t like the deal.
“I hate to be put in the position of making the East Branch Library the sacrificial lamb,” Kounelis said.
She noted that the Winter Street home, which has four units, sits on .088 acres of land and has an assessed value of $524,000.
If the town does not purchase the home, Councilor Susan Falkoff fears that a developer could build something bigger.
Council Vice President Vincent Piccirilli said the house sits in a difficult location, right in the center of town, between the town’s municipal buildings and the Watertown Square shopping area. It also impacts traffic flow in the area.
“I see this as a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Piccirilli said. “I think it is appropriate to use one time money on a one time expense.”
Councilor Michael Dattoli said he does not think this is the right place to be spending the town’s Free Cash.
“We talk about the East Branch Library as a property we let fall apart,” Dattoli said. “I am looking at other properties, such as the vacant Police Station, and I don’t feel it is an appropriate way to spend the money when the town has other properties that need work.”
The Council voted 7-2 to acquire the home, with Kounelis and Dattoli voting “no.” The vote to take the home by eminent domain was 7-1-1, with Kounelis voting No and Dattoli voting present. The two counilors also voted against the budget amendment that included the money to purchase the home.
While the home is being taken by eminent domain, town attorney Mark Reich said it is not an adversarial taking. In this case it is a friendly exchange of property for a fair compensation, he said.
With eminent domain, there is no closing period, Reich said. With the Council approving the purchase, the town will take over the property as soon as the check is issued and clears. Driscoll said that could take a few weeks.