Last Update for this page:  07/12/2006 08:54:41 PM

Selectman Ron Clark calls for John Coolidge to resign one position


Sees problems with Whitehall purchase and process in general


by Robert Falcione

July 12, 2006 In a telephone interview this afternoon, Selectman Ron Clark (File photo) expressed displeasure with the town's process of land acquisition, and called for the resignation of John Coolidge from at least one of his positions as Chairman of the Community Preservation Commission (CPC), or Chairman of the the Open Space Preservation Committee (OSPC). Mr. Coolidge was instrumental in moving the Town Meeting purchase of the Lake Whitehall property abutting former ConCom Chairman, Brian Morrison, on two sides.

     Mr. Coolidge read the motion for the Town Meeting Article, although he had said that he was no longer involved in the negotiating process after being accused of conflict of interest by former Selectmen Chairman Eric Sonnett for also being on the Planning Board. At that time, the Board was conducting hearings on a formal submission of plans by owner Ron Nation for a subdivision of that very land at the same time that Mr. Coolidge was negotiating to purchase it for the Open Space Preservation Committee.

    "To me, him being Chairman of both is an issue, because the CPC is a reviewing board; and you've got special interest committees requesting funding, and the chairman of the reviewing and requesting [committee] is the same person," he said.

     "At Town Meeting Mr. Coolidge said that the Whitehall property was high on their priority list [...of land the committee desires to purchase]. Mrs. Holland [Executive Assistant, Geri Holland], has difficulty getting their meeting minutes and their priority list," he said.

     "I have asked for a copy of the written agreement that Jeff Doherty said he had in hand during the Selectmen's meeting on June 20." At that meeting, Mr. Doherty said he had a written agreement. Under further questioning by Mr. Clark, he admitted that it had not been signed.

     "I haven't received that," Mr. Clark said. According to the Purchase and Sale agreement, the closing date of the Whitehall property is supposed to be July 31, 2006, and the agreement referred to by Mr. Clark was for an extension of time. (Photo below, John Coolidge, left, Jeff Doherty, file photo.)

     "I have a Freedom of Information Request from July 7, but haven't received anything yet."

     HopNews requested minutes shortly after Town Meeting, but have not received any either. The most recent minutes submitted by the Committee and available from the Town Clerk's Office are from early February, 2005. Mr. Clark had further concerns about the sale.

    "The seller [Ron Nation] is demanding a non-refundable deposit of hundreds of thousands of dollars," he said.

    "That was part of an original request by one of the seller's attorneys," said Jeff Doherty, a member of the CPC and the OSPC, and the presenter of the Town Meeting land purchase presentation, implying that it no longer applies.

     "Ron Nation said, 'I don't want to wait until November 1'," said Mr. Doherty. "We are not going to say to him you can have an extension fee."

     In addition to the elusive extension agreement, Mr. Clark also wants to see the agreement for the other side of the peninsula, which Brian Morrison also owns multiple acres. He was referring to a graphic on the Power Point presentation given by Mr. Doherty titled "Agreement with OSLP" appearing on the map on the eastern most part of the land owned by Brian Morrison. Mr. Doherty explained that in this evening's telephone interview.

    "That was a request by the seller [Ron Nation]," he said.

     Mr. Nation (Photo) was asked to "Do the right thing" and sell the land to the town and abandon his plans for a nine home subdivision.

     According to Mr. Doherty, in order for the purchase to go through, Mr. Nation demanded that Mr. Morrison not develop his land either as a part of the Purchase and Sale.

     "Why should he be penalized," said Mr. Doherty of the seller. According to Mr. Doherty, Brian Morrison is going to agree to not develop that land upon finalization of the sale between the Town and Mr. Nation.

    Part of the funding process of the $2.75 million the town has promised to pay is supposed to be a $500,000 Self-Help Grant from the state, which cannot be applied for until July 31.

     "We're all working to see this come to fruition," said Town Treasurer, Maureen Dwinnell this afternoon. "There are certain criteria I have to fulfill for bond counsel before I can go out borrowing," said Mrs. Dwinnell.

     Asked if she was still targeting July 31, Mrs. Dwinnell said, "I'm targeting whatever I can get, The timing is not my jurisdiction. I want to be ready for whenever they close."

     Mrs. Dwinnell broke down the financing as $1.8 million from CPC funds, $250,000 form OSPC and $700,000 from borrowing. One condition of the Purchase and Sale was the receipt by the Town of $800,000 from third party sources by May 20, 2006. Although that failure could have sunk the deal, the Town did not exercise that option.

     The sources of that $800,000 are presumed to be $500,000 from the Self-Help grant, leaving $300,000 from other private sources. Mr. Doherty said that the Friends of Whitehall was named as a likely contributor. Friends of Whitehall is a group formed to fight the subdivision, Abutter Brian Morrison, as well as other principals of the opposition, are members of that organization. An excerpt from their website:

    Friends of Whitehall was formed in the Fall of 2004 to address the latest threat to Whitehall Reservoir: a development right on the most prominent point on the lake.
       The map below illustrates the land under agreement inside the red line, with the exception of the house and acreage fronting on Wood Street.

     According to Mr. Doherty, the parameters for the funding changed during the planning of the purchase. He says that the State will not reimburse a purchase, that it will only assist a purchase, and that the Town must wait until it gets the grant before closing, so as to not lose the grant.

     "I'm not looking for a fee," said the seller, Ron Nation, this evening. "I m looking for a deposit.

     "At Town Meeting someone stood up and said they wanted to buy the land, and now the same people are saying it's not going to happen on July 31," he said. "I'm looking for someone from the Town to resolve the issue. I'm along for the ride on this.

     "I'll work with the Town to overcome the glitch,"  he said.

     "Right now, there's no deposit.

     "Is that reasonable?" he asked.

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