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National retailer expresses interest in Highland Croft property


June 27, 2012
LITTLETON — Based on information presented to the Planning Board on June 19, there is a letter of intent to purchase the Highland Croft property. A "very large national retailer" has interest in the entire site, according to the update that Chris Hodge provided the board.

Dick Gould and others own the property throughHouston-Littleton LLC. In his presentation to the board, Hodge said that Gould wished to thank the board for its patience. The Zoning Board approved leveling of the knoll in May 2010.

Meetings of the Planning Board followed this approval. In January 2011 the Planning Board approved an excavation permit during a re-hearing of the matter. After a lawsuit over the issue last year, the board's action was upheld.

The company with current interest in the site was not named at the meeting, but there are "pretty serious communications with this company" about the land purchase, Hodge said.

Littleton has witnessed a great deal of discussion about the old property. The historic mansion built on the site in 1909 burned down in 2008.

Hodge noted that a key change in the original proposal will likely be made. The original excavation plan called for the blasting and removal of as much as 1.5 million cubic yards of rock. The new plan, Hodge informed the board, will keep most of the blasted material onsite.

The decision to dramatically reduce the amount of removed material makes the project far less invasive, Hodge said. The total amount of blasting is not yet known, according to the update. Hodge did note that the cost of the work will likely be "knocked down by two-thirds."

Hodge said that a blasting plan and ground water information is 60 to 90 days away. He also noted that the board is "more likely" to receive "a letter of credit in lieu of a bond."

Board member Mell Brooks said that the town must examine a letter of credit very carefully. Such documents have "all kinds of fine, fine print . . . I'm very concerned about that." Brooks did note that such a letter may be fully acceptable, but that the matter requires extensive review. "We're dealing with our water supply here," he said.

In response Hodge said, "you might get a bond." He reiterated Gould's interest in being fully open with the town. "He's not trying to hide behind the bushes," Hodge concluded.

After discussion of Hodge's update, Chairman Charlie Ryan said that there has been a written request to the town to reopen its original Highland Croft development approvals.

Ryan said that the concerns raised in the request to reopen the decision were litigated previously. The judicial decision found that the town acted properly in granting the excavation permit.

Brooks suggested that some parties did not get a full opportunity to voice their opinions when the permit was originally discussed publicly. He called this "a travesty." Nonetheless, he noted that it would be "quite an effort to reopen" the question.

Marghie Seymour originally requested to abstain from the vote, but Ryan informed her that present members must vote either yes or no. She replied, "I'm having a hard time with this . . . I can't possibly vote one way or another." In the end, she voted in favor of reopening the case. The rest of the board denied the request, so it was defeated 6-1.

Seymour said that she felt there was not enough information at the meeting to justify a vote.

In another matter, the board discussed the difference between a hearing and a meeting. A hearing is for the purpose of gathering evidence, Ryan said. Public comment must be accepted at a hearing.

Public comments may be taken at a meeting, but that is not required. Since the board was "not here to gather evidence" for the current session, he said that the evening's discussion was a meeting.

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