September 29, 2021
As most of you are aware, the Town of Swampscott and the Church have been in conversation for approximately one year about the use of UUCGL property for an exit road from a proposed new elementary school. Questions around property are always complicated and often contentious, and this situation has been as challenging as any. The timing of this project during a pandemic made everything just a little more difficult than usual. We want to share a bit of the background of the Stanley School Project, answer some questions about dollar amounts that have been published, and start a conversation that we hope to continue on October 12th at 7pm at a special meeting of the congregation.
As the board became aware of the town’s plans and hopes, it appointed a Task Force to try to minimize the negative impacts of the easement on the church and its operations, and to seek fair compensation for any impact to the church’s assets. As a spiritual community, we are not always comfortable thinking of our beloved church as an asset, with a monetary value, but due diligence to maintain and protect the value of our property is an important aspect of stewardship and is, in fact, a responsibility of the Board of Trustees.
For those of you who might like a bit of deeper background, we hope this information will be helpful:
On September 13 the Swampscott Town Meeting voted to approve funding for a new elementary school on the Stanley School site, and to authorize the Select Board to acquire, by purchase, gift, and/or eminent domain, a permanent easement for pedestrian and vehicular access to and from the new school through the Church's land located at 101 Forest Avenue. The school funding is subject to approval at a town-wide vote that will be held on October 19.
A meeting between the Church’s Stanley School Task Force and the Town has been scheduled for later this week to continue negotiations.
We know that many people have questions about the $6-8 million in potential damages that the church would incur as a result of the easement the town of Swampscott wants to put through our property, especially in light of the offer from the town of $82,500. Those are very different numbers. The purpose of this letter is to provide an explanation around the valuation, but also around the Task Force and the church’s position in general.
In 2020, the Board created the Task Force. Neither the Board, nor the Task Force, took a position on the school itself.
To prepare for a likely negotiation, the church engaged an appraiser, surveyor, and a lawyer in order to come up with an estimate of the damages that would be incurred by the church as a result of the easement. The town has not provided any information on how they developed their offer of $82,500. They have also not provided anything beyond conceptual plans for the easement. The Town’s lawyer shared with us that they have a surveyor lined up and will not be conducting their work until after the ballot.
The easement will go directly through the property of the church and will pass through the only exit route from the church. It will significantly and permanently limit any future reuse of the property, including a potential sale. While there are no plans to sell the land, it can’t be eliminated as an option in the future. Our 7.5 acres in Swampscott with an easement running through the middle will have significantly less value than without the easement. That is how the damage estimate of $6-8 million was derived.
Until now, the Task Force has performed the work of the Board to try to minimize negative impacts of the easement on the church and its operations and to seek fair compensation. They were not charged with communicating with the congregation or thinking about larger church community issues. That should be the work of the Board, the Minister, and all of us, not just the Task Force. It is clear that on such an important issue for the church and the town that we might have done a better job communicating and engaging with our church community. We appreciate the perspective of a group of UUCGL members who have encouraged negotiations between the church and town leaders.
To that end, we are calling a church-wide meeting on this issue. Information about the meeting will be sent in a subsequent notice.
As a church community, all of us care about education, the environment, and the long-term sustainability of the church. We also care about each other’s feelings and being in right-relationship with one another. We hope that with more dialogue and information-sharing, we can address questions and concerns and move forward as a church community.
Several of you have requested a chronology of discussions between the Church and Town relating to the Stanley project. The Task Force is working on this and expects to have it ready for you soon.
Your Board of Trustees
Mark Vander Linden