WESTFORD -- The task force designated to review whether the town should purchase "the gateway" Drew Garden property questioned in its meeting Wednesday night whether Westford would gain anything from buying the land.
Currently, the town holds an agricultural-preservation restriction on the property off Boston Road. Jim Geraghty, a citizen member of the committee, asked if that's enough control for the town to have.
"It doesn't seem like we really control it," he added. "We don't like the way it's going right now, but what control do we have?"
Controversy struck earlier this year when residents reported large heaps of mulch coming in to the garden center. Selectmen ordered a cease-and-desist order, which also demanded the owners remove the composting piles.
Selectmen then set up a task force to consider a purchase of the land, since the owners received an offer and the town has first right of refusal on the 9-acre site. The task force also comprises citizens and members from the Planning Board and Agricultural Commission.
The owners of Drew Garden, the Goddard brothers, have an offer on the table for $735,000. The town has until Nov. 6 to make a matching offer. The Goddards are now renting the land to a Tyngsboro resident who is running a garden center called CNS Mustard Seed.
Selectmen Chairwoman Andrea Peraner-Sweet, who will also serve as chairwoman of the task force, said the owners have yet to comply with removing the large piles of mulch and compost material, first spotted in May.
"As far as I can tell, they haven't removed anything," she said. "I think the piles are smaller because it's rained and has settled. There's no new material, but nothing has left."
She added the task force will have to make recommendations to the board on whether to purchase the property in time for a Special Town Meeting vote on Oct. 20.
Bob Waskiewicz, another citizen on the task force, said though the mulch may be an issue, purchasing the lot may not be the answer.
Waskiewicz, who co-owns Meadowbrook Farm, said the town could rent out the property to a new business if they made the purchase.
"There's a lot of things it could be used for by an industrious entrepreneur," he said, "but you have no idea."
Town officials say they are considering using the land, if purchased, to house community gardens or a farmers' market.
Task force members said they would like to get an appraiser to look over the property, and have a building inspector check out the septic system and buildings on the lot to assess its condition. They'd also like to do a site visit.
Peraner-Sweet said she would work with Town Hall to get cost estimates for soil testing, among other things. She also noted if the appraised value comes in under the asking price of $735,000, community-preservation funds would not be available.
When task-force members pressed her on other funding sources, the chairman said it is still up in the air. She said there is a reserve fund available through the Finance Committee, but she has yet to consult with them on that issue.
The group asked other questions related to the land deal, including whether they would have to honor the existing lease with CNS Mustard Seed and if financial business records for Drew Garden would be made available.
"If nothing else, we have 735,000 questions to be answered," Peraner-Sweet said.
The Drew Gardens Task Force will next meet Thursday, July 31.
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