TYNGSBORO — Town Meeting on Tuesday narrowly rejected an article pertaining to the Tyngsboro Country Club, crushing the hope of many who wanted the town to secure it as a golf course and open space for future generations.
The vote was 217 for and 154 against for Article 24, which looked to see if the town will vote to raise, appropriate, transfer from available funds, borrow, or otherwise provide a sum of money not to exceed $3.8 million to be expended under the direction of the Board of Selectmen to purchase, take by eminent domain or otherwise acquire the country club. It required a two-thirds majority to pass. Article 24 was amended before the hand-count vote — changing $4 million to $3.8 million.
Much like the past year, the subject polarized residents. More than a dozen residents stepped up to voice their thoughts from behind a mic. Some applauded the attempt to purchase the property co-owned by Tammy Garau and her brother, Bobby Spindell, while others questioned the price tag and the town's priority in pursuing it — pointing out other concerns like their tax increases over the years.
Even the Board of Selectmen was split. In favor of Article 24 were Selectmen David Robson and Hillari I. Wennerstrom, as well as Selectmen Chair Rick Reault. Selectmen Ron Keohane and Steven A. Nocco voted against it.
"This is the last opportunity... we didn't ask for this. We talked to you about this," said a frustrated Glenn Garau, Garau's husband who works as the golf course's superintendent. "We'd love to see it stay a golf course. We really would."
Glenn said he and his wife have worked hard to take care of the country club over the past 25-30 years.
"I don't want to see it go to a development, but if we get shut down... I'm not doing this again," he said. "Two years we've been doing this, and we're not doing this again."
Though Tammy Garau and her brother have been under agreement with Toll Brothers for the company to build a community for adults 55 and older, the town has the right of first refusal because the property on which the country club stands is under the state's Chapter 61B program. This program gives preferential tax treatment to landowners who maintain their property as open space for recreation.
In a recent email to a Sun reporter, Toll Brothers Division President David Bauer said: "At this time our comment remains that we would love the opportunity to build a community in Tyngsboro."
A message was left Wednesday morning for Bauer.
Another article related to the country club, 25, was withdrawn at Town Meeting. It looked to see if the town will appropriate a sum of money, not to exceed $850,000 to purchase 48 and 56 Sherburne Ave. These are parcels adjacent to the Tyngsboro Country Club. Reault told the voters that there was a negotiation with the landowners prior to Town Meeting for the owners to retain and sell the houses on the property separately.
"Right now, the town legally can't move forward with the purchase," Hanson said after the rejection of Article 24 Tuesday night. "And you heard from one of the property owners tonight, that they don't intend to move forward negotiating with the town."
Hanson recently described the passage of Articles 24 and 25 as the final authorization the selectmen would need in order to complete the sale of the Tyngsboro Country Club. This came after voters narrowly passed a Proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion ballot question centered on the country club. The ballot question allowed the town the ability to borrow the full amount necessary to purchase the property.
Phyllis Beck, a resident, said the town already has open space.
"I have to assume, as they (the golf course owners) were looking to retire, they put it out for sale as a golf course. It was not purchased as a golf course," Beck said. "That, to me, says there's no money to be had in buying it as a golf course."
Reault, who has been in favor of the town purchasing the country club, felt compelled to speak. He apologized to the country club owners for what he said the town has put them through over the past year. Reault also acknowledged that officials didn't do an assessment on the property or on the business. He noted that it's not what they were looking at.
He stressed that Tyngsboro has a one-time opportunity.
"If we don't purchase Tyngsboro Country Club, it'll come as a cost. And this is not a scare tactic," he said. "When homes are built there and children go to school, there's the cost of education... if we don't buy the country club, that's fine. We'll have houses there. It'll cost us money."
Rosemary Mercier, a longtime resident, said the Tyngsboro Country Club is a beautiful piece of property. "But I agree with the people that are saying we don't have the money. We're not a rich town," Mercier said. "We don't have a lot of industry... I think the golf course is a horrible idea."
In other action, Town Meeting approved all other articles. Below are some notable passages:
* Approved Article 8, which will authorize the Board of Selectmen to approve, execute, and record a Preservation Restriction on the Littlefield Library, 252 Middlesex Road.
* Approved Article 21, which centers on short-term borrowing a sum of money not to exceed $300,000 for road repair on Frost, Norris, Lawrence and Buckhill Roads.
* Approved Article 23, which will establish a special purpose stabilization fund for the purpose of funding roadway maintenance, repair(s) and/or improvement(s). Hanson has said that selectmen recommended to put 75 percent of the marijuana excise tax revenue into this fund.