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*Curbside Leaf Pickup Week of November 26th*

Town vs Axton Cross Wednesday Night

by Nancy Farrell
December 19, 2013

 

In attendance were Selectmen Jay Leary, Kevin Conley, Jay Marsden and Town Administrator Paul LeBeau.
 
 
I happened to spend much of the day yesterday with people who know what's going on in town. "If they show" was what people said about the Wednesday night's hearing on the demolition permit denial for the Axton-Cross property. Well, they did and what a show it was.

Caretaker of the Axton-Cross property Robert Wexler, accompanied by lawyer Michael Healey, made a  surprising proposal. Let's forget about the taxes. He said he doesn't want to talk about them any more. He was there, he said, to move forward, not look back. Mistakes had been made, things could have been done differently, he was there to work together to find creative solutions that were in the best interest of the town. 
 
 
He offered that the demolition of the building would be the best solution in interest of the town. The vacant building could become a hazard for young people and for people using it to live in. The way to move forward was to fix the problem first -- by having the town take over the property and then worry about the taxes.
 
Kevin Conley insisted that the taxes are a big issue. Wexler replied angrily that he was not going to sit there and be browbeaten about taxes again. The Axton-Cross Company's Town of Holliston tax bill is more than $600,000, the principal being about $260,000.
 
Jay Leary persistently dug to find out what money might be available to pay the Axton-Cross's past taxes. Wexler said there was a pot of money, and the town could have the lion's share of it. How much money is in the pot? They don't know, but it's getting smaller, Wexler said.
 
Wexler said they would be happy to sell the property to the town for $1. A lot of money for a property requiring at least $1.2m in chemical cleanup for 21E violations, and $1m to bring the building back to a usable state.
 
Jay Marsden made it painfully clear that the property was worth nothing. Considering the number of manufacturing/industrial properties available, renting the property was not an option.
 
Kevin Conley asked why taxes didn't get paid while money was coming into the business. Wexler said that the money went into the ground for cleaning up the site. There was all around interest in knowing the specifics of how this money was spent.
 
Wexler and Healey implied that the town was in part responsible that the purchase of the property by the then current renter Planet Aid by delaying permits, etc., had failed. The selectmen pointed out that revenue sharing was denied to the town as part of the sale to Planet Aid. Paul LeBeau told the group that Planet Aid needed more space, that the cleanup was too big for them, and regardless of legal obligations for the 21E violations, there was a civic and moral responsibility to clean up the site. By way of conceding, Wexler offered $200,000. Jay Leary pointed out that this not a business deal, you're dealing with a municipality, we have people we have to answer to.
 
Jay Leary asked how Wexler got involved, was it because he was just a super guy?Marsden asked how much he and Mr. Healey were making as caretaker and lawyer. Neither knew how much they were making. Missing the point, Mike Healey pointed his finger at the town officials in the audience forcefully saying he gets paid, she gets paid.
 
And what may have been the most stunning moment of the hearing, Jay Leary asked Wexler whether there was anything on the site that would put first responders in harm's way. Getting a vague answer, Leary pushed -- can Wexler say for sure that there is nothing on the site that would cause additional risks to first responders? Wexler began offering reassurances until Healey put his hand up to stop him. No commitment could be made on this issue. 
 
Part of being a town is the responsibility for its land. Axton-Cross polluted the property it owned and the land surrounding it and the wildlife with toxic chemicals, caution to the wind. Mark Ahronian told me that this had been one of the best fishing grounds in the area. This Board of Selectmen and Town Administrator are working hard here to find a resolution that does not leave the town holding the bag. I, for one, am glad they are so well-informed on the issues, such capable communicators and cognizant of their responsibilities here. We may be creating a new model for how we, as a town, deal with the negligence of the past that has blighted our land. Let's pay attention.
 
The hearing was continued to the January 8, 2014, Board of Selectmen's meeting. Maybe Jay Marsden will make the point that he withheld until the amount of money in the Axton-Cross pot is defined. Maybe Jay Leary will dig deep enough to discover what assets remain in the estate that owns Axton-Cross. And Kevin Conley, I'm sure, will lean in on them again with the tough realities of their situation.

And let us not forget that the meeting began with warm congratulations to Ms. Grace Pond on the occasion of her 100th birthday. Kevin Conley shared some of Ms. Pond's many accomplishments and read from the town census of 1920, when Ms. Pond was six, then traced her through the decades in the census.

The Pinecrest Food Concession contract was approved and signed.
 


Mark Ahronian, as the town's Tree Warden, requested $10,000 from the Reserve Fund for town tree work that needed to be caught up on in the absence of a town tree warden for the last 15 years. Transfer of funds was approved.

 

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Comments (5)

Mr Wexler is "caretaker", but not the owner. Who does own the Axton Cross property? Why would a good Boy Scout advise his client to avoid paying a tax bill that is long overdue? (http://www.hollistonreporter.com/article/8911/Healy-Receives-Scouting-Award.html) I'm sure there are lots of residents in town who would just love to "forget about paying taxes" and simply move forward.

- what gives ? | 12/21/13 2:11 PM

I remember when the chemical leak from Axton Cross sent hydrofluoric acid fumes through a large swath of the surrounding area. I got a phone call from a friend (back before our town notification system) saying I should grab my kids and evacuate. Terrifying. As it turned out, the toxin was airborne and not concentrated, so I don't think there were human health problems, but it killed all the rhododendrons it came in contact with. Mr. Healy and Mr. Wexler can't say whether there are still hazardous substances at the site? What would happen if there was an incident there now? Residents of town, take notice. This is a major safety issue. There have been Selectmen's meetings about minor issues that had large groups of concerned citizens present. This has the potential for financial havoc. Guardians of our taxpayer-dollars, turn your vigilance and energy toward this situation.

- Longtime Hollistonian | 12/19/13 8:15 PM

Let's see, so they're both getting paid and not paying the taxes - the little guy gets screwed again.

- taxpayer | 12/19/13 6:22 PM

This is really a big deal. It's great to see there is some fairly open conversation if nothing else. Good to hear it.

- James Read | 12/19/13 5:19 PM

Are there any proposals about where we will be able locate our proposed future Department of Public works? "Caretaker of the Axton-Cross property Robert Wexler, accompanied by lawyer Michael Healey, made a surprising proposal. Let's forget about the taxes. He said he doesn't want to talk about them any more. He was there he said to move forward, not look back, mistakes had been made, things could have been done differently, he was there to work together to find creative solutions that were in the best interest of the town.

- Warren Chamberlain | 12/19/13 4:20 PM

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