Valentine Estate: Where Are We Now?Sep 02, 2021 01:38PM ● By Chuck Tashjian
By Cynthia Whitty
If you drive by 133 West Union St. (Route 135), you see the Valentine Estate, a historic house and a large 250-year-old barn on almost 8 acres, and may wonder what is up with this property. Will it be repaired? Torn down? And if you have lived in town for the past few years, you may remember that the property is owned by the town.
The Valentine Estate was purchased in 2018 by the town of Ashland for $3.5 million following votes by residents at town meeting and at the ballot. At the time of the purchase it was unclear as to the future use of the property though a myriad of uses had been discussed. What was clear in the language of the town meeting warrant article was that the property was purchased for “open space and parkland purposes.” Municipal properties purchased for those specific purposes automatically become what is known as Article 97 land. (www.mass.gov/service-details/how-is-land-protected)
Article 97 is an amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution adopted in 1972 with the intension of preventing the loss of public spaces used for park and conservation purposes. It adopts a “no net loss” policy for the disposition of any such land through sale, lease, or use. Any disposition must pass through an arduous review both at the state and local level.
Restrictions Still Needed
Because the town’s Community Preservation Act funds (CPA) were used to buy the property (the rest of the money came from a debt exclusion) the CPA requires that both a conservation restriction and a historical restriction be negotiated for the properties. These restrictions are negotiated between the town and what is known as a “holder.” Under these agreements, the town retains ownership of the property, while the holder (usually a non-profit organization or a government agency) enforces the agreed-to conditions to keep the property in its intended use. Warren Woods on the south side of town, for example, has such a restriction where the town owns the property and Massachusetts Audubon holds the conservation restriction.
Soon after the property was purchased, the town appointed David Foster as project manager to oversee the following maintenance work, which included cleaning out the barn and securing it from the weather; repairing the chimney through the Veterans Construction Group; cleaning out the house, filling a 60-yard dumpster with debris; and removing trees and clearing land.
Also, in 2019, the Select Board appointed a Valentine Property Committee to consider possible uses. In fall of 2020 the town issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the possible sale or lease of the property. Also in 2020 the Select Board authorized two warrant articles regarding the Valentine Estate. One article authorized the Select Board to sell or lease the property, the second requested a zoning change to allow for commercial development. When the Board was made aware that these proposals were not allowable under Article 97, the articles were pulled from the warrant.
At town meeting in June, $125K was approved to start work on the barn and grounds.
Recently, the Select Board appointed Brandi Kinsman and Steve Mitchell to a sub-committee to draft a historical and conservation restrictions document for Select Board consideration. The sub-committee held a public meeting on July 13. Article 97 and CPA legal requirements, as well as potential allowable uses, were reviewed with Town Counsel Lisa Mead. Next steps will include work on a draft document. According to Mitchell, a holder “is to be determined.”