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Ashland - Local Town Pages

Valentine Estate Update: Work to be Done

By Patricia Roy
As New England residences go, the 19th century Colonial home at 133 West Union St., does not set any records for age. 
The true anchor of the 7-acre property known as the Valentine Estate is the 2 ½ story beauty of a barn, its gable oriented toward the road. The structure was built during the 1750s and moved on the property sometime within the following century.
Conspicuous due to its place along the Boston Marathon route, the Valentine Estate has been cherished by locals for its ambience of days gone by, as well as its 100-year-old trees.
That all seemed threatened a few years ago when a Southborough developer proposed a 99-unit Chapter 40B housing development that would call for 35 units to be set aside as affordable housing with the residence being preserved as a club house.
The property was appraised at $4 million and the town negotiated with the developer to purchase the estate for $3.5 million. The purchase was approved at town meeting and by a ballot vote.
The purchase in 2018 was seen as a way to forestall the property development and retain the historical asset for some future use. Additionally, the town was able to enact a deed restriction on a neighboring 16-acre parcel with the cooperation of the owners. Development on that property would be restricted to eight single family homes.
Town officials had hoped to finalize plans for the Valentine Estate for use by residents and perhaps create a destination to attract visitors. A request for proposals (RFP) issued in 2020 yielded only one submission which was rejected by the Select Board.
At a community meeting on June 29, for the community to discuss the status of the property
So far, $1.5 million has been allocated to restore and stabilize the barn while a longterm plan is still being worked out. Site clearing, chimney repairs and replacing a sliding glass door was also undertaken. 
Brandi Kinsman, Select Board chairman, said historical restrictions protect the features that make the property significant including the barn and the house. Conservation restrictions are across the entire property and are recorded with the property’s deeds. They can limit the future uses of the land, including the type of development.
A Valentine Restriction subcommittee was appointed by the Select Board a year ago, building on work done by the previously convened Valentine Committee. “This work will state review; it’s the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs which is involved in these restrictions,” Kinsman said.
The restrictions will not be able to be finalized until there is a “holder” or someone responsible for monitoring the restrictions, she said.
What’s next
Right now, the town has $750,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds that have been allocated for the Valentine Property itself, according to Town Manager Michael Herbert.
“If we are going to use those funds , it would require that the ultimate purpose of the property would be to enhance travel and tourism and provide public access to the community,” he said.
Also available is $125,000 in Community Preservation Act funds which can be used for roof and foundation repairs as well as the removal of invasive plants like bittersweet, multiflora rose, and buckthorn.
One audience member wondered if the roof and foundation repair RFP called for someone who is experienced in historical reconstruction.
The answer is no, Herbert said, because the repairs need to be done as soon as possible.
Later in the meeting, one resident suggested that historically accurate repairs may limit usage of the buildings because they would not be up to code.
She also disagreed with spending $75,000 for a property study when holders were not in place for the historical and conservation restrictions which drew agreement from another speaker.
Debate was also lively around the use of the property as a performance venue – one suggested use -since there are already three in surrounding communities.
Herbert said he was hoping the meeting would provide a sense of clarity for the direction the town would choose to go relative to the properties.
“We definitely have to fix that roof and foundation,” he said. “To do anything with that barn, that’s priority number one.”
If bids come in higher than expected and the town has the resources, then he would propose that those funds be used, he said.
Herbert also said that taking a conceptual design worked up by Kate Valentine and presenting it for public comment would also be a good next step.
“If we can center in on a concept, then everything else would fall into place,” Herbert said. 
To view the conceptual plan and comment, visit the town website