Valentine Estate Public Forum Expected in November
The Valentine Estate at 133 West Union St. in Ashland. The latest proposal for the property calls for a multifunctional space (that could be used as a wedding venue) and an agricultural center. Photo credit: Theresa Knapp
By Theresa Knapp
A public forum is being planned for early November to discuss renovations to the Valentine Estate property.
At its meeting on Sept. 6, the Ashland Select Board express support for the vision Town Manager Michael Herbert discussed regarding a multifunctional space that could include an agricultural center, community garden, indoor farmers market, program collaboration with the Council on Aging, walking trails and more.
“It’s got the potential to be a real gem, not just for us but for the region,” Herbert said.
He described the latest proposal as “an amalgamation of the ideas and the programs ofdifferent properties both in the MetroWest region and also within and outside of the state. By drawing from this diverse set of influences, we can develop our own unique property and our own unique offering here for the town and also the region. It’s really important that we do something that complements, and doesn’t necessarily compete with, others for a variety of different reasons.“
Select Board member Brandi Kinsman asked Herbert if there is a market for such a project; he said there is and hopes to hear from people at the public forum.
Said Kinsman, “We can come up with all these ideas and it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to resonate with people that are actually willing to come to Ashland or to do those things. I think an event space that’s multi-purpose is the way to go because I think we do need a place that we can have events, to have it be flexible is key…I don’t know what that kind of market looks like or what the appetite is.”
Herbert told the board, “What the property would be an agricultural center, which is actually an idea that Kate Valentine came up with. Essentially, it consists of a barn that is a multifunctional space that could be used for town meetings, musical performances, artist bazaars, town get-togethers [and] it could also be rented out for things like weddings and private parties…It’s really going to be around the events at the barn that are really going to generate the enthusiasm and also the revenue.”
Herbert said the house would be set up into two distinct purposes, a community space (including a commercial kitchen and restrooms) on the first floor to help support the functions of the barn, and a series of rooms with different purposes including bridal parties and perhaps a room dedicated to the Valentine family.
Herbert suggested the second-floor space could be used by the Parks & Recreation person(s) who would be responsible for management of the property, events, and marketing.
An on-site caretaker was also discussed.
Herbert suggested a series of self-contained walking trails could be established on the property, like those at the ‘Cadillac Paint’ property. The proposal also includes maintaining an all-natural wildlife corridor “for wildlife to continue to use; there’s a lot of deer, a lot of turkeys, a lot of other animals.”
It was noted there could be no formal fields on this property due to a land restriction, topography, and wetlands on the site.
Herbert envisions the agricultural center would offer “cool things” in the barn such as classes and artist programs that center around metalsmithing, textile fabrics, woodworking, wood turning, and the like - options that are not available in the region.
“I will tell you, we will not compete with HCA [Hopkinton Center for the Arts] doing traditional pottery, painting arts, things of that nature [and] we won’t be able to do a real music venue like Amazing Things or TCAN [The Center for Arts in Natick].”
The issue of parking would need to be addressed. Suggestions included parking at the Community Center or Ashland Middle School which are nearby and accessible by sidewalk.
Town officials have received a very rough estimate of $4 million to complete renovations to the barn and house. In order to get a better idea of cost, an architect would need to be hired to create various design options for the property. That could occur after the public forum.
Herbert said the town has approximately $2 million in grant funding, including American Rescue Plan Act funds (which must be spent by 2026), but the town would need to cover the “delta of $2 million dollars” which he said could come from various sources including Community Preservation Act money or the general fund. There could also be a fundraising arm to the property.
The board expressed general support for the multifunctional concept.
“I think this is good forward progress,” said Select Board Chair Robert Scherer. “I think you’re moving in a good direction.
Visit www.ashlandmass.com for the date of the public forum and for more information. According to “Valentine Property FAQs” at bit.ly/AshlandValentineFAQ, the town purchased the 7-acre property five years ago for $3.5 million, “comprising of $600,000 of CPA funds and the remainder funded through a debt exclusion.”
Town Manager Michael Herbert says, “The town purchased the property in 2018 and didn’t necessarily have a plan but really, the reason we went ahead to purchase it, is (1) because we wanted to stop the development of 120 units at the location, and (2) we wanted to preserve our right essentially to have a plan and make use of this property…Since that time, we have gone through a long and winding road of what we’re going to do with this property. We’ve received a ton of public input through three [Select Board] public forums, [and] numerous emails from residents.”