Will it be a Boon or a Boondoggle?
On Monday, June 20, 2011, the Weymouth Town Council voted unanimously to purchase the Emery Estate atop King Oak Hill in East Weymouth at the request of the mayor, the planning director and the chairman of the community preservation committee.
The property boasts of a mansion built in 1903 said to be a replica of President Washington’s Mount Vernon home in Virginia – although the authentic Mount Vernon did not have a balustrade when our first president lived there – and along with some appurtenant structures, was held in a nominee trust by Dr. Allan C. Emery, Jr., who passed away at his home on September 26, 2010.
Dr. Emery and his late wife Marian ran a Bible club for high school students in their home every Thursday night for 33 years. He was also instrumental in bringing Billy Graham crusades to Boston in 1950 and 1964, according to news accounts.
While we can appreciate some of Dr. Emery’s laudable tributes, we must now concentrate on what he left behind; an estate the town wants to purchase to provide so-called open space and scenic views of Boston to the residents of Weymouth.
And remember, once the town owns it as open public space, out-of-town visitors may not be denied access and will be able to make use of it as well.
The immediate questions I have are whether this purchase is going to be a boon or a boondoggle and is there a revenue-generating reuse plan somewhere in someone’s head? Not only will the property be removed from the tax rolls, there will be costly maintenance the town will have to provide in perpetuity.
To be blunt, the town does not have a very good track record in the maintenance category, at least to date, especially when one considers the condition of town playing fields and of course, Legion Field.
At the council meeting, I suggested that the council and mayor go back to the drawing board and consider bonding an additional CPA amount for repairs to the structure to bring it into DEP compliance, because the mansion has fallen into disrepair, just as one would expect of something that is 108 years young.
It contains lead paint as I surmised from a photo taken by a civic group in favor of claiming the approximate 24 acres for open space preservation; who want to save it from being developed into an allowable 28 new homes by an astute developer who happens to have any money or potential customers left over after all that the home building industry and the economy has had to weather for the last few years.
I would hazard to guess that 28 homes built there would have a selling value of about $34 million; possibly more because of the view. I have the same view from the second floor of my garage-studio; so it can be somewhat breathtaking on a clear day, almost like an inhabited moon or Mars colony under a clear glass dome. Clear-night views from my studio are splendid as well.
My presumption about potential lead contamination was buttressed at the meeting by an after-the-presentation-statement from Planning Director Clarke — after I brought it up — that the building in fact did contain lead paint — in addition to mold and some structural beam defects — in addition to asbestos and asbestos shingles, which was not stated in the presentation.
The structural defects were most likely brought on by the accumulation of unabated mold throughout the years and there was apparently a fire in the attic at some point. And Clarke was only talking about defects visible to the eye.
Who knows what’s behind the walls and ceilings?
The former dwelling is certainly not LEED or USGBC certified energy or design efficient or any shade of environmentally-friendly green except for the green shutters, which do not officially count.
Before the building or buildings can opened to the public for any reason, especially to children under the age of six, lead and mold remediation and structural rebuilding will need to be done.
From a public health perspective, multi-gender (MFT) toilet facilities will need to be installed and sewer lines will have to be put in place since the cesspools are being pumped and capped, according to testimony at the meeting and as mandated by town ordinance § 8-200(C) upon the sale of a non-sewered property.
I won’t pretend to know what needs fixing because I haven’t done a personal or professional tour, but I suspect that the repairs to the main building are going to be in the range of a $500,000 or more, as I suggested at the meeting, because lead paint remediation alone is very expensive. Reasons for that are costs for licensing, training, encapsulation as the work progresses, encapsulating debris and debris removal afterwards and the threat of daily fines of $37,500 for not complying with the very stringent 39 pages of regulations.
As an example of cost, a town water tower recently scheduled for repainting was found to have lead paint after the bid was let and the town now has to provide an unanticipated additional $250 – 300,000 for the project.
Then there are mold and asbestos issues that I hadn’t considered until it was acknowledged by the planning director.
The building and grounds would effectively need to be quarantined as repairs progress and it would be environmentally inappropriate and senseless to just let the building rot a slow death because there would still be no-win clean up costs to deal with later.
Meanwhile, I doubt that anyone, including the public or town maintenance crews, should be allowed to venture about on the property because paint chips containing lead, asbestos, and other contaminants may be all over the grounds.
Having 34 years experience in the remodeling industry, I could posit with some certainty that the risk assessment at this point is very high. A lot of work needs to be done before anyone should be allowed closer than 40 feet to the buildings.
From state RRP regulations, 454 CMR 22.10, § 22.11(9)(e)(4), 40 feet is the distance that containment is required while a building or structure upon which lead remediation is being performed. 454 CMR 22.11(9)(e)(2) requires plants and shrubs to be covered by plastic sheeting or tarps for a distance of 10 feet from a building while remediation is being performed and that the tarps or sheeting be thoroughly cleaned according to § 22.11(9)(f) standards before any reuse.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the town unions cried foul about sending workers there to potentially be exposed to hazardous lead paint conditions. They will need some assurance from the Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards and the Division of Occupational Safety that the place is safe to perform duties.
I’m not going to bore people with a lot of detail they don’t want to hear but the only ones who will make out on this deal at this time is the sellers’ agent; probably to the tune of about $140,000 for making a phone call or two to draw the town in, ostensibly to prevent a developer from purchasing the site.
Dr. Emery’s survivors consist of three offspring and their spouses and their children and some grandchildren, so a three-way split will net each offspring about $570,000 tax free, unless otherwise arranged in the nominee trust.
In the meantime, the town is going to have to engage the services of a professional risk assessment firm at further cost, not public sector employees who may not be current on the rules and regulations or knowledgeable about how to protect themselves, just to find out what it’s going to cost the taxpayers to maintain what they perceive as a gem in the rough.
And that’s just what it is, but it’s in very rough shape, publicly stated by a town official to have lead paint, asbestos and asbestos shingles, structural problems and mold issues.
I spoke at the council meeting as did a number of other people, who, like me, had great suggestions for reuse of the estate, but from this point forward, before the purchase and sale is completed, we as a town are going to have to have a definitive plan.
So far there is absolutely nothing from the administration except to bask in the praise of those in favor of preserving the so-called open space. Without an action plan, this potential open space boon for the town could backfire and become a real bust.
It may wind up being a turkey that we can’t get away from.
© Copyright 2011 , All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed