Voters will be asked at Town Meeting Tuesday, June 25, whether the town should pursue the purchase of the property at 48 Norfield Road.
Fairfield County Bank is offering the historic house and land on the northeast corner of Norfield and Weston roads to the town for $750,000. Town officials are estimating they will need to spend at least an additional $281,000 on repairs and upgrades to make the house usable for municipal purposes.
The property, bordered by the town hall to the east and the Onion Barn and Norfield Firehouse to the north, would complete a contiguous block of town-owned land, including the Jarvis House property across Norfield Road, the library, police and communication center, and the school campus.
At a hearing on the potential purchase, held Monday, June 10, the Board of Selectmen heard mixed messages from the public.
Most people were concerned that town is asking taxpayers to approve the purchase without having a plan for what will be done with it.
“I’m not hearing a clear answer as to why we need this,” said resident Christine Lomuscio.
Bob Ferguson acknowledged, “it would be wonderful to have that entire corner,” but, as a Realtor, he, too, objected to buying something without knowing what it is going to be used for.
First Selectman Gayle Weinstein said a Global Facilities Committee is taking a hard look at all the town’s buildings and land and trying to determine all its space needs.
Town officials know some things are coming down the pike, she said. The portable Town Hall Annex building has reached the end of its life, so land use offices will need to be relocated; EMS has asked for some dedicated space; a space needs study of the Police Department has shown expansion is needed there.
There is also declining student enrollment, which theoretically should open up some space in the schools; and Jarvis House currently houses the Parks and Recreation Department, which is not the best space for it, Ms. Weinstein said.
But, she added, the town cannot make plans to use space it does not yet own, which makes it difficult to tell taxpayers ahead of time what the 48 Norfield house might be used for.
Residents were also concerned about the financial implications.
Ms. Lomuscio said it’s obvious the Police Department will need to be expanded. “If we have to build that … I don’t see how we can afford this,” she said.
The town estimated the following potential costs associated with making the property ready for municipal use:
- New septic: $30,000 (A letter from John Conte, town engineer, states neither the septic nor the well can be located on the property.);
- Roof replacement on the main building; $107,850;
- Roof replacement on the garage: $25,275;
- Roof replacement on the outbuilding: $2,000;
- Interior painting of the first and second floors: $57,900;
- Masonry work on the chimneys: $58,000.
Electrical needs have also been identified, but estimates for that work have not yet come in.
Residents Ed Strauss and Don Saltzman pointed out there are additional expenses the town must consider.
Mr. Saltzman said the house has no insulation, and remediation might be necessary if interior paint is disturbed.
Mr. Strauss said the roof reportedly has leaked for years, and so they should expect to find mold. There are also OSHA and ADA requirements that would need to be met if the building is open to the public.
Parking was talked about as another potential expense.
Many expressed support for the purchase, saying the opportunity was one that should not be passed up.
David Felton of Ridge Road said he would like to see the transaction be “net neutral” — no burden on the taxpayers — by perhaps selling another piece of town property to purchase this one.
Longtime resident Mark Harper called the property the “last piece of a puzzle” and a “key component to an integrated master plan for the center of town.
Helen deKeijzer said 48 Norfield would be an “attractive part of a superblock.”
Ray Rauth, chairman of the town’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, said the deal is “an opportunity that won’t happen again, and we should not pass that up.” Rather than thinking in terms of cost, he said, people should think of it as a valuable asset.
First Selectman Weinstein said she can see the importance of the town “just having” the property, but she can also see many potential uses for it. “I think it’s worth at least offering it to residents to decide,” she said.
Selectman David Muller said he thinks the advantages of owning it would be threefold: flexibility, contiguity, and opportunity.
“What an incredible jewel we would have,” he said. “I think we certainly owe it to people to bring it to a vote, and I’d recommend acquiring that property,” Mr. Muller said.
Selectman Dennis Tracey agreed. However, he also agreed with those who want better answers about what it will be used for and what the impact will be on taxes.
“Everyone is entitled to know the cost, the effect on tax rates, and how we plan to finance” the purchase, he said. “I think we should offer more concrete answers” about the various options for the property’s use, he added.
Ms. Weinstein said she hopes the Global Facilities Committee will be able to come up with some of those answers before the Town Meeting vote.
The Town Meeting on June 25 will start at 7:30 p.m. in [changed from original] the Community Room at the Weston Public Library.