Debate Brewing Over Mashpee Town Meeting Land Sale Article

Interest in next week’s Mashpee Town Meeting has ratcheted up during the past few days, with a likely floor debate brewing over an article that would allow the town to sell tax-foreclosed properties without voter input.

Article 15 proposes that voters delete Section 3-21 of the town’s general bylaws. The section states that vacant lands acquired by the town as a result of tax foreclosure can only be disposed of after Town Meeting has determined that the properties should not be held for conservation purposes. Approval of the article would allow the town’s treasurer to straightaway sell the properties at public auction, restoring them to the tax rolls.

Mashpee Board of Selectmen and Mashpee Finance Committee both unanimously voted to recommend approval of the article.

The pre-Town Meeting Finance Committee Report mailed to town residents presents an explanation of why it supports the article.

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“At the present time, 42 percent of the total land area of Mashpee is held in some form of restricted conservation designation. Also at present, the Town of Mashpee has some 40 properties, totaling over 150 acres, which it has acquired over the years for failure to pay taxes. These properties have a combined assessed value of over $16,000,000, and a good percentage could potentially be sold and put back on the tax rolls of the town.”

Paula D. Peters, a Mashpee resident and member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, is opposed to approval of the article and has created a Facebook page entitled “Mashpee - Voice your VOTE or lose your VOTE 2014.” The page description states that “Article 15 is an end run around Mashpee voters to give selectmen and ultimately Town Manager Joyce Mason the authority to sell the town land.” As of Thursday afternoon it had 24 followers.

Reached by phone earlier this week, Ms. Peters said that she was “ticked off” that the board of selectmen and finance committee unanimously supported the article. She views the article as an end-run around the voters, and that some of the parcels could potentially be used for Habitat for Humanity or other affordable housing initiatives.

“Selling the land will result in more people, and more destruction of the pristine value of Mashpee. That’s what makes our town so special—we have so much beautiful open space. I want to maintain that right, as a voter, to have a say in which land gets sold, and what we keep to sustain the pristine nature of the town,” Ms. Peters said, adding that approval of Article 15 would also set a bad precedent for voter’s rights in the town.

Mashpee Board of Selectmen Chairman John J. Cahalane said that he agrees that there are some parcels of land that the town would never want to give up and would use for passive recreation or conservation. “But there are some parcels next to houses that the abutters ask to purchase, and this simplifies the process. Then there are some properties that have no conservation value at all, such as those in the middle of subdivisions. The big reason this is being proposed is to be fiscally responsible by using every piece of land possible that can’t be used for conservation as a taxable entity,” he said.

Mark A. Davini, chairman of the Mashpee Finance Committee, warned that once land goes into conservation, it never comes out of conservation, and that voting for Article 15 provides the town with additional land use options since there is already so much land in conservation. “I understand what people are saying about controlling development in town. But controlling development and not allowing development are two different things,” Mr. Davini said.

Mashpee Town Manager Joyce M. Mason is taking the attitude of letting the chips fall where they may next week.

“This is an open Town Meeting and the article will be open for full discussion. The voters will decide whether the article passes or not,” she said.

Mashpee Town Meeting will be held on Monday evening at 7 PM at Mashpee High School.

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