At their September 10 meeting, the selectmen omitted a key step that would have completely cleared the way for new re-use proposals for the Old Library and the Josiah Smith Tavern (OL/JST). That step would have been to terminate the status of “preferred developer” of those landmark properties that they had granted Urbanica, Inc., in a Letter of Intent signed last December. Until that step is taken, no one else is likely to regard seriously the selectmen’s interest in receiving new proposals.
Why is that the case? Urbanica’s exclusive arrangement as “preferred developer” is inextricably bound to its OL/JST proposal. Under that proposal, Urbanica would, among other things, take possession of the buildings for $22,000, receive up to $4.1 million in Community Preservation Act funds for qualifying historic preservation work and ultimately reap a net profit of $500,000 or more from converting the Old Library’s interior into privately owned luxury condos. Buried in the details of the proposal is a provision where Urbanica’s principal and his wife would retain, through an entity called Weston 358 LLC, a residual ownership interest in any portion of the two properties that winds up offered for rent rather than for sale.
Urbanica has no incentive now to give up the chance that its proposal will prevail before the Letter of Intent expires this coming December 11. As the counterparty to this letter, Selectman Ed Coburn has made it clear that his board is obliged to honor this expiration date. Yet it is also obvious that the selectmen are getting ready to hit the reset button. Why else would they have voted on September 10 to accept the Cecil Group’s offer to assist in the solicitation and negotiation of new proposals? The selectmen would still be honoring this obligation to Urbanica, if they declared definitively at their next meeting on September 24 that they do not intend to extend the term of its Letter of Intent beyond December 11.
If the selectmen make this clarifying declaration, the prospect of a two-thirds vote approving the prerequisite “historic structures preservation development” zoning by-law amendment at the December 2 town meeting would be enhanced. In the meantime, other individuals or groups could start sooner on the considerable work needed to prepare a proposal. Urbanica would still be able to resubmit its proposal on an equal basis with other competitive proposals.
And Weston voters might also then have in due course a genuine choice about what is the highest and best use of the Old Library and the Josiah Smith Tavern.