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Greenfield approves $1.5M for Lunt silversmith property

— After two hours of questioning the mayor on Monday night, Town Council took the next big step toward buying the former Lunt Silversmiths property by approving the $1.5 million the mayor has agreed to pay.

Mayor William Martin, Robert Pyers and Kevin O’Reilly of O’Reilly, Talbot and Okun Associates Inc. of Springfield, the geo-environmental engineering firm that has and continues to do the testing for contamination on the property for the town, answered dozens of questions asked by councilors throughout the evening.

By the end, Vice-President Mark Wisnewski, who ran the meeting in President David Singer’s absence, said he would vote to borrow $1.5 million, because he felt comfortable with the answers, which included the town finding no contamination off the site and only a small amount, so far, on the site. More results are expected by the end of the month.

The town is currently waiting to hear from the attorney general’s office about receiving a covenant that would prevent anyone from suing the town over contamination issues once it takes ownership. The mayor has signed a purchase-and-sale agreement that stipulates the town will not go ahead with borrowing the money until it receives that covenant.

The mayor promised he would come back to the council before making any decisions, even though it voted the money, if anything changes between now and the time the town goes out to finance the purchase.

For the town to borrow the money, there needed to be a two-thirds vote of the councilors in attendance, and it got it with nine of the 10 councilors present voting “yes.” At-large Councilor Dalton Athey was the only dissenting vote.

Athey asked Martin if he would move ahead with the sale without a covenant from the attorney general, and Martin explained himself, instead of saying “yes” or “no,” so Athey said he didn’t feel comfortable with the mayor’s answer and therefore would not vote for the $1.5 million.

Other councilors said they were satisfied with Martin’s explanation.

Precinct 3 Councilor Brickett Allis and Precinct 7 Councilor Karen “Rudy” Renaud were also absent.

The council postponed the vote in mid-February because some members, including all who serve on its Ways and Means Committee, said they were uncomfortable with voting that much money before the town knew whether it would be protected against lawsuits that might arise from contamination that might have migrated off the site over the years.

The council had planned to take the issue up again at its mid-March meeting, but decided, at the mayor’s urging, that it take the vote sooner.

Martin said the town needed to be able to show the Bankruptcy Court, which is handling the sale, that it has the funding to back up the purchase-and-sale agreement.

The town had already spent $75,000 for a down payment, $130,000 on a two-year lease to own, and several thousand dollars on assessments, testing and some cleanup on the site over the past two years, all of which was approved by the council. It would have lost that money if the town didn’t go through with its end of the deal.

The town expects it will cost between $600,000 and $800,000 to clean the site, but it plans to apply for and use grants to pay for the cleanup.

Martin said the town plans to collect back taxes from the former owners, which total about $500,000. He said the town is the first in line to be paid once the property has gone through bankruptcy.

In the meantime, the mayor and town’s economic development director plan to market the site once the town owns it. He said it is possible the town would rent space in the new buildings on the site until it finds a developer to redevelop the property.

Martin said he would like to see the property go back on the tax rolls, but said the six acres where the baseball fields are located will remain as is, and the town may someday build some sort of recreational complex there.

As of now, the town plans to go back before the Bankruptcy Court in early April.

Martin said once the town receives the covenant from the attorney general’s office, it could close on the property within 15 days.

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