May 7, 2021
Dear Nahant Resident:
At the upcoming Town Meeting on Saturday, May 15th, Nahant voters will be asked to authorize the Board of Selectmen to take a portion of Northeastern University’s East Point property by eminent domain.
The Selectmen claim that eminent domain is the only way the Town can preserve East Point for the future. But no matter how many times they repeat this claim—it remains untrue.
Last September, Northeastern made a formal offer to the Board of Selectmen to place a conservation restriction on about 90 percent of its property located east of Murphy Bunker—basically what the Selectmen want to take from Northeastern by eminent domain. Northeastern also offered to build and maintain walking trails in this area for the public’s permanent recreation and enjoyment, and to grant a permanent easement for public access to Canoe Beach.
But so far, the Selectmen have refused Northeastern’s offer. They have also refused the university’s generous $6 million community benefits proposal (including an annual escalator to keep up with inflation)—which would more than mitigate the Selectmen’s estimate of the project’s actual impact: $250,000.
The Selectmen’s reflexive refusal and continued adversarial posture begs the question: Why are taxpayers being asked to spend $1.5 million to buy the same property that Northeastern is willing to give them for free?
It’s a question for which the Selectmen—who have been more focused on the unique views of a few wealthy abutters at the expense of Nahant seniors and working families—don’t have a convincing answer.
As you can see from the FAQs below, there are several questions about the wisdom of pursuing eminent domain, all of which have answers that are at odds with the Selectmen’s strategy.
Eminent Domain FAQs
Q: Why are the Selectmen touting the Chapter 80A eminent domain process?
A: The Selectmen claim eminent domain is “risk-free” because they will “walk-away” if a Court determines that the value of Northeastern’s property is more than the $2 million the Selectmen claim it is worth—as it likely will be. Left unsaid by the Selectmen is that their decision to “walk-away” will leave taxpayers and the Town on the hook to pay millions of dollars in damages to Northeastern. That isn’t “risk-free” at all.
Q: What damages will the Town have to pay Northeastern if the Selectmen “walk-away” from eminent domain?
A: Section 11 of Chapter 80A expressly provides that if the Town abandons the taking process, Northeastern will be entitled to recover “indemnity in full” for any and all damages it has suffered as a result of the abandoned eminent domain process. These damages include not only the cost of litigation (attorney’s fees, expert witness fees) but also the cost of delaying the project. Because the Selectmen estimate eminent domain litigation will take 24-36 months, the Town would be required to pay Northeastern $6 million to $9 million in construction delay damages alone, plus Northeastern’s litigation costs—on top of the $500,000 Nahant’s own eminent domain lawyer says Nahant will have to pay him to represent the Town.
Q: What will it cost the average Nahant taxpayer if the Town owes $6M million or more in damages to Northeastern?
A: Using the Selectmen’s anticipated 4.5 percent interest rate for the proposed Community Preservation Act bond, a $6 million override or debt exclusion to finance the damages owed to Northeastern from “walking-away” from eminent domain would cost the average Nahant taxpayer $343 per year for 30 years—on top of annual 2.5 percent property tax increases. Such a tax increase would be unsustainable for most residents. It would crowd out borrowing for other vital town infrastructure needs—from sewer repairs to school improvements—and would jeopardize the town’s municipal bond rating, driving up future borrowing costs.
Q: Is Northeastern’s property worth more than what the Selectmen say it is?
A: Yes, undoubtedly much more. The Selectmen’s appraiser has misclassified Northeastern’s property as undevelopable conservation land—estimating its value on this basis as only $200,000 per acre. But Northeastern’s property is not undevelopable conservation land. As Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey reaffirmed last year, under the Dover Amendment Northeastern’s property is developable by the university or by a number of other similar educational non-profit institutions. The proper measure of the value of Northeastern’s property is its highest and best use—in this case, what another university with development rights protected by the Dover Amendment would pay for the property.
Q: Are there any other estimates of what Northeastern’s property is likely worth?
A: In 2019, the City of Newton paid Boston College $15 million for 18 acres of conservation land that Boston College paid $870,000 per acre for in 2016. Boston College—which is also represented by the Town of Nahant’s current eminent domain attorney—is contesting Newton’s “pro tanto” payment as far too meager. Additionally, last year Buckingham, Browne and Nichols—a Dover-protected user—paid several million dollars per acre for 6 acres of developable land from Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Watertown. It is safe to assume that Northeastern’s developable oceanfront property in Nahant is worth 2, 3, 4 or more times the Selectmen’s lowball estimate.
Q: If the Selectmen “walk-away” from eminent domain after the Town has spent money on litigation and damages, will the Town still receive community benefits to offset the project’s impacts?
A: Northeastern’s $6 million community benefits offer and proposed conservation restriction were made in good faith and remain on the table. However, the university will withdraw its offer if the Selectmen move forward with eminent domain and Northeastern is forced to litigate the issue.
Q: Did the Nahant Advisory and Finance Committee endorse the Selectmen’s Eminent Domain strategy?
A: No. The Advisory and Finance Committee deadlocked and made “No Recommendation” to voters regarding Article 22. The Advisory and Finance Committee is an independent financial watchdog. Their charge is to determine what is in the best financial interests of the Town—and you, the taxpayers. That they refused to endorse Article 22 shows there are some Nahant officials—and many residents—who do not trust the Selectmen’s financial estimates or their reckless approach.
VOTE NO on Eminent Domain on May 15th
The Selectmen’s eminent domain strategy is an ill-conceived gamble. It is an approach that will saddle Nahant taxpayers with an unsustainable property tax increase that could threaten the long-term solvency of the Town.
Eminent Domain exposes the Town to enormous financial risk to take from Northeastern what Northeastern has offered to give the Town for free.
We urge you to VOTE NO on Article 22 at Town Meeting on May 15th.