April 20, 2021
Dear Nahant Resident:
In our Jan. 25 update, we shared how design changes to Northeastern’s proposed Marine Science Center (MSC) renovation have been fashioned to mitigate visual impacts and how a new “green roof,” combined with surrounding vegetation, will substantially screen the MSC when viewed from Nahant Road and Lodge Park.
In our March 15 update, we addressed how the Board of Selectmen’s legal case claiming that Northeastern “dedicated” its property to the Town ignores the well-documented history of the site. We also shared information about how the Selectmen erroneously assume Northeastern’s undeveloped property east of Murphy Bunker is conservation land, and how the Town is therefore poised to undervalue significantly the actual costs to taxpayers of taking that property by eminent domain.
Here, we’ll review Northeastern’s offer to place a conservation restriction on its property, detail the university’s community benefits proposal, and further clarify the financial risks that residents will incur if the Selectmen’s eminent domain article is authorized at the Annual Town Meeting on May 15.
Last September, Northeastern announced that once the proposed project is completed, the university is prepared to place a permanent conservation restriction on its East Point property and give up its rights to develop the area located east of Murphy Bunker.
That area could be developed by the university, and Northeastern’s willingness to forever relinquish those valuable development rights would be a substantial concession to the Town of Nahant. Additionally, the university is prepared to grant the Town an easement to ensure continued public access to Canoe Beach.
Northeastern advised the Board of Selectmen that the university is prepared to take this action at no cost and without delay. As the corresponding image shows, the conservation restriction would comprise approximately 90 percent of the area east of Murphy Bunker.
In addition to permanently protecting this area from development, while preserving it to support scientific education and research, Northeastern will implement an invasive species management plan and undertake an ecological remediation program to restore biodiversity and enhance the natural flora and fauna of the area.
Finally, Northeastern will commit the financial resources and technical capacity necessary to enhance the ecology of this acreage and its contribution to scientific education and research—which runs contiguous to the eight acres of existing open space in Lodge Park—in perpetuity.
Last year, Northeastern also offered the Town of Nahant over $6 million in community benefits to mitigate potential impacts of the renovation. This is more than double the Selectmen’s own estimate for capital upgrades to Town infrastructure related to the project ($2.5 million).
Specifically, Northeastern’s offer of community benefits—which remains on the table—includes the following:
- Annual payments to the Town to assist with operating and capital needs.
- One-time funds to mitigate construction, infrastructure, and operational impacts of the MSC renovation.
- Landscape and habitat restoration on East Point, including removal of invasive species and installation and maintenance of walking and hiking trails.
- Continuing annual financial support for the Johnson School.
- Tuition scholarships to Northeastern for Nahant residents, and tuition discounts for Town employees.
- Summer jobs for Nahant high school students.
- Free educational programs at the MSC for Nahant residents.
- Creation, operation, and ongoing support for a lobster hatchery.
- Satellite parking and shuttle service to the MSC from an off-site facility not located in Nahant.
- A research program to help the Town combat climate change-related threats such as storm surge and sea level rise.
Chapter 80A Eminent Domain Costs
After months of claiming that money from a few wealthy private donors would be enough to allow the Town to take Northeastern’s property at no cost to Nahant residents, the Board of Selectmen is now asking taxpayers to approve an eminent domain taking under Chapter 80A. This would allow the Town to “walk away” from the taking if a court determines that the cost is higher than the $2 million that Selectmen believe residents will have to pay.
This is a startling admission from the Selectmen, who know that $2 million is a “low ball” estimate. The Selectmen suggest this approach is without risk to taxpayers, since Chapter 80A allows them to abandon a taking if a jury determines that the many acres of oceanfront land is worth more than the $2 million the Selectmen want to pay Northeastern. But this is not the case.
Even if the Selectmen ultimately abandon a taking, Chapter 80A requires the Town to fully indemnify Northeastern from any and all damages the university will suffer during the eminent domain judicial proceeding. Such damages will include the increased costs of construction occasioned by such a delay, as well as Northeastern’s attorneys’ fees, expert witness fees, and other costs of litigation. These costs are on top of the Town’s own attorneys’ fees, which its lawyer has conservatively estimated will be $500,000.
By the Selectmen’s own estimates in their recently published Eminent Domain FAQ, the Chapter 80A court case may take 24-36 months to resolve. Construction delays alone are currently running at approximately $250,000 per month. Therefore, three years from now, residents’ minimum cost to “walk away” would be between $6 million and $9 million.
Community Preservation Act funds would not be available to defray these costs, and the Town would be required to pay these damages almost immediately. Accordingly, Nahant residents would be forced into a painful long-term tax increase to pay off this debt.
Vote “NO” at May 15 Annual Town Meeting
The choice for Nahant residents on May 15 could not be more clear. The Selectmen’s hasty and ill-conceived strategy puts taxpayers at serious risk of unsustainable property tax increases and jeopardizes the long-term solvency of the Town.
We urge Nahant residents to reject the eminent domain article and instead accept Northeastern’s offer of a conservation restriction and multi-million-dollar community benefits package. This fiscally prudent, common-sense approach will achieve an important win-win, while eliminating the substantial financial risks the Selectmen’s eminent domain strategy presents to residents and the Town of Nahant.
Virtual Information Session
Northeastern will host a Virtual Information Session to present more information about eminent domain on Thursday, April 22 at 6:30 p.m. Please join us for this important discussion at nahant.northeastern.edu