MYTH: Eminent domain is the Town’s only option to preserve East Point.
FACT: Northeastern has offered to (1) place a permanent conservation restriction on approximately 90 percent of the existing open space east of Murphy Bunker, (2) grant a permanent easement to ensure public access to Canoe Beach, and (3) provide $6 million in community benefits to mitigate impacts on town infrastructure. Why should Nahant taxpayers risk paying millions for the same open space they can preserve for free?
MYTH: The Selectmen’s appraiser valued Northeastern’s property correctly.
FACT: The Selectmen’s appraiser classified Northeastern’s property as undevelopable conservation land—estimating its value by comparing it to other conservation land in Essex County. But Northeastern’s property is not undevelopable conservation land. Attorney General Maura Healey reaffirmed last year that Northeastern’s property is developable under the Dover Amendment. According to Northeastern’s eminent domain counsel, George McLaughlin III, the correct measure of the property’s value is the highest price a Dover-protected user would pay for the property in light of its highest and best use. There are many such Dover-protected users, including local colleges and universities.
MYTH: No Dover-protected user would pay more than $150,000 per acre for Northeastern’s property.
FACT: There are more than a dozen Dover-user comparable sales in Eastern Massachusetts over the last decade. These include the $6.7 million per acre Buckingham, Browne and Nichols paid for 6 acres of Watertown property in 2020 and the $870,000 per acre Boston College paid for 25 acres of Newton land in 2016.
MYTH: Eminent domain is “risk-free” because the Selectmen can “walk away” if the cost of Northeastern’s land ends up being too high.
FACT: Chapter 80A requires the Town to indemnify Northeastern in full for any damage, loss, or expense the university incurs from the time the Town begins an eminent domain proceeding until it later abandons it. These damages include not only the cost of litigation (attorney’s fees, expert witness fees, etc.) but also the cost of delaying the project—including increased construction costs that are currently estimated at $250,000 per month. 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. The Selectmen’s “risk-free” strategy is a gamble that would leave Nahant taxpayers on the hook to pay millions of dollars in damages to Northeastern.
MYTH: The $3 million from private donors means eminent domain won’t cost Nahant taxpayers a dime.
FACT: If a court determines Northeastern’s property is worth 2, 3, 4, or more times the Selectmen’s $2 million lowball estimate—and the Selectmen walk away from eminent domain litigation after three years—Nahant taxpayers will be on the hook for damages. A $6 million override or debt exclusion to compensate Northeastern would trigger a property tax increase of $343 per year for 30 years for the average Nahant household—on top of annual 2.5 percent increases. It would also drive up future borrowing costs and crowd out funding for other capital needs like sewer repairs.
MYTH: There are no eminent domain cases in which the costs of construction delays are included as damages.
FACT: While this issue may never have been decided previously by a court, it is only because there has never been a case involving a situation like this. No Board of Selectmen has ever been so willing to put taxpayers at risk of an unsustainable tax increase, while taking a position so contrary to the plain language of Chapter 80, which expressly requires “indemnity in full” should the Selectmen decide to initiate and then later abandon a taking.
MYTH: Northeastern’s project will cost the town $14 million to $27 million over 40 years.
FACT: The RKG report cited by the Selectmen is not an “independent analysis” but merely a review of preliminary costs as calculated by the Selectmen on a per capita basis—which even they acknowledge are “difficult to estimate.” According to RKG, “[t]hese results, and the methodology used in the [Selectmen’s] report, assumes that the NU facility and its personnel use municipal services in a manner equivalent to that of full-time residents.” But RKG’s assumption is wrong; Northeastern personnel are not full-time residents and do not impact municipal services like full-time residents. Moreover, Northeastern’s municipal cost consultant, Barrett Planning Group LLC (a consultant that almost exclusively represents municipalities), has determined that an average or per capita cost analysis is not the right approach to measure the cost impact of any new Northeastern employees. Instead, the Selectmen should have used a marginal cost analysis. Also, any accounting of costs should be offset by the value of Northeastern’s offer of $6 million in community benefits and a zero-cost conservation restriction.
MYTH: The Advisory and Finance Committee supports eminent domain.
FACT: The Advisory and Finance Committee is the town’s independent fiscal watchdog. The fact that it deadlocked on Article 22 and refused to endorse the Selectmen’s gamble with taxpayer dollars speaks volumes.
MYTH: Passing Article 22 will give the Selectmen leverage to force Northeastern to compromise.
FACT: Northeastern’s offer of a conservation restriction and $6 million in community benefits was made in good faith and remains on the table. But the university will withdraw its offer if the Selectmen move forward with eminent domain and the university is forced to litigate the issue.
MYTH: Northeastern has a “secret plan” to build on the west side of Murphy Bunker.
FACT: Northeastern presented several design alternatives as part of the state’s environmental review. Many alternatives were rejected because of excavation costs, conflicts with the state wetlands buffer zone and the Nahant wetlands bylaw, and increased vulnerability to future sea level rise and flooding from storm surge. There is no “secret plan” to build on the west side of Murphy Bunker, an area expected to be increasingly vulnerable to flooding in the years ahead. The Secretary of Environmental Affairs approved the current design, which is now pending before the Nahant Conservation Commission.
MYTH: The public won’t have access to the conservation restriction area offered by Northeastern.
FACT: The community benefits offer Northeastern made to the Selectmen in September 2020 includes plans to restore native species and install and maintain hiking and walking trails over the conservation restriction to the east of Murphy Bunker, so of course the university intends for the public to have access to it.
MYTH: Northeastern is insisting on constructing two new paved parking lots on the site.
FACT: The proposed parking areas have been designed with the minimum spaces allowed by Nahant zoning and site plan requirements. Northeastern is eager to construct less parking if the Nahant Planning Board will agree. The university has also offered to provide shuttle service to the Marine Science Center from an off-site parking facility located outside Nahant.
MYTH: Northeastern plans to build a dorm and conference center at East Point just like it did in Burlington and Roxbury.
FACT: These are just scare tactics. The addition to the Marine Science Center is for teaching, research labs, and administrative offices. There is no auditorium or other large convening space. Northeastern will not build any housing at East Point and it will not acquire any other property in Nahant.