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CPC Shows Tepid Interest In Plumbing $400K Loss

One Member Says Neither CPC Nor Housing Trust Should Be Blamed Because ‘Loss Was A Systems Failure’
Ed Note: This story is the second part of a two-part report on the October 28 meeting between the Community Preservation Committee and Groton’s Affordable Housing Trust. The purpose of the meeting was to begin conducting a post-mortem review of the $400,000 loss of town money invested in the Boynton Meadows development project at 134 Main Street.
 
Part II
by Russell Harris
 
     After Fran Stanley, representing the Affordable Housing Trust, told the CPC [Community Preservation Committee] that many of the legal documents elucidating the loss of the town’s $400,000 could not be released, and after CPC member Bruce Easom pressed the Housing Trust for release of additional information to no avail, other CPC members weighed in on the Boynton Meadows project and the town’s loss.
     CPC member Richard Hewitt said that the Boynton Meadows loss should not be blamed on the Affordable Housing Trust or the CPC. Rather, he viewed the loss as a ‘systems failure’ of various town boards. He said, “There were many committees who reviewed this and . . . [blaming the CPC or the Affordable Housing Trust] completely misses the point. It was a systems failure.”
     He said that the principal cause of the loss was town government’s lack of expertise in evaluating the business agreement between the Affordable Housing Trust and the developer, Mt. Laurel LLC. He said, “It fell through the cracks and I'm not sure whose responsibility it is going forward.”
     Member Hewitt further questioned why the Affordable Housing Trust had made a presentation of their plans for the
Boynton Meadows development at Town Meeting in 2011. He said Town Meeting and the CPC should have had confidence in the Housing Trust’s ability to manage the money responsibly. In his view, the $400,000 should have been transferred to the Housing Trust without an explanation of the plan or the uses of the funds. Hewitt said that the Conservation Commission receives regular,
substantial funding via Town Meeting vote without needing to explain their plans or purposes, suggesting that the Affordable Housing Trust should receive the same benefit of confidence in their ability to manage large amounts of town money. and the CPC.
     Fran Stanley, representing the Housing Trust, said, that the adviser “was not representing the Affordable Housing Trust or the town.” She said, “He was assisting Bob France [the principal project developer].” For full clarity, Stanley added, “He was not a consultant for the Affordable Housing Trust.”
     Anna Eliot said that, in her view, the main responsibility of the CPC investigation into the $400,000 loss on Boynton Meadows was not to ‘access culpability’ but to learn how to avoid making similar mistakes in the future. She asked rhetorically, “So why are we crying over spilt milk or do we have a cause of action here?” She continued, “That's not why I'm here. I'm here purely to find out if there are lessons that we can learn as to how to better manage the distribution of funds.”
     Members Bob Degroot and Chairman Dan Emerson echoed member Eliot’s sentiments of reconciliation. There was a lengthy discussion of the importance of reasonably priced housing in town and the importance of CPC funding to help relieve the crisis
of housing affordability in Groton.
     Near the end of the meeting member Easom made extensive comments about the importance of getting copies of the actual agreement between the Affordable Housing Trust and the developer. He said understanding the ‘meat of the agreement’ would protect the town in the future, saying that it would be hard to understand how the town could be protected without understanding the agreement, even if a few parts needed to be redacted to meet minor legal protections.
     He said he was not opposed to public-private partnerships in principle, believing they could be useful tool to leverage CPC funds to increase the town’s stock of affordable housing. But he said that he could not support such a plan without fully understanding what happened in the Boynton Meadows project and making the details of the agreement available was the key.
     Member Easom said review the video of the Town Meeting discussion is worthwhile because the proponents of the Boynton Meadows project had made certain claims that did not appear to be fulfilled. He said advocates presented Boynton Meadows as a ‘slam-dunk, ‘a great investment opportunity for the town’. Project Advocates said Town Meeting should be happy they had the opportunity to invest because “a lot of other private investors would like to be in your place.”
     In addition member Easom said that project supporters had claimed there would be an outside auditor appointed but, “apparently that didn't happen.” He said that project advocates also claimed that $400,000 was going to be used to buy land, “which is not apparently what happened when the agreement was finally signed,” he concluded.
     Member Hewitt did not explain how not presenting the Boynton Meadows plan at Town Meeting might have prevented the loss.
Renewing his focus on the nitty- gritty details leading to the loss, member Bruce Easom said that project developer, Mt Laurel LLC, had hired a separate company as their financial advisor. Easom wanted to know how that company was paid and whether they were paid from the town’s $400,000 investment.
     Likewise, CPC member and former Select Board member Anna Eliot wanted to know how the financial adviser was paid. But she also wanted clarity on the financial adviser’s fiduciary loyalties. She remembered seeing the adviser ‘sitting in all those meetings’ and never being ‘sure who he represented.’
     She added that he had presented himself as being a representative of ‘the investors.’ But, she was unclear whether the Affordable Housing Trust was considered one of the ‘investors’ he was representing. If the Housing Trust was one of the investors, member Eliot suggested that all financial information should be accessible to the Trust, the Town
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