Southborough Garfield House subject of Much Town Discussion
Southborough is neither a large town, and for much of it's history it has always been small. As such, it doesn't have very many historic buildings. There are a few that stand out, and one of them is the Garfield House, at 84 Main St, Southborough MA.
It's a castle among the farmhouses of town, and always was. Recently though, after decades of family ownership, the property was sold, and recently there were proposed plans in place that to have it demolished. See a good run-down here.
Built in 1847, it's about a 10,000 sq foot home with 13 bedrooms and 5.5 baths. It's pretty cool looking too, being all stone.
Many members of the town would be sad to see such a unique property and significant part of the towns history fall to the wrecking ball, as well they should! But keeping historical items requires money, and that is going to be a key stumbling block going forward. Kudos, though, to the town members who picketed and let their voices be known, but activism is best coupled with an exit strategy, and I'm not sure anyone has one, other than demolishion. Let's see why.
Options for Garfield House
There are basically four outcomes that I can see.
1) Town buys the property and assumes current maintenance.
The town would likely have to buy the current owner out, at a substantial premium to the price he paid, and become the steward for the property. That means maintaining security and structural renovations when required. This is the lowest cost option for the town, and yet it would still be well over 1 Million dollars up front, and then security and maintenance costs probably at 5% of that annually. That's about $300 added to every body's tax bill next year just to save this one house, and $15 dollars a year going forward. Borrow some money, stretch it out 10 years, and you are looking at $45 dollars added to everyone's tax bill for 10 years.
2) Town buys the property and assumes restoration and future maintenance.
This is a more expensive version of plan #1. Basically, I'm not sure it will ever be a tourist desitination, but the town may explore options to make it a municpal building of some sort. That would require renovation, and my back of the envelope calculations for something like that are somewhere between 750K (if you are very, very lucky), to 1.5 million. Total cost estimate: Let's call it 2.25 million, or about $70-75 a year added to each and every tax bill for 10 years.
3) Current owner puts a covenant on the property, and town reimburses him for the loss.
This is a way to have the property stay in private hands, but comes with a cost for the town. The current owners can put a covenant on the property to make sure the existing house is kept in working condition and cannot be torn down. The reason the original owners didn't do this is because such a covenant decreases the value of the property. A lot. Probably by $1M, but as much as $1.5 million I would guess. The town would need to offer compensation to the original owner, but once the covenant was in place, the owner could sell the property (for $1), and the new owners would be purchase it knowing they were responsible for renovation and preservation. This is similar to adding a home to the historical registry, without all the paperwork and time involved in that process.
The paper Southborough Wicked Local, has an article this morning which states that because the owners - or future owners - are proposing an ANR application, there is little the town can do to stop demolition based on town sentiment. I believe ANR stands for "Approval not required" and it means the owner can do what he is proposing without asking for any significant variances or going through the many committees that the towns have (planning, especially). The plan conforms to the current zoning, and as such the town can only put the brakes on if they find that the plan actually doesn't. It probably does though, as the developer who first proposed it is an expert in these plans.
Between a Rock and Hard PlaceWhile I empathize with the town supporters, as a real estate agent who looks at numbers all day, I can't get past the numbers here. I'm just not convinced that the town has the capabilities or political support to financially offer the owner a reasonable accommodation here. Although the current owners are submitting a new ANR to "protect their interests" their interests are expensive, and if they can't be met, the house will fall. It is clear from the back and forth that altruism is not part of the owners current plan, as had been previously implied at the time they purchased the property.
Things change, and change is hard. But the only constant is change.