Selectmen Call Special Town Meeting For Smith Property

At a long and sometimes contentious meeting Thursday night, the Board of Selectmen voted to call a Special Town Meeting for the town to consider a proposal to purchase the Smith property on Main Street. The Special Town Meeting is scheduled for Monday, November 7.

The proposal is being put forward by Partners For Planning, a citizen’s group that came together to explore possibilities for the property that befit the historic and residential character of the town center. I have been heavily involved in the effort.

The Town Green concept plan. Click to enlarge.

The group has been researching the property for a year and has been meeting recently with various town officials, town boards, and state agencies in order to refine and build support for the plan. The group has also been negotiating with the sellers and announced at Thursday’s Selectmen’s meeting that they have come to agreement with the sellers on a price to take to the town meeting.

The concept plan (at left) calls for the town to purchase the property, clean up the contamination with possible financial assistance from state and federal sources, sell a portion of the cleaned up property to a private developer for an appropriately scaled 40B development of townhouse-style units designed to fit with the historic district, and keep a portion of the property for redevelopment as a traditional New England town green with a gazebo. The housing would include both market-rate and affordable units. Two of the existing buildings would likely be razed, the third (715 Main St.) would be evaluated. Financial modeling suggests that the project would be an income-producing investment for the town, with a payback of 10 years or less. The financial modeling includes a contribution from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund of $125,000.

You can watch streaming video of the Selectmen’s meeting here. The Smith property discussion begins at the 125 minute mark.

Stay tuned. Lots more to come.


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10 Responses to Selectmen Call Special Town Meeting For Smith Property

  1. erik says:

    Hello Roland,

    Thank you for your posts, I enjoy the updates. I have a question for you though. I actually really like the look of your town common. Bolton definately needs an area like this. But why couldn’t we have a row of shops/small restaurants instead of the housing. I also feel we could add to main street by potentially making a community walk way. With a row of shops and a restaurant or two in the smith property, along with a walk along main street to see the beautiful old houses, i feel like we could all have a downtown that we could enjoy. If we could go to dinner, then grab an ice cream or something and walk main st, that would be a fun evening for a family. Actually a walkway from the smith property the “new” saltbox with its shops, would be really nice. What are your thoughts on this?

    Thank you,

    Erik Neyland

  2. boltoncenter says:

    Hi Erik,
    Thanks for the comments and your thoughts. Indeed, there are lots of interesting uses that could occur at this site. My own dream would be to build a performing arts center in there but that’s…well let’s just say that’s not going to happen any time soon. When our group started on this project, we spent a considerable amount of time forming a collective vision for the property–highest and best use, as we called it. We obviously didn’t feel that high-impact commercial development (CVS, etc) was suitable at this location because the prospect of that is what brought us together in the first place. Even low-impact, low-density commercial use was problematic (the kind that I think you are suggesting), as much as it could be charming if done right. First it’s really hard to make the numbers work without scaling up the project a lot, and secondly in my view it’s scary to think about what such a direction would set in motion. To allow business use on the site means a zoning change–from residential to limited business or business. It also means that a larger part of the town center must be studied because it is difficult to re-zone a single piece of property–spot zoning is frowned upon by the courts. So then you’re looking at which contiguous parcels to throw into a new business zone or overlay district. It’s a relatively dense residential area (there are about 32 residences within 1,000 feet of the old garage on the Smith property) and so even if you expand the business zone just enough to include some of the existing grandfathered properties, you’re also looking at sweeping in a fair amount of residential housing that would be directly impacted because they would either be included in or be near the zone. I think it would be very difficult to build the kind of support needed to do something like that.

    When this first came up I toured around and looked at over 30 towns in central Mass and southern VT and NH. I sought out small and mid-sized towns with nice town centers to see if I could find any examples where commercial and residential activity (single family homes) coexisted nicely in a historic setting. I had a hard time finding any. I did a detailed blog post on this a while back, after I had toured the first 17 or so towns– it is here ( Generally, if there are more than two businesses in the town center, then there is a contiguous area of business. In many cases, the business area pushed out the old houses. Beyond that there is usually an additional area where the old homes are still there but have been converted to professional offices, nail salons, and the like (see The nicest towns in my mind are the ones that protected their old historic town centers from commercial encroachment–Harvard, Carlisle, Shirley, Acton, Granby, Pepperell, Montague, Townsend, Sudbury, etc

    In my view, a change of zoning on the Smith property to allow commercial use could well lead to an irreversible transformation of the residential town center into a commercial town center. And then it wouldn’t be Bolton any more.

    All of this is the long way of saying that we think that residential use is best in this case to complement the public space proposed for this property, especially in the larger context of an historic district that is predominantly residential.

  3. erik says:


    I see and appreaciate your points. However, I still feel Bolton as a whole would enjoy a couple of “low-impact” businesses to be in the smith property and the saltbox. At the very least though, let’s please get rid of the ugly decaying garage. If it becomes a town common, and a place to congregate, that would be nice also. I really like the idea of the village format for the saltbox location. What do you think of a public walk from the smith property to the salt box area, with a self guided sheet describing the history of the houses along the walk?

    In general, I’m sure the process of getting a couple of small busineses is tough. However, I think personally you are making the process sound alot more complicated then it needs to be. I understand your group wants a particular outcome, so your reasoning leads you to that point. And as you say, there are lots of residents close by so they would be impacted. But how much more impacted can you be then the busy traffic on 117 during rush hour. I have plenty of neighbors who feel adding a couple of small “low-impact” businesses (i.e. ice cream stand, small local restaurant, etc…) could be done without hampering the look and feel of the town center. And this could add to the small town feel, if done right ofcourse. We could stay local and not have to go to other towns.

    Thank you for your posts,


  4. boltoncenter says:

    You’re right I do have a tendency sometimes to make things complex. Fair enough. However, I really do think that in this case the issues at least rise to the level of “challenging.” This is a piece of property with many issues and we’ve attempted to put a plan together that addresses all of them in a way that represents, we feel, a really good and viable long-term solution. The upshot of our proposal is that it protects/enhances the historic and residential character of the town center, addresses the eyesore, cleans up the pollution on the site, accommodates the streams and wetlands on the site, provides the town with a traditional New England town green in the very center of town, puts the town in control of the outcome of the property. Our plan results in a positive cash flow for the town over time.

    But the key is that we propose to do so without a change in zoning and with the help of $125,000 contribution from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, neither of which applies if the proposed use includes business. Our plan will also will not impose any noticeable strain to the existing traffic issues in town, nor will it impact the neighborhood in any significant way, or add undue environmental pressure on the dense concentration of private and public wells and septic systems in the center.

    I will add that one consequence of this plan (if it goes through) could be that some of what you are talking about–low impact business–may be possible in a different way. Our concept plan shows some parking to support the center businesses, particularly 711-713 Main Street, which is a grandfathered business property that has been on the edge of solvency for some time. It seems hard to get anything to go there and parking seems to be one of the issues. In our plan, we’ve included a small area of parking directly behind that property. There are three buildings there with lots of possibility that would not it appear require a zoning change (because of grandfathered status). Maybe with parking and proximity to the green…Coffee shop? Ice cream shop? Restaurant?

    As far as the public walk, that sounds great to me. There are sidewalks already from one end of the center to the other—Harvard Road to the Bolton Office Park—a little rough in spots but maybe with more interest we could get something going. Not sure if you’re talking about something more substantial than what’s already there. The sidewalks may all get rebuilt anyway when 117 is re-done—supposedly that is coming up within a few years. There have also been a couple of Main St. walking tours put on by the Historical Society over the years with open houses. They were popular and fun!

    Anyway, I/we do appreciate the comments, critiques, suggestions. Keep em coming.
    It sounds like what you have in mind is more along the lines of a different plan rather than a modification of this one. Once a change of zoning is put in play, it becomes a different beast I think.

  5. erik says:

    Thank you for the replies to my comments. I understand your position more. And maybe a compromise between us, is the added parking allowing 711-713 to become a stronger location for a low-impact business as you stated. As i said in my past posts, i like the idea of a town common area, but then i differ slightly on what i would like to see in that area (businesses to add to the charm of the small town (a reason to go to town center) vs. more housing which there is plenty. I understand my ideas are more complicated due to zoning changes. But sometimes the better path is a bit rockier… so the saying goes. My thoughts are only in the wish list phase, your group has done alot of leg work on your ideas. So I can’t complain too much, right now. 🙂 I just wanted to post some other ideas that my neighbors and I have discussed.

    thank you,


  6. Nancey says:

    I have to agree with you Erik, I would like to see businesses there as well, I would love to see more of a Main Street small town feel, whenever I hear of more housing I groan,…. not again with the housing, we have an overload of housing for goodness sake. I’d like to see the area be historically and accurately preserved, we live in a very old house on Main street and have been renovating it for 10 years, so I know what it takes. I’d like to see our Town become more of a place where maybe someone would want to go downtown for a cup of coffee or a pie or baked goods, a bookstore, something.. anything. I realize I’m way way in the minority on this, but thought I’d say so anyway.

    • erik says:


      You are not in the minority at all. Everyone I’ve talked to in my neighborhood have the same opinion as you. That’s why it is important to make your voice heard and come to the town meeting in November.

      See you there 🙂


    • ciao amiga says:

      Don’t you think the vision you have would work at the Salt Box property? As much as i like the sound of your small town plan, i think if it were feasible for that type of thing to happen at Smith location, someone would have already done it by now. It has been for sale for what since 2004?

  7. erik says:

    I like the 4 building plan for the Salt Box, that looks great. Now let’s just hope the climate in Bolton doesn’t stop it somehow.

    As for the Smith Property, there have been interested buyers who were chased away. But no matter what happens with that property, in no way, should bolton purchase the property. There are way too many important things that are currently underfunded, like money for Road upkeep and other necessities, to be purchasing another piece of land.

  8. Nancey says:

    No, I would not like to see that at the Salt Box Property, that location is NOT conducive to a town center, it’s just awkwardly placed, don’t get me wrong I would love to see the Salt Box utilized, but not working for a Town green. the center of the town in my opinion is near Coldwell Banker. that’s just kind of the way it is. I think I’m willing to pay $14.00 per year to see this happen. But I am well in the minority I realize that. How nice to have a place to go that is beautiful and then our gorgeous new library that you can walk to. what a change it would be for the Town.

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