Taylor Rapalyea, Staff Writer: Manchester now eyeing 4 options for Donovan land
MANCHESTER — A town committee and Boston-based design consultant have presented the town with four design options for the so-called Donovan Park project, an open space development under consideration for donated land adjacent to the Manchester Athletic Club.
“We are back on track with a different type of field design,” said Gred Blagden, who co-chairs the town’s ad-hoc Donovan Park Committee, who added that he was feeling positively about the park.
“It’s a great project,” Blagden said. “It’s a great thing for the community, and that’s why we’re working so hard at it.”
The proposed designs, presented by Boston’s BSC Group environmental development form, range in cost from $1.7 million to a little over $3 million — a significant drop from the $5 million park project proposed in March but rejected by voters at Manchester’s Annual Town Meeting.
The designs strive to incorporate a multipurpose field, baseball diamond and running track, but all would also incorporate 33 acres of conservation land, as well.
Despite taxpayers’ hesitation at the initial estimated cost of the proposed Donovan Park, John Donovan Jr., who owns the MAC and its adjacent property, remains committed to donating the land, according to the committee.
Blagden noted that, while Thursday night’s meeting — which coincided with an open house for Manchester schools — didn’t pack the house, the committee has received a lot of feedback.
“We want to hear from more people,” he said. “More sports groups, more residents, more seniors. We want to hear from anyone that’s a citizen in Manchester.”
The next meeting will be Oct. 2 at Town Hall. Interested residents will be able to find more details about the meeting on the town’s website and in the Times as it gets closer to the date. The meeting will discuss the cost of each park compared to the park’s features.
“The next step for us is going to be to do a cost benefit analysis for each design, and identify the pros and cons for each,” Blagden said.
In anticipation of Thursday night’s Town Hall meeting, the committee sent out an update regarding its work in finding a solution for proposed park.
The committee says it has been working since May to try to find a solution to alleviate residents’ main concern: The cost of developing the land, which was approximated in March to be $4.5 million through the Community Preservation Act trust, in addition to donations and private partnerships. The original park included a 400-meter track, a multipurpose turf soccer and general athletic field, and a grass baseball field. The total proposed project was 51 acres, with the 33 acres of conservation and 18 acres of fields.
Blagden said in an email that the committee has been working to find a lower-cost park design that incorporates the acres of potentially donated land, and allows for possible development in the future.
“In addition to alternative options with the BSC Group, the committee is also working on identifying private funding opportunities and working on ways to connect with all constituents, sports groups and residents,” wrote Blagden.
He noted that he encouraged residents to attend the bimonthly meetings, as they are posted at Town Hall, to “share your thoughts and participate in the process.”
“I have a positive feeling about this project,” said Blagden. “We’re just trying to find a way to get it done.”
Editorial: Manchester vote should not scuttle all park options
The loss at the polls of Manchester’s Donovan Park proposal Tuesday night provides all sorts of fodder for election analysts to carve out an interpretation of the voters’ message.
Residents who went to the polls, after all, seemingly had no qualms about raising their own taxes, supporting both a hike in their Community Preservation Act property-tax surcharge from 1.5 percent to the 3 percent state maximum. And they overwhelmingly backed a debt exclusion Proposition 2 1/2 override to cover the cost of $2.19 million for upgrades to the town’s water and wastewater systems.
Yet they failed to approve a move to spend an estimated $4.5 million to build a full-sized baseball diamond, a track and an all-purpose athletic field on land that’s been donated to the town by Manchester Athletic Club owner John Donovan for a potential town-owned Donovan Park, which would have included those facilities, with some adjoining conservation land to boot. And project supporters are currently pondering what to do next — especially considering that the CPA funding was being raised, in large part, to cover the cost of developing the park and fields.
Backers could, of course, point to the fact that voters didn’t really reject the park project; it actually won over a majority the voters, with 695 votes for approval and 656 opposed. Yet that didn’t come close to the two-thirds majority needed to move the project forward. And 656 votes out of just over 1,300 cast is, in fact, a sizable percentage in opposition.
All of that, then, could be translated as showing voters were willing to raise their own tax bills, but simply did not want to spend a $4 million chunk of change on this single field project. And that should leave Donovan Park backers a number of options — from scaling back the plans to perhaps develop one, not two, fields, or to seeking alternative funding sources, from a private drive to a potential state PARC grant like the one that put Gloucester’s classic, public-private Newell Stadium “renewal” project over the top.
Tuesday’s defeat of the Donovan Park project at the polls is undoubtedly a disappointment to those who put so much effort into pulling together this complex land deal and development proposal.
Yet, while forcing any field plans back to Square One, the vote — and the other election results — should not force the plan entirely off the drawing board. Let’s see what Take 2 may bring.
Manchester park proposal falls short at polls by Arianna MacNeill Staff Writer
MANCHESTER — The empty land next to Manchester Athletic Club may stay that way for the foreseeable future.
Town voters Tuesday night turned thumbs down on the so-called Donovan Park proposal, rejecting a plan that would have allocated $4.5 million to build a baseball diamond, an all-purpose athletic field, a track and other amenities on land, adjacent to the health and athletic club, donated to the town by MAC owner John Donovan. Voters — in a town election that did not include a single contested race for office but four referendum questions — shot down the appropriation for the park development plan on a count that gained majority approval but failed to reach the needed two-thirds, with 695 votes in favor and 656 opposed.
“What do you say?” Greg Blagden, co-chairman of the Donovan Park ad-hoc committee, said Tuesday night. “I’m surprised.”
The vote comes after Town Meeting accepted the gift of the land from Donovan, though the property’s future use remains uncertain.
“I don’t know,” Blagden said of what’s to come. “There was no Plan B.”
Blagden said that the committee will reconvene now to figure out its next steps. He added that Donovan himself will have an important role in these decisions since he made the donation. While there isn’t a plan at the moment, it was said at Town Meeting that Donovan can take the land back if it isn’t used for athletic fields or if the project isn’t finished in a timely manner.
Blagden, along with other members of the committee, have spent nearly a year coming up with plans for the proposed park. The land adjacent to it would have been designated as conservation land.
“Needless to say, I’m disappointed,” Selectman Thomas Kehoe said. “I thought we put together a good plan. It kind of became a question of present expenses versus future expenses.”
Selectmen Chairman Paul Barclay, who had previously expressed concern for the town’s fiscal health if the project were to go forward, said he did not give a personal response to the results.
“I would be happy with either result,” he said. “We decided long ago that this would be in the hands of voters.”
Voters did agree to increase the town’s Community Preservation Act surcharge from 1.5 to 3 percent, approving that change on a vote of 676-662, with a simple majority ruling giving a green light for the increase.
The funds raised by that increase were aimed, in large part, at helping to fund the proposed park. What will be done with the extra money is unclear at the moment.
Voters, on a count of 1,137 to 183, also approved allowing the town to spend $2.190 million on water and wastewater system upgrades and approved exceeding the tax levy limits of Proposition 21/2 to cover the cost through a debt-exclusion override by a vote of 1,031 to 269.
Such an override raises the tax rate above the Proposition 21/2 levy limit on a one-time basis but would not raise the tax base for future years, as a traditional override would.
“I’m very glad that (Question) 3 passed,” Barclay said, referring to the upgrades.
The election drew 1,353 voters overall, roughly 36 percent of the town’s 3,874 voters.
All officials running for re-election in uncontested races received new terms. Those included:
Barclay and Margaret Driscoll, each handed new three-year terms on the town’s top board.
Loren Coons and Andrea Fish, each re-elected to new three-year terms on the Planning Board.
Caroline Weld, re-elected to the School Committee for another three years.
Library Trustee Alida Bryant, re-elected for three years.
Moderator Alan Wilson, re-elected for another year at his post.
Editorial: Donovan Site A Good Deal For All
The idea of a town spending up to $5 million to develop a set of community athletic fields might, to some Manchester residents, seem like a hefty price tag.
But the vote by Manchester’s Town Meeting earlier this week to send two proposals tied to the land offer by Manchester Athletic Club owner John Donovan to referendum for the town’s May 20 elections should be considered a first step toward making this project a reality. And the idea of financing the project through an upgraded Community Preservation Act should make the project more than viable.
At the core of the deal are Donovan’s hopes of donating land adjacent to the MAC to the town to develop, with 40 acres to be set aside as conservation land and the other 20 acres to be converted into a full-sized baseball field, a related utility field with turf that could be used for soccer and other events, and a surrounding eight-lane track. All of these facilities that can benefit residents of all ages, and all are facilities the town does not have.
While the land would come free of charge, the facility development would not. Neither would ongoing maintenance of what would then be a town property.
But funding the development through the Community Preservation Act — if residents vote to hike the town’s CPA property-tax surcharge from 1.5 percent to 3 percent – would cover much of the development cost in a manner that parallels Gloucester’s use of CPA dollars for its “new” Newell Stadium. And it would deliver to Manchester residents a recreational and sports facility without having to shell out a dime for most such facilities’ most prohibitive costs — land.
The Donovan land deal is a significant investment for taxpayers – but it is an investment in recreational facilities that can serve residents of all ages for decades to come. And it is a project that will only become far more costly in the future.
It is an opportunity the town cannot afford to pass by.
Donovan Land Deal Tops Manchester Warrant by Arianna MacNeill Staff Writer
MANCHESTER — Residents will gather at Manchester Memorial School Monday night for their Annual Town Meeting — and if selectmen Chairman Paul Barclay’s predictions are correct, they may return Tuesday as well.
This year’s meeting, slated to begin at 7 p.m. Monday, features a number of warrant articles that Barclay feels could take a lot of time to discuss.
One is the Donovan Park proposal and land offer, he said, adding that selectmen may be divided as far as making a recommendation.
The board has yet to give an opinion one way or the other. It is not in the meeting booklet, since board members were not ready to issue one in time before the booklet was printed.
The proposed Donovan Park, which would be adjacent to the Manchester Athletic Club, would include a full-sized baseball diamond plus a multi-use field with synthetic turf that would be surrounded by an eight-lane track.
The 20 acres needed for the fields — plus nearly 40 additional acres to be used as conservation land — is being offered as a donation by MAC owner John Donovan Jr. But the town would be responsible for constructing the fields, coming at a price tag of $5 million.
Of that, according to the current proposal, $4.5 million would be paid for through Community Preservation Act funding by increasing the town’s surcharge from 1.5 to 3 percent. The remaining funds would come through donations, Donovan Park ad-hoc committee co-chairman Greg Blagden has said previously.
Blagden said turnout to the committee’s public forums on the park was high. He added that the town Finance Committee voted unanimously in favor of the project during its meeting on Wednesday.
“That was pretty big,” Blagden said.
However, the selectmen’s vote may not be as clear. Barclay said that while he can’t give a definitive answer, he thinks the vote may go 3-2 in favor.
“Usually we see eye to eye,” he said, adding that there has only been one divided vote during his time on the board. “Chances are it will go in as not unanimous.”
Donovan Park isn’t the only article Barclay thinks will attract discussion.
Meeting attendees will also vote on the fiscal 2015 budget. The $13,192,990 proposed spending plan exceeds the current year’s by nearly $585,000. Projections indicate that town tax rates are expected to increase from $10.45 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $10.82 per $1,000, according to town calculations.
Over the current year, the proposed budget suggests a 4.6 percent increase in town expenses and a 3.9 percent increase in school costs.
The selectmen decided to pass over Article 14, which would allow the town to lease the Powder House Hill land for use for a cellphone tower. Barclay said the resolution came in late — March 3 — and some nearby residents were not in favor of it.
“The neighbors really felt they didn’t have enough time,” he said.
Manchester leaders split over Donovan Land by Arianna MacNeill Staff Writer
MANCHESTER — Images of the fields have been drawn up, and maps for the financing are in place, as well.
Now, it will be up to town residents to decide whether or not the proposed Donovan Park will become a real place, or if it will simply remain an idea drawn up on paper, at least for another year.
Plans for the proposed park, which would include a full-sized baseball diamond and a multi-use field with synthetic turf surrounded by an eight-lane track, are to be presented in multiple articles up for vote during the Town Meeting slated for April 7 at 7 p.m. at Manchester Memorial School.
Both the Board of Selectmen and the town’s Finance Committee remain divided on the issue, mainly for financial reasons, according to Board of Selectmen Chairman Paul Barclay.
Yet, during a recent joint meeting between the selectmen and the Finance Committee, three of five selectmen and four of seven Finance Committee members voted against recommending the project since the costs may not be feasible, according to Barclay.
“It was an informal vote,” he said. “It was to feel the pulse.”
Barclay said the town has some expensive projects on its plate, including upgrading its sewer and water treatment system, and upgrading or replacing Manchester Memorial Elementary School is also being considered.
“We just feel that the money needed for all those projects is going to be overwhelming,” he said.
An ad hoc committee was formed by selectmen early last July to consider options for the approximately 20 acres of land for the two playing fields, adjacent to Manchester Athletic Club, which are being offered by donation by MAC’s owner, John Donovan Jr.
The only provisions Donovan is seeking is that the project be executed in a timely fashion, that the fields be used for athletics and recreation by Manchester residents, and that Donovan is allowed to choose the name for the fields.
Donovan subsequently offered more than 40 acres to be used as conservation land, complete with recreational trails for activities including walking, cross country skiing, biking and hiking, according to documents provided by the committee.
Although the land is being donated, development of the fields and other aspects of the project come with a price tag of $5 million, says committee co-chairman Greg Blagden, with ongoing costs for the maintenance and upkeep of what would then be town property.
According to the committee’s calculations, the town could use a 15-year bond to cover $4.5 million of the project with an annual payment of $390,000. This would be paid for through the town’s Community Preservation Act funding if residents vote at both Town Meeting and on May’s ballot to increase the town’s surcharge from 1.5 percent to the state maximum 3 percent.
Given that the median Manchester home is worth $665,000, according to the committee, Jack Burke, the committee’s other co-chairman, said the owner of a home valued at this amount would pay an extra $88.56 per year.
The additional $500,000 is needed to cover the field with artificial turf, which Blagden said is out of the scope of what CPA money can be used to fund; the committee plans to have this paid through private donations, Blagden said.
Blagden said that the sports fields used by various athletic organizations in the town are in high demand and that some teams are forced outside town lines to practice or play.
The town has four fields, including 4-year-old Hyland Field, which is at Manchester Essex Regional High School and is owned by the school district. But none of the town’s current facilities include a full-size baseball diamond; the Manchester Essex baseball team practices and plays at Memorial Field in Essex.
Barclay noted that the town will need about $20,000 annually to maintain the fields and proposed parking lot for 100 cars. He added that the town will also lose between $20,000 and $40,000 from its tax base when the fields are constructed.
Another cost is replacing the synthetic turf, which wears out every 15 years, Barclay said. He said the town would need to bank around $25,000 a year to have the estimated $450,000 to replace the turf.
“This is what you have to do. You have to look at every aspect of this plan to see where we’re going,” he said. “I’ve met with Mr. Donovan, and I understand what the plan involves, but at the end of the day, it might be too expensive to develop this land.”
Donovan Park – New Conservation & Recreation Opportunity for Manchester Submitted by Donovan Land Ad-hoc Committee
The Town of Manchester has the opportunity for a new 60 acre Park to benefit all citizens. Last week John Donovan Jr., owner of the Manchester Athletic Club, offered to donate 40 additional acres of conservation restricted land to the Town of Manchester. This new offering is in addition to his standing 18 acre offer of last summer for the purpose of developing much needed playing fields for town use. Both pieces of land are part of the same parcel located off Atwater Avenue.
The conservation restricted 40 acres could be used by town residents for recreational purposes such as hiking, biking, cross country skiing, and dog walking. As this land abuts the Agassiz Rock Reservation that is owned and maintained by The Trustees of Reservations, it provides a unique opportunity to preserve more of the important ecological habitat located north of Route 128. Helen Bethell, of the Manchester Essex Conservation Trust, said that, “The Town’s Open Space Plan first identified the woodlands north of the “playing fields” as worthy of preservation in the 1980s. Two reasons: They are in the watershed for the Town’s Lincoln Street well, and in times of low rainfall, contribute to the aquifer from which the well draws. Secondly, they are part of the large Manchester-Essex Woods, an area identified by the state’s Natural Heritage Program as especially worth of protection for wildlife habitat. MECT has been working for more than fifty years to protect these woods in their entirety.”
The total proposed gift to the town is approximately 60 acres and a vote to accept this gift will be taken at Town Meeting on April 7th by Manchester residents. Voting to accept the 60 acre gift will indicate support for the Town to pay for and develop approximately 18 acres of the land as playing fields. The athletic field portion of Donovan Park will include a multipurpose playing field surrounded by an eight lane 400 meter track and a full sized baseball field.
Please come to learn more about this exciting project by attending one of our two informational meetings this month. The first meeting is at the Town Hall on Thursday, March 20th from 7:00-8:30 PM. The second is Saturday, March 29th at the American Legion Hall from 9:00-10:30 AM located at 14 Church Street behind Town Hall. These meetings will have representatives from the Donovan Land Ad-hoc Committee, the Community Preservation Committee and others to help answer any questions that voters may have prior to Town Meeting on April 7th.
MAC Land Offer On Track For Town Meeting by James Niedzinski Staff Writer
MANCHESTER — Manchester residents may see a new track, multi-use field and baseball diamond behind Manchester Athletic Club on Atwater Avenue if all goes according to town officials’ plan and voters give their approval at April’s Town Meeting.
Town officials say a warrant article is on track for the Annual Town Meeting to accept the land and move forward with developing the property.
John Donovan Jr., owner of MAC, offered the land to the town last summer after being diagnosed with adrenal cancer. Members of the Donovan Field Ad-Hoc Committee said the town considered buying some of the 72-acre parcel, but Donovan has since offered about 10 acres to the town.
The only stipulations Donovan requested is that he has the right to name the complex, that the land be used for playing fields, and that the town act in a timely fashion.
The cost of actually building the fields and related facilities is estimated at upward of $4 million, according to Town Administrator Greg Federspiel.
“Right now, we don’t have a firm price,” he said.
The cost could come from town money, Community Preservation Act dollars and private donations, he added.
As for actually getting to the land and making it field-worthy, that’s another game all together.
The town could either buy a passage to the land or enter into a long-term lease to access the future fields, according to Jack Burke, a member of the CPC and ad-hoc committee.
”At this point, a final decision hasn’t been made,” he said about access.
Burke said a lease to get onto the MAC land might be easier, considering that town bylaws that dictate frontage and setbacks are more lenient with leased property.
The land-shaping process, which would involve rock crushing and rock removal, adds significantly to the overall cost, Burke said.
”A big chunk of that, over a million dollars, is ground preparation,” he said, adding the possibility of state grants.
The fields might be built in phases. For example, the multi-use field and six-lane running track could be built first and the baseball diamond when more money comes in.
The ad-hoc committee meets tonight at 7 in Town Hall, Room 5, to discuss further the project.
Accepting the land at town meeting would need a two-thirds vote.
”We want to make sure we can present a package to the town in April that is feasible, acceptable and viable,” Burke said.
The field offer isn’t Donovan’s first encounter with Town Hall. He once proposed to have a windmill in back of MAC, but he found the windmill bylaw too burdensome for the project.
The entrepreneur was concerned that town bylaws would be too restrictive to accept the land, as well.
But the town created the committee soon after the offer was made and tapped BSC Group of Boston to take a look at the land.
Land Gift on Track for April Town Meeting Vote Submitted by Donovan Land Ad-hoc Committee
Last summer John Donovan Jr., owner of the Manchester Athletic Club, very generously offered to donate land located off Atwater Avenue to the Town of Manchester-by-the-Sea. The only stipulation was that it be developed as athletic field space for the benefit and enjoyment of Manchester’s residents, particularly our youth.
Upon receiving the offer, the Manchester Board of Selectmen formed the Donovan Land Committee. Its mission is to develop a proposal for Town Meeting in April, 2014 asking the voters to accept the donation of land and to develop the land in the manner and spirit requested by Mr. Donovan.
The Donovan Land Committee includes 11 members: two Manchester Selectmen, a Planning Board representative, a member of the Parks & Recreation Commission, one member of the Finance Committee, two members of the Playing Fields Committee, a Community Preservation representative and three community members. The Director of Parks & Recreation and the Town Administrator are on the committee as advisors. The Committee’s first order of business was to have a letter of intent sent from Mr. Donovan that outlined the terms of the offer to the Town. The letter was drawn up quickly by Mr. Donovan and approved by the Board of Selectmen.
The committee initially reviewed Mr. Donovan’s proposal and began researching the amount of space that would be needed to meet needs previously identified for a baseball field and an all purpose field surrounded by a running track. The committee, with funding from the Community Preservation Committee approved at the 2013 Town Meeting, hired the BSC Group to prepare initial design concepts of the fields, road access and related parking that complied with the Town’s bylaws.
The committee reviewed options with the BSC Group for a layout that would best fit within the space being offered and to ensure the project would be most efficient. The committee has reviewed an initial budget for the proposed fields and will continue to make modifications as the design is improved and cost implications are considered.
In 2010, the Manchester-Essex Playing Fields Committee completed an exhaustive analysis of current field usage and future needs within the community. Out of that investigation it was determined that there was a vital need for additional field space.
Despite having two artificial turf fields and one natural turf field, the diverse and growing needs of both the existing programs and the programs that serve the Town’s children but presently operate outside of Manchester still outpace our current field resources dramatically.
At that time the Town knew it would want additional land to fulfill these needs and the report presented to the BOS by the Manchester Essex Playing Fields Committee identified the Donovan property as the best location for those fields. Over the last few years the Town has reviewed the feasibility of buying land at the Donovan property thus making this land donation even more meaningful and welcome.
With limited available open space in Town, this gift from John Donovan Jr. is a unique and rare opportunity. Only Town Meeting can accept this gift of land and the committee is working hard to insure all of the proper steps are taken on behalf of the Town to accept this gift and to develop the fields as part of the understanding within the donation.
The committee will provide another update in January on the status of the land gift and hold public meetings prior to Town Meeting to answer any questions on the project.
Town Steering MAC Land Offer Forward by James Niedzinski Staff Writer
MANCHESTER — The land offer from John Donovan, owner of the Manchester Athletic Club, is still proceeding, but more land is on the table, and the deal may not be complete until next year, town officials now say.
Since being diagnosed with adrenal cancer, entrepreneur John Donovan, who owns the Manchester Athletic Club and was named the town’s 2013 Businessman of the Year by the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, initially offered up a 10-acre section of land behind MAC on Atwater Avenue.
But the town may need more to effectively carry out any plans, according to Jack Burke, a member of the Donovan Land Ad Hoc Committee and the Community Preservation Committee. The committee is also composed of residents, a member of the finance committee, and representatives of the Board of Selectmen, the Planning Board, the Playing Fields Committee and the Parks and Recreation Committee. It has been meeting about twice a month for the past three months.
Donovan has offered up the land from his 72-acre parcel to be used as playing fields — the only stipulations being that Donovan has a right to name the fields, and the town must act in a timely manner to accept the deal, with the selectmen acting as a bridge between Donovan and the town.
The town, in turn, would take on the cost of actually building a multi-use field, running track and baseball diamond.
“The biggest factors we see are the considerable amount of rock and ledge up there,” Burke said. “The geography of the land is difficult, but it can be done.”
Burke said any deal could come before voters in April of next year at the Annual Town Meeting.
The Board of Selectmen signed off to have the BSC Group of Boston determine where the fields could go, with the consultant’s work capped at $35,000, according to Board of Selectmen meeting minutes.
The only member to oppose that consultant’s hiring was Selectman Robert Hoff. Hoff said he wanted more transparency in selecting a consultant for the site and wanted to see the job up for a bid.
“I believe when spending Manchester taxpayers’ money, we need to be assured we are receiving the greatest value at the best possible price,” he wrote in an email to the Times.
Burke said the town could get a better feel of what preparation costs could be after BSC comes back with its findings; he also noted the engineering firm has experience with that particular tract of land.
If the town should accept the land, where the money should come from to build the fields remains to be see, Burke said. The ad hoc committee is set to meet with the Planning Board Nov. 18.
While Burke said the group has not hit any roadblocks, Donovan has concerns the deal will get tied up for too long or fall through all together.
“I think they are doing their best and doing a good job,” Donovan said of the ad hoc committee. “Town zoning bylaws are difficult.”
But he said the town’s bylaws are antiquated and poorly written.
“I am concerned — as absurd as it sounds — that the bylaws are so restrictive you cannot make a gift of land,” he said.
This is not Donovan’s first time going before Manchester town officials. He once wanted to build one or more wind turbines on his land, but the town did not have a bylaw in place to properly zone for a turbine or windmill. The Planning Board ultimately crafted a bylaw that was too restrictive and burdensome, Donovan said.
“The economics of wind turbines are such you want them to be used on site, and you can’t give up 20 acres of land for a single turbine,” he said. “They might as well have written the words ‘no turbines allowed.’”
While Donovan also suggested a review of the town’s bylaws, Rebecca Jaques, who co-chairs the Planning Board, also wrote a letter on behalf of the town body asking the building inspector to address issues or problems with the land behind MAC earlier this year.
Donovan said the restrictive bylaws are preventing any significant development in Manchester.
“No one wants to see character change to ruin,” Donovan said, “but you also don’t want to preclude additions.”
Manchester Wrestles With 10-Acre Land Gift by James Niedzinski Staff Writer
MANCHESTER — For years, land purchase and use negotiations have ebbed and flowed between the town and the owner of the Manchester Athletic Club.
Now, residents may be a step closer to someday playing ball on the parcel off Atwater Avenue.
John Donovan, owner of the Manchester Athletic Club, says he has now decided to give about 10 acres of land to the town to be used for playing fields, including a baseball diamond, multipurpose field and surrounding track.
Donovan, who left the tech industry to take over the club, was recently awarded the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce award for small business owner of the year for the town of Manchester. However, he’s also been diagnosed with adrenal cancer, which he described as “aggressive and unforgiving;” he recently had invasive surgery, and the bad news plays some part in his offer to the town, he said.
”You realize you might not have a lot of time to make the impact you’d like to make,” he said. “(Health issues) helped crystallize this and bring it to the forefront of my mind.”
A proponent of physical fitness, Donovan purchased the club in 2002, he said it serves an important place in town, it helped him better connect with the community.
“There are way better investments than an athletic club,” he joked. “You have to get a reward from it another way.”
The deal would come with a handful of stipulations.
The town would have to act in a timely manner to start progress on the playing fields if the land is accepted, Donovan said. He said the time frame is still to be determined, but estimated the town would have to act within 12 to 18 months of accepting the land.
In addition, Donovan would have the right to name the fields and the Board of Selectmen would help act as the bridge between the land and town; he made his initial presentation to the board last week.
“The goal is to try to help the community, a place that has been meaningful to me,” he said. “And in ensure it gets done.”
Town officials are glad the deal is finally moving forward.
”We’ve been working on this for years,” Community Preservation Committee Chairman Charles Kelly said.
Kelly said the gift was generous, but the committee needs to hear all the options and opinions at their next meeting.
The town would be responsible for the cost of building the fields and some steps — such as accepting the land and allocating money to build on it — would have to be approved at town meeting.
“We’re a long way from the town deciding we can handle it,” Kelly said.
The CPC is set to deliver a presentation on the land to the Planning Board tonight at 7 at Town Hall.
Donovan and others say they have recognized the shortage of real estate that could be used for a baseball diamond, track, or multipurpose field.
Greg Blagden, one of the chairs for the Manchester Essex Playing Fields Committee, said the committee came back with a survey about three years ago that pointed to Donovan’s property as the ideal spot for fields. But, there was never a cost assessment to see how much building on the plot of land would cost.
”It’s an incredibly generous offer on John’s part,” Blagden said.
While his generosity is recognized by officials, he cited a recent letter from the Planning Board which brought up questions and concerns about equipment and material being stored on the land.
Donovan said those were used to help get the land level, as he anticipated the fields being built on the land years ago.
The entire 72-acre parcel was once put up for sale at more than $5 million, when there was talk of commercial development and affordable housing units on the property.
Donavan described the business atmosphere in Manchester as “less than friendly.”
Years ago, he had planned to have a windmill in back of the athletic club. He had came to town officials with an outline of what he had hoped a windmill zoning bylaw might look like, since at the time there was no regulation for a windmill or turbine.
However, the town developed a bylaw that was ultimately too burdensome for the project and would not have made the windmill viable.
“Town Hall has been extremely difficult to deal with,” he said. “It’s challenging to do business in Manchester, it’s frustrating.”
Nevertheless, he remains hopeful the town will accept the gift and said he reminded himself the land is for the whole community.
“It’s been a pleasure to be in Manchester,” he said.