A Whalom's tale — Eminent domain not the answer: Fitchburg (MA) Sentinel & Enterprise, 6/7/06

[Fitchburg] Selectman Steven deBettencourt surprised selectmen and residents earlier this week with a proposal to take the former Whalom Amusement Park site by eminent domain and create a development to residents' liking there.

Global Property Developers Inc. has proposed a 240-unit condominium project for the site.

"We've seen the plans, it's not how we want to go," deBettencourt said. "We'll put together a project and sell it back to a developer."

Selectmen approved putting the proposal on the June 27 special town meeting warrant by a 3-2 vote.

Board of Selectmen members Dan Cronin and Paula Bertram, along with deBettencourt, voted in favor. Chairman Robert Bowen and Selectman Tom Alonzo voted against the proposal.

"The timing is right," deBettencourt said. "I haven't seen anybody put their neck on the line lately."

Unfortunately for town residents, deBettencourt's proposal to take the 31-acre property by eminent domain is putting more than just his neck on the line, it's putting the future of the area on the line as well.

The former amusement park has sat abandoned and neglected for years.

It is an eyesore, health threat and public safety threat that diminishes the value of all the properties around it.

We don't agree with all of the components of the plan by developers to put upscale condominiums and townhouses on the site — in particular we think there should be a significant amount of affordable units included for local residents — but trying to take the land by eminent domain makes no sense at all.

Town officials should be working with developers to get the kind of plan they want, not launching some farfetched proposal to take the land by eminent domain, which will inevitably end in failure, after years of legal battling.

Any attempt to take the land by eminent domain will no doubt lead to a years-long legal battle over what the fair market value of the property is.

Considering how much land we're talking about, its location — just over the line from North Leominster in Lunenburg — and its proximity to Lake Whalom, the town is looking at a huge pricetag to compensate the owners.

Would $20 million really be an unreasonable amount for the owners to expect?

And considering voters won't even pay for small increases in the town's operational budget, do you think they would be willing to kick in millions of dollars to buy a vacant, burned-out amusement park?

We don't think so.

Then there's the question of what to build there instead of a housing development.

There's a lot of nostalgia surrounding Whalom Park, and many people would no doubt like to see the amusement park rebuilt and reopened.

That will never happen.

And no company is going to come in and put a major business at the site, which is located up Route 13 and several miles from Route 2.

There's basically two options for the park: It can become a housing development, or it can sit there unused, looking more run-down every day.

Sadly, no one is going to bring back the old days.

It's time to move on.

Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise: http://www.sentinelandenterprise.com