UPDATED: Updated at 11:15 p.m. to fix an error, which is noted in an editor’s note below. Source also added a quote from City Councilor Adam Steiner. Last updated at 2:28 p.m. on Friday with a quote from Mayor Yvonne Spicer.
FRAMINGHAM – The owner of Eastleigh Farm, one of the largest undeveloped parcels of land in the City of Framingham, announced yesterday he has received three offers for development of the farm.
“I don’t want to develop the farm,” said Doug Stephan, while on a plane this afternoon. “But I have to do something to accommodate the debt holder.”
Stephan told members of the City Council Wednesday evening, Feb. 21, they have 180 days to fix the City’s Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) and find a way to use the TDR to save the farm from development.
TDR is a voluntary, incentive-based program that allows land owners to sell development rights from their land to a developer, who then can use these rights to increase the density of development at another designated location.
Framingham Town Meeting has supported TDR to save open space, and to allow increased density in development, for example, in downtown Framingham.
“Doug did tell the subcommittee he has been forced to entertain offers to sell the farm for development,” said City Council Planning & Zoning Subcommittee Chair Charlie Sisitsky.
Stephan spoke to Source today in between attending a funeral and boarding an airplane. He did not provide details on any of the trio of offers.
However, Source has learned that Stephan is interested in purchasing property on Angelica Drive, which would provide another access to the farm property, if the site is ever developed.
“Eastleigh is a valuable asset,” said District 6 City Councilor Mike Rossi, who is a member of the 3-member City Council subcommittee on planning & zoning. “I really don’t want to see 50 house lots developed there. Doug has these proposals, and he needs to do what is right for him, but we need to do what we can to protect open space in the City.”
“It is critical and important that Eastleigh be saved,” said City Councilor George King, who serves on the planning & zoning subcommittee.
“Eastleigh Farm is one of the true gems of Framingham – and of District 3. It is a community asset that brings Framingham families together and it is a truly unique asset of our city. I am encouraged by the Planning Board’s efforts to make the TDR more successful and I am hopeful that the TDR can be part of a solution that preserves Eastleigh Farm for generations to come,” said City Councilor Adam Steiner, who represents District 3.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article, reported that the farm was located in District 1, which is incorrect. The farm is 100% in District 3.
“Eastleigh is a major piece of property in this city. I would not like to see it developed,” said Rossi. “I like to find some way it would not happen. The clock is running. The city passed on Millwood, which I think was much more reasonably affordable that Eastleigh. Eastleigh is way too expensive for what we (the city) can afford.”
“I was disappointed, we didn’t buy Millwood,” said King. “We need to do everything we can to preserve the open space at Eastleigh.”
Sisitsky said Stephan said his attorney will be sending a letter to the City outlining the three offers soon.
“The clock will start ticking, when there is a bona fide offer, with a purchase and sales agreement,” said Sisitsky.
“The overarching goal is to preserve open space,” said Sisitsky. “The tool that we have been working with to preserve open space is the transferable development rights program. We have made significant progress cleaning up the existing bylaw to make it more usable and to end up with something to help the city preserve open space.”
“As it is written now, the TDR is a little bit complicated. Not sure it is a tool that can easily be used,” said Rossi. “It is going through its second modification but my biggest concern is that developers can go to the ZBA (zoning board of appeals) and get the relief they want without the TDR. That needs to be fixed.”
“The problem,” explained Sisitsky “is that even if the TDR and zoning changes pass, there is no guarantee that developers will want to use the TDR to help Eastleigh.”
The Framingham Planning Board is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the city’s latest version of TDR on March 1.
After a vote by the Planning Board, the TDR would move to the City Council, where it would eventually hold a public hearing, and take a vote.
A two-thirds vote is needed to pass any zoning ordinance under the City of Framingham Charter. The ordinance would then go to the Mayor for her signature.
The Mayor can reject the ordinance, but the City Council can override any veto with a vote of nine City Councilors.
“I dont want to develop Eastleigh,” said Stephan. “I am hopeful that the City can work out the latest TDR issues. I was very impressed by the questions from the members of the zoning and planning City Council subcommittee yesterday. They all asked very good questions, and clearly grasped what (Planning Administrator) Amanda (Loomis) is proposing.
King said he is still learning about the TDR, and that the City needs to use the TDR to save open space or “find another way” to preserve Eastleigh.
The Mayor, nor her new senior advisors, did not attend yesterday’s City Council subcommittee meeting. The City of Framingham’s Director of Economic Development did attend the meeting.
Framingham Source reached out to the Mayor for comment. The following was received from her spokesperson after 2 p.m. on Friday.
“Mayor Yvonne M. Spicer is in the process of reviewing transfer of development rights and exploring all of the options for land use and preservation of open space in Framingham,” answered the Mayor’s spokesperson.
From 1981 to 1996, it operated as a beef farm.
In 1986, about 160 acres of the 380-acre site was sold to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Department of Environmental Management.
In 2007, Stephan began reconverting the farm back to dairy production.
In the fall of 2009, the farm began selling raw milk. The farm also sold yogurt, organic eggs, and delicious ice cream.
And then, everything closed in 2015.
In recent years, Stephan has been struggling to find new ways to keep the farm open while maintaining the open land. Avenue C Designs opened last year on the farm, and the farm held several festivals and events in 2017.
The City considers Eastleigh Farm, in the northwest quadrant, as one of the most important open spaces to preserve.
A master plan suggests “preferred protection would be via Conservation Restriction (CR) Acquisition or Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Acquisition, with fee title remaining with farmer.”
However Massachusetts has limited funds for the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Acquisition program “in relation to the high-value land in Framingham, local funds may be needed to augment the state funds in the purchase of the APR.”
Previous discussions between landowner and conservation groups have not yielded a protection deal, and are still unlikely.
The City’s plan suggested TDR may be one option in preserving open space at Eastleigh.