Prop 2 1/2 vote could give Richmond camp purchase a second chance

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RICHMOND >> A plan to purchase a former girl scout camp for use as public recreation space could get a second chance.

The proposal to purchase Camp Marion White was shot down by voters at town meeting earlier this week, but a vote still will be held on Saturday on whether to exempt from Proposition 2 1/2 any funds spent on the parcel if it is approved by town meeting at a later date.

Polls will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

If the exemption measure is approved by a simple majority, Town Administrator Matthew Kerwood said, a working group comprised of town officials, members of Richmond Pond Association, interested citizens and others will go back to the drawing board to craft another proposal that will be more palatable to opponents of the project.

The group could request less money or pursue a longer pay-back period, Kerwood said. The Select Board then would have 90 days in which to get the required approval — a two-thirds majority — at town meeting.

At a packed town meeting on Wednesday, residents voted 163-130 to reject a $1.5 million plan to purchase and revitalize the 50 acre parcel Camp Marion White. Town officials say state law demands they follow through with a previously scheduled townwide special election, which asks voters to exempt the spending from the tax levy limits of Proposition 2½.

"It was always a two-part process, and [Saturday's special election] is fulfilling that process," Kerwood said.

But opponents of the project said the election is "a farce," and it represents an "end around" play to keep alive a project residents already voted to scrap.

"There should not be a vote [Saturday]," said Harry Vincent, a retired businessman, resident and outspoken critic of the proposal to purchase the camp. "[Town officials] want to get a second bite of the apple."

Vincent said he even raised the specter of seeking a court injunction to prevent the vote, but ultimately decided time was too short.

His attorney, Ralph Cianflone Jr., said he believes a judge would have granted the injunction.

"I'm of the opinion that [Wednesday's vote] was the whole ball of wax," Cianflone said Friday. "If you don't get the vote to buy the camp, can you then go forward and seek the funding to buy the camp? It doesn't make sense to me."

Camp Marion White became available about a year ago, when the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts decided to divest itself of several properties no longer used or in declining usage in recent years.

The proposal called for the town to purchase the dormant campsite for $1.375 million. Officials asked voters for an additional $125,000 to upgrade key buildings, do trail work and raze unwanted structures, creating a multi-purpose outdoor recreational facility open to all — not just Richmond residents.

Advocates sent letters of support to resident's homes appealing to them to keep the camp a town asset and out of private hands.

"We view this as a once in a lifetime opportunity to protect and preserve that property while opening it up for public access and use," Kerwood said. "It's a good idea for the long-term future of the community. [The Girl Scouts] have made the decision to sell it. It's just a question of when and to whom."

At Wednesday's meeting, town officials said the property was appraised and valued very near the asking price.

But Vincent said the asking price was way too high and he noted that a developer friend told him it should sell for more like $500,000.

"It's swampland," he said.

Critics have argued the funds would be better invested elsewhere in Richmond — like the library or Town Hall, among other places.

Kerwood said his recent budgets have put more money back into town buildings than any others in recent history, and maintains the property would prove a valuable town asset.

Vincent said he'd prefer a private interest purchase and developed it to generate tax revenue for the town.

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.


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