NAHANT — Residents voted 182 -76 to authorize the town to borrow $1 million for the demolition of 9 of the 12 houses in the Coast Guard housing neighborhood lining Castle Road and Goddard Drive at a Special Town Meeting Tuesday night.
Since Town Meeting first approved demolition of the town-owned properties in 2021 at a $300,000 budget, the town vacated nine out of the 12 properties.
After putting the project out for bid, the lowest bidder, American Environmental Inc., offered to undertake the demolition and hazardous-material removal of the nine currently-vacant units for $669,000.
Barletta listed rising inflation and unforeseen costs associated with clearing large subterranean oil tanks as reasons for the jump in cost. The $1 million estimate, he said, was based on an estimated cost of $70,000 to clear each house.
“We were wrong about what we estimated (in 2021),” Barletta said at last week’s Board of Selectmen meeting. “You probably don’t hear that often from the government, but it was a bad estimate in the sense that we couldn’t account for those market changes and because those units had not been vacated at the time, we weren’t able to do the level of building materials assessment that we were able to accomplish earlier this year.”
Nahant purchased the Coast Guard housing land from the federal government in 2004. The town still owes $1.8 million, which is due by January, 2025, on a loan used to purchase the property, and plans to pay off the loan by selling the property.
With the ability to fund the houses’ demolitions, Advisory and Finance Committee member Daniel McMackin said the town would be able to demolish and sell the standing properties and pay its loan on time without having to raise taxes.
McMackin added that passage of the borrowing article will create an avenue to grow tax revenue that he said is drastically needed for basic public services.
“There will be no impact to our taxes,” McMackin said. “Of all the options — and believe me, we considered every option — we determined that the option in front of you was the best choice for Nahant. … This gives us the swiftest avenue to getting those lots back onto the tax rolls. Nahant is the smallest town in the Commonwealth. We are constantly under pressure for public services — police, fire, roads, schools — we can’t even have our own middle school. Our ability to function as a town, because we are on the low end of the economies of scale of operating a town, make it a wonderful thing to be returning these lots to the tax rolls.”
During public comment, Pearl Road resident Beatrice Rogers approached the microphone to ask Barletta if the funds could be used for other purposes besides the demolition and remediation of the properties, listing affordable housing as a potential option.
Barletta responded that before Nahant could consider alternative uses for the land, it must pay back its $1.8 million federal loan.
“That’s something that the town would need a Town Meeting article to revisit. The way I look at this, we have $1.8 million that we have to pay off first. To put it simply, you have to pay your mortgage before you can buy a toy. Once we sell enough lots to pay off $1.8 million, you have the opportunity as a community to get back together and talk about the remaining lots,” Barletta said.
After roughly 20 minutes of public comment, Jennifer McCarthy motioned to call the question, cutting debate to go directly to a vote. By a verbal vote, the motion to cut debate passed and the article was voted in by a 71 percent majority.
Barletta said the town’s current bidder American Environmental would likely be able to remove all the properties’ underground oil tanks and complete the demolition within the course of a few months, starting in October.
“There’s an unknown of underground soil conditions that could change that timeframe, but more or less, they think they could have the nine properties done in about two months. And as soon as that’s done, we start getting into the process of procuring the property once it’s prepared,” Barletta said. “Certainly, we’re trying to at least sell enough as fast as possible.”