HARVARD — The plan to convert Shaker Hills Golf Club into 140 units of housing has been roundly criticized since it was announced last September.
Now it appears the town could block the project — provided it’s willing to pay.
The issue centers on agricultural tax breaks the golf club has been receiving for years. The tax breaks are allowed under Chapter 61A of Massachusetts General Law and give the town the right of first refusal to purchase the land if the owner attempts to change its use, said town administrator Timothy Bragan.
“It gives them a tax break, and in return there’s a lien on the property, and we have the right of refusal,” he said.
But Bragan cautioned there’s a number of procedural hoops — such as outside appraisals from both parties — that would be attached to any attempt to purchase the 160-acre golf course.
“I don’t think it would be cheap, and I don’t think the process for buying it would be simple,” he said.
A call to Shaker Hills requesting comment wasn’t returned by press time.
Development plans for Shaker Hills are currently in the pre-permitting stage. The project has been envisioned as a Chapter 40B development, which allows the developer to circumvent bylaws in communities with less than 10 percent affordable housing, provided the development offers at least 25 percent of its units as affordable.
In this case, the elimination of local lot-size requirements would allow almost twice as many housing units on the property as usual.
The town’s right of first refusal is slowing the Chapter 40B paperwork as well, said Bragan.
Permitting for Chapter 40B developments typically begins with a site-eligibility determination from the state office of housing and community development. While such applications are typically processed in six months or less, paperwork for this project was filed last September, and a decision isn’t expected any time soon.
Having spoken with state officials on the topic, Bragan termed the town’s lien — and the questions it raises about the applicant’s control of the property — as central to the delay.
The state is in a quandary about whether it should grant the application before the town has acted, he said, and there hasn’t been an indication of how the state will rule.
“It’s too early to tell until they come out with a decision,” he said. “Once they do that, we can respond accordingly.”
A call to the office of housing and community development seeking comment wasn’t returned.
On a local level, plans to develop the golf course have come under fire from neighbors in the historic Shaker Village and those who are concerned about a large influx of new families and children into the Harvard schools.
To help reach common ground with the developer, the Board of Selectmen has appointed an ad-hoc group to negotiate on the project, but that group has been on hiatus awaiting the state’s determination of eligibility, said group Chairman Keith Cheveralls.
He termed the state’s delay over the issue of control a new development and declined to comment until the group addresses it.
“This is a new development, and it hasn’t been discussed by the ad-hoc committee,” he said. “Clearly we’re going to have to get together to discuss this.”
The town’s right of first refusal has been discussed on several occasions by the group, said Cheveralls. The group hasn’t made a recommendation on whether to buy yet, he said, but there’s been strong support for the town getting an accurate valuation of the property as soon as possible.
This most recent development could add more impetus behind that, said Cheveralls.
“It’s a fascinating twist,” he said.