2006 - 2011
November 2006: Voters Approve Case Estates Purchase
At the Special Town Meeting on November 8, 2006 voters unanimously approved the purchase of the 62.5-acre Case Estates from Harvard University for $22,500,000, matching an offer that Harvard had received from a residential developer. The Case Estates Review Committee had recommended acquiring the property to take control and to preserve as open space approximately 30.1 acres of this property, that being a large swath of the land which was dubbed the “Hillcrest Corridor.”
The allocation of the purchase price to this Hillcrest Corridor is $8,645,000, based on an independent appraisal done in 2006. The remainder of the purchase price was allocated to the other parcels comprising the Case Estates, including land reserved for potential future municipal use and 10 lots that could be sold for residences if funds were not raised privately to preserve these lots as open space.
Case Estates Review Committee (2006) and the Case Estates Building Advisory Committee (2008) final reports are available in the archive center.
2006 - 2010: Hybrid Remediation
The 2006 acquisition of the Case Estates from Harvard was stalled by the discovery of residual pesticide contamination affecting about 15 acres of the land. The level of contamination required Harvard to notify the state. The Board of Selectmen agreed to acquire the property only after Harvard had completed the Massachusetts Contingency Plan (MCP) of this contamination in accordance with the regulations established by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. The Selectmen insisted that Harvard follow a cleanup plan that allowed for unrestricted future use of the property. Such a plan would require the complete removal and replacement of the contaminated soil. This approach would result in loss of some areas of mature vegetation, but all of the affected areas would be replanted by Harvard as part of its agreement with the Town.
In response to concerns from many residents who had been following the process, Harvard formulated and offered the Town an alternative cleanup plan that would preserve three areas comprising a total of approximately seven (7) acres where, if left under the full cleanup plan, mature vegetation would’ve been lost. The alternative mitigation plan, which was compliant with the MCP, involved a less intrusive approach in these three areas but it also required that the future use of those seven (7) acres be restricted to passive recreational uses (Activity and Use Limitations – AUL - are legal restrictions used in the context of the MCP to limit future exposure to contaminants remaining in soil at a disposal site). Harvard would retain ownership of the three restricted-use parcels created by this approach, but Weston would hold a preservation restriction on that land, easements to permit public access, and an option to acquire the parcels in the future for $1.00 each. This approach also would have resulted in a lower cleanup cost and a lower purchase price. Harvard proposed the $3,000,000 reduction in Weston’s purchase price to $19,500,000 if the hybrid remediation plan was approved, which it was at the 2010 Annual Town Meeting, under Article 30.
June 2010 - September 2011
Further soil testing conducted between June 2010 and June 2011 revealed additional lead and arsenic contamination pockets. Harvard determined that the remediation of these areas to allow unrestricted future use was untenable. By September 2011, the Board of Selectmen discussed opening discussions with Harvard to see if some modifications to the hybrid plan would be agreeable to both parties. A meeting with Harvard to discuss possible modifications did not occur until May 2012.
2012 - 2013
The Board of Selectmen had been negotiating with Harvard University with regard to the purchase of the Case Estates and presented an update at the February 4, 2013 meeting. The presentation (updated with financial information) and correspondence between the selectmen and Harvard can be found in the documents below. Another update which includes the MassDEP process, the purchase contract and the taking of Parcel 8 was added in June 2013.
On December 4, 2013, Weston acquired Parcel 8 by eminent domain and Harvard has 2 years to appeal. This parcel will be used to construct a new parking lot as part of the Case Campus master plan. The February 10, 2014 presentation contains additional information and updates, including a status of expenditures to date.
Hybrid Remediation Plan Modifications
Since the discovery of more soil contamination on the Case property in 2011, the Selectmen and Harvard had been in talks to modify the hybrid remediation plan. Harvard University offered to sell the Case Estates “as is” with approximately 48 acres restricted to passive recreational use and approximately 14 acres unrestricted in use for a sales price of $14 million; a price determined by a Harvard appraiser.
The Board of Selectmen rejected the proposal due to the potential risk and liabilities associated with a mitigation plan that was not approved by MassDEP, reviewed by the Town’s LSP, or vetted by the public. The selectmen also objected to the sales price, as it was not backed by comparable land sales or details about Harvard’s estimation of remaining clean-up costs.
In response Harvard declared that it considered the signed contract to be null and void and on October 10, 2013, Harvard filed an amended mitigation plan with the state. The revised mitigation plan imposed an activity and use limitation on over 50 acres of the land limiting use to passive recreation activities. Harvard, or a subsequent owner, has the right to remove this use limitation if a new cleanup plan is accepted by the state, so Weston has no assurance that this land will not be developed at a future time.
Further background information as well as information from presentations at various meetings; issues raised by participants; and relevant correspondence from Green Seal Environmental, the Town's Licensed Site Professional (LSP), to Haley & Aldrich, Harvard's LSP, is available in the archive center.
2014 - 2016
In a final attempt to avoid legal action to enforce the contract, Weston proposed a mediation alternative that would establish a fair value for the land. When Harvard responded that it could not respond to this proposal in a timely fashion, the Board of Selectmen acted on March 26, 2014 to implement Town Meeting votes, protect the Case Estates from future development, and enforce an executed contract. As a courtesy Weston shared their formal complaint with Harvard prior to its filing with Superior Court on March 31, 2014. More detailed information can be found in the archive center.
On May 4, 2015, Harvard and Weston settled on an agreement on the purchase of the Case Estates. The settlement plan was similar to the hybrid plan that was approved by Town Meeting in 2010, noting that Weston is to acquire the entire property, including the land with site activity and use limitations, for the reduced price of $13,740,000, which is a $5,760,000 reduction. As part of the agreement, Harvard committed to an environmental remediation program, which complies with MassDEP's requirements. Once the remediation work was completed, the purchase of the land would move forward. Details of the settlement plan was presented on May 26, 2015 and can be found in the archive center.
Clean up of various parcels of the land began in the summer of 2015 and finished by early 2016. Upon final approval by the MassDEP, the closing of the purchase would occur.