The future of the Stoneham Oaks Golf Course is a subject of renewed discussion in town, as officials weigh whether the property might be put to better use.
The Board of Selectmen recently gave Town Administrator David Ragucci approval to spend up to $10,000 on an appraisal of the approximately 13-acre Montvale Avenue property, one of Stoneham’s two municipal golf courses.
The money would also be used to appraise town-owned open land off Brookbridge Road that the town is eyeing as possible replacement recreational land if the golf course is developed, according to Ragucci, who requested the board’s action.
Officials say the appraisals are a first step toward evaluating a potential reuse of the nine-hole, par 3 golf course, which they say has not been faring well financially.
“Golf has been on a downward trend over the past three to five years. Unfortunately, the Oaks is one of the courses in the state that is feeling the downward trend,” said Ragucci.
“We have not been making the dollars we think we should make on that land and now we are barely at the breaking point. That’s the impetus,” Ragucci said. “We’ve got to find a better use for the Stoneham assets that can bring back value to the town and not become a burden on us to operate.
“Stoneham, like many communities, is struggling and we have got to maximize the assets we own,” Ragucci said. “Maintaining a golf course that is barely breaking even is not maximizing its value or assets.”
Ragucci said Stoneham’s other golf course, the nine-hole Unicorn Golf Course on William Street, has also seen declining revenues but not to the degree Stoneham Oaks has.
He said the first step in evaluating the future of the approximately 19-year-old course “is to determine its value and to look around to see where we can get that kind of value from other parcels,” something the appraisals will help determine.
To convert the course to another use, the town would need special legislation. Under Article 97 of the state constitution, any land acquired by a community for conservation or recreation can be converted to another use only with a two-thirds vote of the state Legislature. Stoneham would need a Town Meeting vote to petition for the special act.
The state further requires that if an Article 97 property was acquired or developed with state grant money, the community must replace the land with another parcel of equal monetary and conservation or recreational value. Ragucci said the Stoneham Oaks land would fall under that requirement.
Ragucci said the Brookbridge Road site, which is on the Wakefield line, appears to have potential as replacement recreational land, noting that it abuts Crystal Lake and the town has no current or intended use of it.
“Brookbridge is very much in the middle of a beautiful neighborhood. I think it would complement the neighborhood because it’s conservation land that would never be used for anything else,” he said.
The town has hired Avery Associates to undertake the appraisals, which are expected to take at least another month to complete, according to Ragucci.
“I think it makes sense to look at it from the standpoint of trying to improve the tax base in the town,” Selectman Richard S. Gregorio said about exploring another use for Stoneham Oaks.
Spending money on the appraisals is “a pretty good investment to get a better idea of what the options are,” he said. (Because he lives near the Brookbridge Road site, Gregorio, to avoid conflict, abstained from the vote to authorize the money).
Ragucci said it would be up to selectmen to propose a new use for the golf course, should they decide to pursue one.
“It’s quite a process. This is the very beginning,” he said, noting that there would be public meetings for residents to provide input on what they’d like to see happen there.
The idea of converting Stoneham Oaks to another use has been discussed on several other occasions in recent years, according to Ragucci. Past proposals have included building a driving range on the property and using a portion of it to expand the adjacent Stoneham Arena.
Frank Vallarelli, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said that if the town closes the golf course, he would prefer to keep the land in recreational use. He said he envisions the land being leased to a private entity to operate a driving range that would also include practice holes, something he believes residents would support.
“If it’s going to stay a recreational use and it also brings in more income to the town, I don’t see how anybody could be against it,” he said.