A $2.3 million bond to turn buildings dating from the 1880s into function facilities at the Brooks Estate in Medford has remained tabled by the City Council for nearly a year and a half, and its supporters are growing impatient.
“Bringing this back on the agenda is clearly what we need to do, and it’s not entirely clear why that has not happened,” said Tom Lincoln, president of the city-owned Medford-Brooks Estate Land Trust. “I think we have been enormously patient. The buildings aren’t getting any younger; the clock is ticking.”
The council has approved millions in bonds to fund projects since it was first presented with the Brooks Estate proposal, including a new public works yard, high school science labs, and a swimming pool.
But the Brooks Estate bond has remained in limbo. Councilors Paul Camuso and Robert Maiocco have recused themselves from voting on the project because they have relatives who own abutting properties. The remaining five councilors would have to approve the proposal unanimously.
Councilor Robert Penta is on the land trust board, but after speaking with a state ethics commission attorney, he said, he decided he could vote since he would not receive any financial benefits from the bond.
Maiocco, the council president, is not running for reelection in November, but Camuso and Penta are, along with Rick Caraviello, Frederick Dello Russo Jr., Breanna Lungo-Koehn, and Michael Marks.
The 50-acre estate in West Medford has been owned by the city since 1942. The plan calls for upgrading the two buildings on the site while maintaining their Victorian character.
The currently unused 19th-century carriage house would be converted into function space for social, business, and community events. The Shepherd Brooks Manor main house, built in 1880, would be restored for a mix of spaces for meetings, functions, and community uses.
By renting the space for weddings, banquets, gatherings after funerals at the nearby Oak Grove Cemetery, and other functions, city officials think the site could generate enough revenue to pay off the bond.
The project requires widening the narrow access road from 12 feet to 24 feet and adding utility conduits beneath it. That element of the project is expected to cost $950,000 and isn’t included in the bond package.
Marks said he had two issues with the Brooks Estate plan when it was first introduced: He wanted to see the bond for a new public works facility approved first, and he wanted to know how the city would pay for widening the access road. Mayor Michael McGlynn has said he will seek Chapter 90 state transportation funds to pay for the work, which would be completed after the buildings are renovated.
The public works facility was addressed by a $13 million bond for a new building, approved earlier this month. But questions about the access road remain, Marks said.
“I didn’t support it because it just didn’t make sense to me without the access road,” Marks said. “To give a half of a proposal, which I believe this is, it is not fair. It’s not fair to Brooks Estate.”
McGlynn insisted the proposed bond is good the way it is, and it is up to the council to vote on it. “Can I understand why it’s being held up? No, I can’t,” McGlynn said. “We can afford it and we shouldn’t waste any more time. But it can only happen when the council says it can be done.”
Penta, often a foe to proposals from McGlynn, said he would also like to see action on the proposal.
“I would like to see it go forward,” he said. “I think the sad part of the whole thing is that its potential hasn’t been maxed out yet. It’s a jewel of the city.”
Funding for the Brooks Estate is one of only two outstanding bonds from McGlynn’s “Chart the Course” capital improvement plan presented in 2012, which included about $30 million in proposed projects.
The other remaining project is a $7 million bond for a parking garage in Medford, which also has been held up by the council. McGlynn said he is optimistic that both projects will eventually be approved.
“I don’t think that either side can put together the five votes necessary to bond either project at this point,” McGlynn said. “But as far as I know, politics has always been the art of compromise.”