The Kraft Group has walked away from negotiations with Foxborough on an economic development agreement, saying it is convinced the parties are no closer to accord than they were three years ago, when talks began on shared opportunities for growth in the town.
Among a long list of items being negotiated were eight new liquor licenses for Patriot Place on Route 1, and new zoning rules that would allow a second hotel and 300 condominium units near Gillette Stadium. The sides were also trying to resolve a dispute dating to 2006 over water and sewer enhancements in the town, and to determine how to share revenue from a pair of billboards along Route 1.
The company broke off talks Tuesday, two weeks after Foxborough selectmen dissolved a second negotiating committee they appointed in the last two months, saying they feared violating the state Open Meeting Law. Town officials discovered they had inadvertently done just that on Oct. 2 during a meeting with Jonathan Kraft, president and chief operating officer of the Kraft Group, and other company officials because that committee contained two of the town’s five selectmen. Because selectmen elected by voters created the committee, and appointed people to it, it is considered a subcommittee and subject to the Open Meeting Law.
Town Manager Kevin Paicos said selectmen were surprised at the Krafts’ move Tuesday, given that they had planned that night at their regular meeting to reconstruct the committee legally.
“I think we could have made it work,” Paicos said.
Kraft spokesman Jeff Cournoyer said the company was approached by town officials in late 2009 about contributing funds to their water and sewer efforts and, in turn, the company compiled a list of terms at the town’s request.
“It included items that would help us develop Patriot Place, none of which cost taxpayers, and many of which cities and towns across the state are pursuing on their own as economic development initiatives,” he said.
More recently, the items also included a plan to include funding from the Kraft Group for the town to partner with a regional water treatment facility, after a multimillion-dollar local treatment plant the company was going to help pay for as part of its mitigation for the mall was rejected by Town Meeting voters.
Foxborough is at capacity for its sewer treatment needs and must expand in order to be able to bring in new business.
Cournoyer said the company had hoped to hammer out a mutually beneficial agreement with selectmen that included all the requested items and would then put a proposal before Foxborough voters.
“But it is obvious from their debates on the subject and public statements that we are unlikely to get to that agreement,’’ he said. “We have decided that we need to shift our focus to developing Patriot Place as best we can without such an agreement.’’
While the Krafts had asked to move the talks behind closed doors because of competitive business concerns, town officials said communication and transparency with residents is more important than ever after the pandemonium that resulted from the company’s ultimately unsuccessful effort to build a casino resort across from Gillette Stadium.
Lately, representatives of the company, which also owns the New England Patriots, have reappeared before the Planning Board looking for long-requested zoning changes for that parcel in order to develop it, stirring new anxieties in the town.
The next Planning Board meeting at which the issue may be addressed is Nov. 8 at 7 p.m.
Paicos said he believed that there was a lot to be gained by the town working with its largest taxpayer, but that the baseline set by selectmen — that talks take place in public — has to be met. Selectmen also feel that questions about whether the Krafts owe the town money from negotiations in the first phase of Patriot Place’s construction must be answered before moving on to other phases.
“Selectmen are well within their rights to make that demand,’’ Paicos said.
Selectwoman Lynda A. Walsh, who chaired one of the negotiating committees, said she hopes the company will return to the negotiating table.
“Economic growth is important to the town and to the Kraft organization,’’ she said.
Walsh said her preference would be for selectmen to appoint Paicos as leader in the negotiations, and that he could bring with him town attorney Richard Gelerman, an outside consultant, and a member of the community. Such a group dealing with the Krafts would not fall under the constraints of the Open Meeting Law, officials said.
“All meeting minutes would become public once the negotiations were final,’’ Walsh said. “At the end of the day, the townspeople would have the last say, and once the negotiation committee brought forward their agreement, it would have gone to Town Meeting for a vote.”