SouthField developer wants towns to collect property tax

The developer of SouthField stands to save about $600,000 in property taxes if the company successfully amends legislation governing the former naval air base that straddles Weymouth, Abington, and Rockland, according to the head of the local redevelopment authority at the base.

“I think their plan is geared toward giving [themselves] a property tax break . . . and to make money, to the detriment of the three towns,” said Kevin R. Donovan, chief executive of the South Shore Tri-Town Development Corp., the governmental agency that oversees the redevelopment of the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station.

Tri-Town anticipates tax revenues of $2.6 million from properties in SouthField in fiscal 2014, according to Donovan. But if the taxes are paid to the three individual towns instead of to Tri-Town, there will be about $600,000 less collected because the towns have lower tax rates than Tri-Town’s, he said.

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The developer disagreed.

“Mr. Donovan’s assertions are incorrect,” said Robert Glantz, vice president of land for the Florida-based Starwood Land Ventures LLC, which took over SouthField this year. “SSTTDC’s commercial tax rates are now higher than those of Abington, Rockland, or Weymouth,” he said in an e-mail. “Currently Tri-town sets the rates and the assessments, and our proposal is for the towns to assume these responsibilities. Our proposal would also require that we pay an additional assessment to fund Tri-town operations, so it’s likely our taxes could be slightly higher moving forward, rather than less.”

(SouthField’s residential tax is $13.26 per $1,000 of assessed property value, and $26.35 for commercial; Abington’s rate is $16.55 for residential and commercial; Rockland’s is $17.58 for both; and Weymouth’s is $12.93 for residential and $21.14 for commercial.)

Glantz said his company is ready to invest $100 million — including $40 million for water and sewer infrastructure — to redevelop the base and build the rest of SouthField, which could include up to 2,855 homes and 2 million square feet of commercial space.

The company is now drafting legislation to change the governing structure of SouthField; the bill would weaken Tri-Town, which currently acts as SouthField’s government, by returning zoning and permitting powers to Weymouth, Abington, and Rockland. Each town would then have control over the parts of SouthField that fall within its borders.

Donovan provided the Globe with a breakdown of costs that would have to be covered if Tri-Town stopped serving as SouthField’s municipality. In addition to police and fire protection, he said, towns would be responsible for road maintenance, snow plowing, inspectional services, planning, conservation, zoning, assessing, engineering, and construction and maintenance of some recreational areas.

Donovan said the state also requires that turtle monitoring is conducted at the base for the next 20 years, as well as vegetation cultivation and the removal of invasive species. Tri-Town estimates those costs to be approximately $90,000 annually.

Under Starwood’s plan, the debt for the newly constructed Bill Delahunt Parkway, which is located on Rockland’s portion of the base, would be assumed by the state. That amounts to about $1.8 million per year, according to Donovan. He says that the towns would also be expected to have property insurance for roadways and public spaces within their borders and there are also pension costs for Tri-Town’s employees, because Tri-Town is a public entity and part of the Plymouth County Retirement Association.

Starwood views it differently. Glantz said Tri-Town adds an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and provides services that could easily be provided by the towns. Starwood’s plan aims to simplify things and add value to the existing property, which in turn will increase the tax revenues for the towns, he said.

“We’re proposing to spend a lot more time and money to make this a reality,” said Glantz. “It has the potential. How can we unlock the potential of this desolate rundown site? We’ve proposed a solution.”

Part of the company’s proposal is to nix SouthField’s phased development plan, which would allow more homes to be built even if commercial development doesn’t keep up.

In response to Starwood’s proposal, residents of Abington put two articles on their Nov. 4 Special Town Meeting warrant to oppose change to the legislation or redevelopment plan without the towns’ approval.

Donovan, who serves on Abington’s Board of Selectmen, said Abington and Rockland selectmen voted on Oct. 21 to request that a meeting be held with representatives from Tri-Town, Starwood, Weymouth, Rockland, and Abington so they can try to reach “a mutually agreeable proposal for legislative changes that can be supported jointly by all concerned.”

Rockland Town Administrator Allan R. Chiocca said he is concerned about Starwood’s proposed changes and the company’s move to file legislation. Any modifications to the plan should have to be approved by all three towns, said Chiocca.

“They bought [SouthField] as part of a package, fully knowing what the conditions were,” said Chiocca. “To come in afterwards, and shift some of the costs to the communities and state, what builder wouldn’t love that?”

But Glantz says if Starwood’s proposal moves forward, “there’s going to be money pumped into the communities.”

Emily Sweeney can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.
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