Milton Town Meeting members changed the guidelines for the sale of the dilapidated Hendrie’s site, in hopes of gaining leverage in negotiations with the property’s potential developers.
The article, which was discussed briefly Tuesday night before it was approved, authorizes selectmen to sell the town-owned portion of the building and land to anyone.
The vote effectively reverses a 2007 Town Meeting vote, which authorized selling those assets only to Jeremiah J. Connelly and his son Steven Connelly, who own most of the former ice cream factory.
“This article is important to providing the selectmen with the flexibility they need to transfer this property and develop the whole site at the former Hendrie’s location,” Peter Mullin, a Precinct 2 Town Meeting member, said Tuesday.
The vote could jeopardize a recently reached agreement in which the developer would buy the town land for a residential/commercial development. Yet some town officials feel they need a backup plan, given past conflicts.
“We’ve reached agreement a number of times before in the last two to three months with the owner,” said Board of Selectmen chairman Denis Keohane. “A handshake is not good enough. You have an agreement today, and in two hours’ time, you get an e-mail from the developer saying it’s all off again. It’s very, very frustrating.”
Neither Steven nor Jeremiah Connelly returned repeated calls for comment.
The Connellys, owners of Connelly Construction & Development of Dorchester, entered the picture in 2000, when they bought most of the Hendrie’s building, a decaying structure near Lower Mills.
In 2003, Milton bought the remainder of the building and the adjacent MBTA parking lot. Since then, the town has been eagerly awaiting redevelopment of the site, and hopes were high for a mixed residential and commercial project. Zoning was changed to allow the residential and retail vision, and in July 2010 Connelly proposed a 38-unit mixed-use development.
The town was set to sell its portion of the land to the developer, and Connelly gave the town money for the sale, which would close when it received a special permit. But Planning Board members felt the plans did not meet several of the newly created zoning criteria.
After protracted debate, the Connellys demanded a vote, and the Planning Board rejected the project.
Since then, Connelly asked for his money back from the town and proposed a 72-unit housing development under the state’s Chapter 40B affordable-housing law. The 40B application is awaiting state review.
At the same time, the town and the Connellys are negotiating the sale of the town-owned property. Some of those talks have taken place at the home of state Senator Brian Joyce, a Milton Democrat, who said “I’m optimistic that we will have a resolution in the near future.”
Keohane also said a deal could be reached within a week.
“We want to sell it to Jerry,” Keohane said. “It doesn’t make sense to sell it to anybody else. But given the history of Jerry Connelly, he could say to us next week, ‘I’m not going to buy it at all now.’ Then we would have a building we couldn’t sell.”Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jessica.may.bartlett@ gmail.com.