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Medway’s Bottle Cap Lots May Be Combined For Development

February 17, 2011 : Milford Daily News, by Julie Balise

MEDWAY — Its unusual ownership is the main reason Medway’s Oak Grove area has not been developed, town planners told residents on Tuesday.

The 100-acre area along Rte. 109 is composed of 244 separate parcels, many of which are unusable because of their small size or inaccessibility, said Russell Burke, director of planning for Worcester-based engineers BSC Group. Burke joined Kevin Hively of Ninigret Partners that night to discuss with property owners and abutters what could be done with those lots.

Planning Board Chairman Andy Rodenhiser said there is “gridlock” right now, where no one is willing to do anything.

“The reason those lots exist now in the fashion that they do is that a good deal of the people have an idea or premise that they hold a linchpin parcel to a big development,” he said. “They want to have a lot of money for it because it’s blocking access to somebody else having frontage or having the ability to bring in a subdivision.”

The so-called “bottle cap lots” date back to a 1920s promotion with Millis soda bottling company, Clicquot, which gave away small plots in Medway. Burke said that about 75 percent of the Oak Grove area’s 244 lots are now owned by the town and one private owner, who has agreed to cooperate with the town.

The town owns many of the parcels “not because we thought it would be a good use for soccer fields,” Rodenhiser said, but because their previous owners stopped paying taxes on the land.

BSC Group and Ninigret Partners did an Economic Development Feasibility Study that assessed the natural conditions, zoning, infrastructure and accessibility to transportation. They also looked at the current marketplace to see what kind of development would succeed there.

“If it wasn’t for the fragmented ownership pattern, this would have been developed a long time ago,” Burke said.

The $50,000 feasibility study was paid for by the state through an agreement with MassDevelopment.

“We’re excited that it was such a large turnout,” at Tuesday’s hearing, MassDevelopment Vice President Mike Mitchell said. “We got a lot of good input and we’re looking forward to going on to the next stage of this study.”

The area is flat, with good soil and a sewer system, Burke said. It may be more usable than other developed sites along Interstate 495 that have required retainer walls or other structural assistance. The Oak Grove area would not need those. Its location near routes 109 and 126 also makes it convenient for business, Burke said.

Rodenhiser said it was important to hold a public hearing where professionals would talk with residents about their vision for the parcels. Property owners who would like to opt in to the final proposal will be welcome to do so, he said, but the town is not forcing anybody.

“The whole idea is to treat everyone fairly and as equals,” he said.

Residents asked how a development would affect water and why the land is not being preserved for open space, Rodenhiser said. He pointed out that open space “should be more central to the community” than these lots.

It is the responsibility of the town to do something with the Oak Grove area, Rodenhiser said.

“It’s exciting to be planning our future rather than waiting for something to happen,” he said. “When you wait for something to happen like this you end up with a disjointed development that doesn’t necessarily benefit the community to the extent this opportunity is presenting.”

About 50 residents attended Tuesday’s public hearing. BSC Group and Ninigret Partners will now use their feedback to determine what could be built on the land, and will return to the town with a proposal in late spring. They plan to wrap things up by mid-summer, Burke said.

© Copyright 2011 Milford Daily News.