AYER -- The town's legal counsel is working on an agreement with developers to rake in $250,000 that is nearly four years overdue.
Details of the comprehensive permit, given to Willow Road Development LLC in 2005 to construct a 25-acre neighborhood, somehow slipped through the cracks of the town and developers.
The permit required developers to pay $250,000 for the construction of a 1.5-million gallon water tank that would hold the extra water demand for the new neighborhood. If the tank was not built within five years, Willow Road had to give the money to the town. The permit also waived $100,000 of the town's sewer and water fees for construction.
Nearly four years after the original 2010 due date, the Board of Selectmen is asking for immediate payment.
Public Works Superintendent Mark Wetzel, who came to office in 2012, noticed the missed payment when he checked on the construction status of the water tank. The developer of Pingry Hill, another neighborhood that plans to use the tank, was planning to build it in the summer.
"The developer mentioned that the Willows was going to kick in some money, so then I started researching it and found the reference to the $250,000," Wetzel said.
Wetzel tried to determine whether the town ever received the money. No one seemed to know.
"It's just one of those things where no one was really paying attention either from their side or our side," Wetzel said.
Wetzel then worked with developers to come up with an agreement in which Willow Road would pay $10,000 for the first 25 houses sold.
But town selectmen unanimously rejected the proposal in December, withholding any permits until the town received full payment.
"It's the position of the Board of Selectmen that this is a legal agreement and that payment is due," said Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand. "They didn't want to tie in payment to the construction of housing units out of concerns over the market or concerns that the 25 units are not reached."
Mark O'Hagan, one of the project's developers, said the group should be able to resolve the issue with the town despite the tough housing market.
"We've never said to anybody that we don't intend to pay it or we don't have the resources to pay it," he said. "I think most people can appreciate the type of market we've been dealing with since just after we started the project."
O'Hagan said developers were always aware of the agreement and had an ongoing dialogue with former DPW Superintendent Daniel Nason.
"When we had met previously with Dan, we had talked about it. I don't think we were at the five-year mark at that point," O'Hagan said. "It wasn't like there was a five-year timeframe and we said, 'Oh geez, we have to do this,' and blew it off. There's just so many things that are going on."
Pontbriand said the town's legal counsel is working on an agreement with the developers, which also experienced turnover when one developer left and Habitech Homes came in.
"I think the issue is that since 2005, there has been turnover in key personnel and I think it was just something that is now sort of upon us," Pontbriand said. "There are so many things going on that we have now come to the point where it was realized that it is due."
O'Hagan said that the developers stand by their obligation and will still be making payment.
"I'm sure the tower will get built, we'll make our contribution and everybody will be happy," he said.
The neighborhood will feature 97 houses, with 25 percent sold to income-eligible first-time homebuyers, O'Hagan said.
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