The Trustee Real Estate Revenue Task Force selected five preliminary bids to choose from for the sale of the North 40. Two senior administrators and a faculty member, all of whom work on the task force, spoke with the Wellesley News on Monday about how the committee narrowed down the selection pool and the next steps.
According to Ben Hammond, vice president of finance and administration, as well as Marianne Cooley, clerk to the Board of Trustees, the College received 13 total bids from private developers as well as the Town of Wellesley. The information on the bids is currently confidential, but the committee evaluated proposals for positive financial and overall community impact. Some of the rejected bids would have brought up to 20 percent more in revenue, but they did not fit the College’s goals.
“There were a set of values that went into the decisions,” said Adam Van Arsdale, anthropology professor and a faculty representative from the task force.
The task force evaluated the bids without clearly defined criteria. According to Arsdale, the committee sought bids that would have a low impact scale, preserve open space and balance various interests of members of the community. The College took these values into consideration from the request for proposals on the North 40 submitted by the town over the summer, which detailed the community’s desired standards for the future of the property. All 13 bids also fulfilled qualifications assessed by the Sustainability Committee.
“I would say that all bidders came to us with qualifications on [adherence to lead standards], so that was sort of an interesting aspect to the market,” Cooley said.
Conservancy agencies showed little interest in procuring the North 40. The task force’s real estate consultant attributed this to the fact that town already protects half of the open space by law and to the lack of wetlands and endangered species on the property. The North 40 has high market value, and so conservationists may want to spend their resources saving other open land.
Information about the bids must remain confidential as the College deliberates over the five final bids, but the administrators mentioned a few of the projects that bidders have proposed. The College is considering continuing care retirement community options, multi-family housing and age-restricted housing for tenants aged 55 or older.
“The property is zoned residential, so there is a range of different housing products from age-restricting, to continuing care community, rental property, all under consideration,” Arsdale said.
Each proposal preserves 20 to 30 acres of open space and answers to the residential community’s wishes for trails, gardens and educational facilities. Because of this arrangement, the Regeneration student farms that currently exist on the property may not have to move.
Although the committee had originally planned to come to a decision by mid-October, it is not ready to finalize plans at the current moment. The task force will come to a final decision by mid-December. Afterward, the timeline for the North 40 will depend on the winning bidder and may last for multiple years depending on the length of the bidder’s development project.
The College rejected many development proposals due to their possible impact on Wellesley, especially on traffic within the town. These bids would maximize the in-place zoning abilities of the plot. Some of the developers would have been able to build between 70 and 90 single-family homes.
“A couple of developers did propose schemes that looked like that. The committee didn’t find that to be the most compelling future use of the site, so we tended to go in other directions of what seemed like more creative proposals,” Van Arsdale said.
The bid made by the Town of Wellesley has been selected as one of the final five bids. If the town is able to purchase the North 40 plot, it would hold further discussions with the community for determining the land’s future. Additional dialogue between residents of the town of Wellesley would continue in order to find the best use of the land. Initial conversations have proposed playing fields and a potential residential retirement facility to be constructed on the plot.
The College considered a proposal for a retirement community on the North 40 in 1989, but the recent idea for a retirement facility is not linked to the previous 1989 proposal. However, there has been much interest in this specific kind of facility from townspeople, faculty and alumnae.
The Town of Wellesley has assessed the North 40 plot to be worth 25 million dollars for tax purposes.
“The bids are coming in higher than that, but given that we’re in the process, I don’t think we can comment more specifically. But as we are working hard to maximize the proceeds for the college with an overall framework of non-financial considerations like impact and relations with the town,” Hammond said.
Hammond clarified that revenue from the North 40 sale will not fund financial aid, but will support campus renewal expenses.
“Financial aid is a major investment by this college. But I don’t think that the North 40 is intended to fund financial aid. The trustees intend that it will help fund Campus Renewal, which is also a campus priority. The College is committed to doing Campus Renewal in addition to keeping up its financial aid program,” Hammond said.
By putting the funds toward Campus Renewal, Hammond said the College can preserve a balanced budget in the future to account for financial aid, administrative and faculty salaries and other operating expenses as campus renovations take place.
“Ultimately the trustees determine the priorities of the College at that level and it’s in consultation with the faculty and lots of other people. I’ve heard no kind of questioning of the College’s commitment to financial aid. I think people know that it’s one of our highest priorities and core principles,” Hammond said.
Financial aid amounts to over $50 million a year while the College estimates that Campus Renewal will cost $365 million, but Hammond stated that the two types of expenses draw from separate budget plans. The operating budget accounts for financial aid while a capital budget will cover campus renewal.
The task force has yet to determine the form of the revenue. The College could lease the property and collect revenue regularly throughout the lease period in addition to the option of selling the North 40.
Task force representatives will present and host a discussion concerning the North 40 later today at 12:30 p.m. in Collins Cinema.
Photo by Soojin Jeong ’17, Photography Editor