Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Interpreting Agricultural Use Restrictions

This time of year brings back fond memories of Sunday afternoon family drives to Westford to visit Drew Farms for bags of freshly picked apples. Unfortunately, Drew ceased operations as an apple orchard many years ago and the property has changed hands several times. Along the way, an agricultural restriction was placed on the property to keep it as an agricultural use and prevent its commercial development.

Subsequent owners have been unable to return the property to a productive, agricultural use, so it has fallen into decline. The most recent owner has proposed building a 19,000 square foot, 311 seat restaurant on the site along with 110 parking spaces. His response to the agricultural restriction is that the rest of the parcel will revert to farming, and that the produce from the farm will be cooked and served in the restaurant which, he argues, makes it an agricultural use.

The Globe first wrote about this novel approach back on September 3, 2016, documenting the struggle facing the selectmen in the town over honoring the spirit of the restriction and rejecting the proposal, or giving it an expansive interpretation that would get the lot cleaned up. That same article cited the dismay being experienced by regional proponents of land use restrictions at what they saw as a precedent-setting disregard for a valid restriction.

In another article in today's edition, the Globe reports that the opponents of the restaurant proposal got a key ally when the state's agricultural commissioner, John Lebeaux, decided that the proposed restaurant was not an acceptable agricultural use.

I find this a very interesting case study in land use restrictions. Does "forever" really mean that, or is it a term that carries some flexibility based on changing circumstances?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Lowell Real Estate: Week of September 19, 2016

The following real estate sales took place in Lowell last week:

September 19, 2016 - Monday
724 Varnum Ave for $368,800. Prior sale in 1976
219 Central St Unit 2E for $156,000. Prior sale in 2016 for $150,000

September 20, 2016 - Tuesday
24 Beaver St Unit A for $150,000. Prior sale in 2010 for $80,000
38-40 Hudson St for $204,000. Prior sale in 2005 for $180,000
34 Newhall St Unit 306 for $119,000. Prior sale in 2004 for $129,500

September 21, 2016 - Wednesday
417 Hildreth St Unit 20 for $204,900. Prior sale in 2005 for $224,900
37 Chapel St for $275,000. Prior sale in 2006 for $135,000
82 Mary Theresa Terrace for $247,000. Prior sale in 2010 for $195,000
59 Gage St for $195,000. Prior sale in 2011 for $75,000

September 22, 2016 - Thursday
14 Preston St for $179,015. Prior sale 2016 foreclosure
2400 Skyline Dr Unit 2 for $115,000. Prior sale in 2012 for $82,654
103 Acton St for $265,000. Prior sale in 2015 for $150,000
79 Canton St for $412,500. Prior sale in 1985 for $75,000
170 Perry St for $450,000. Prior sale in 1977
409 Pawtucket St for $395,000. Prior sale in 2010 for $300,000

September 23, 2016 - Friday
3 Bourne St for $263,000. Prior sale in 2010 for $216,950
128 Foster St for $280,500. Prior sale in 2016 for $170,000
23 Linda Ln for $359,900. Prior sale in 2000 for $164,900
108 Commonwealth Ave for $360,500. Prior sale in 2009 for $230,000
12 Keene St for $335,000. Prior sale in 2008 for $135,000
264-266 University Ave for $341,500. Prior sale in 1997 for $116,000

Friday, September 23, 2016

Lowell Justice Center Groundbreaking

The groundbreaking ceremony for the new Lowell Justice Center was held yesterday, September 22, 2016, at the site of the building. Under a large white tent that shielded the crowd of more than 200 from the afternoon sun, the ceremony opened with the Trial Court Honor Guard posting the national and state colors and the Lowell High School Show Choir singing the National Anthem.

Massachusetts Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey offered welcoming remarks and Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence served as master of ceremonies. Speakers included Governor Charlie Baker, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants, Secretary of Administration and Finance Kristen Lepore, State Senator Eileen Donoghue, State Representatives Tom Golden, Dave Nangle, and Rady Mom, and Lowell Mayor Edward Kennedy. After the speaking program, the dignitaries moved to a nearby pile of gravel, grabbed gold-colored shovels (while foregoing the white hardhats), and tossed a few shovelfuls of dirt to mark the occasion.

The Lowell Justice Center (formerly referred to as the Lowell Judicial Center) will be a 267,000 square foot, seven story structure in a prime location in the city's Hamilton Canal District. It will feature 17 courtrooms, office space for court personnel and the District Attorney, the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds, and a Court Service Center. Construction is expected to take 30 months.

Foreclosure advertisements: week of Sept 19, 2016

Legal notices appearing in this week's Lowell Sun advertised foreclosure auctions for the following properties on the dates indicated:

28 Ware St Unit 1 on Sept 29
39 Prospect St on Sept 30
21 Hillside St on October 6
70 Ludlam St on October 12
41 South Walker St on October 16
12 Linden St on October 17

20 Glen Ave on October 3
33 Dora St on October 6

209 Lakeview Ave on October 5

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Lowell Judicial Center ground breaking today

The ground breaking ceremony for the new Lowell Judicial Center will take place today at 2 pm. The seven-story building will contain courtrooms for Superior, District, Housing, Probate, and Juvenile Courts, facilities for other judicial-related functions, and the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds.

Here's the text of the press release from the Supreme Judicial Court's Public Information Office:

Judiciary Announces Groundbreaking Ceremony for Lowell Justice Center  
On Thursday, September 22,  Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants, Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey, and Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence, together with Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, Secretary for Administration and Finance Kristin Lepore, and Commissioner of the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance Carole Gladstone, will participate in a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Lowell Justice Center, which will be located on Jackson Street in Lowell. Lowell officials in attendance will include Mayor Edward Kennedy, State Senator Eileen Donoghue, and State Representatives Rady Mom and David Nangle.
The new courthouse will be located in the historic Hamilton Canal District, and house the Lowell District Court, the Superior, Probate & Family and Juvenile Courts of Middlesex County, and the Northeast Division of the Housing Court. The courthouse will have 17 state-of-the-art courtrooms, a Court Service Center and office spaces for the District Attorney's Office and Registry of Deeds. The new Justice Center will replace a leased facility and two outdated state-owned courthouses, allowing greater access and efficiency for court users. Construction is due to begin in the fall.
Thursday, September 22, 2016
2 p.m.
370 Jackson Street
Lowell, MA 01852

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Wheelwright Deed

One of the oldest documents in our records was created in 1629. It's a deed from a number of the various native American tribes in the Merrimack Valley and southern New Hampshire to John Wheelwright and several other residents "of the Massachusetts Bay in New England."

The deed conveys a vast amount of territory, a rough rectangle that begins in Somersworth, New Hampshire, then runs along the Piscataqua River to Porstmouth, NH; then along the Atlantic coast to Salisbury, Massachusetts and the mouth of the Merrimack River; then along the river to Pawtucket Falls in Lowell; then north along the Merrimack, almost to Manchester, New Hampshire; then on a line running northeast to the point of beginning.

The deed was executed and delivered on May 17, 1629.

The deed is shrouded in mystery, partly because Wheelwright did not move from England to New England until 1637, eight years after the transaction purportedly took place; but also because no one recalls seeing this deed until it was "discovered" in a file in the York County (Maine) Registry of Deeds in 1707, twenty-eight years after Wheelwright died. The discovery was made in the midst of a lawsuit that contested ownership of some of the land covered by the deed. While the deed was very relevant to that lawsuit, its timely discovery, along with its execution before Wheelwright was even in America, contributed to the skepticism about the deed's authenticity.

Beyond the story of this deed, Wheelwright himself was a fascinating figure. Educated at Cambridge University in England, he became a minister but was forced to give up that position and move to America because his Puritan-leanings ran afoul of the Church of England. Soon after Wheelwright arrived in America, he was engulfed in controversy when his sister-in-law, Anne Hutchinson, began preaching religious lessons that departed from the prevailing orthodoxy of the Massachusetts ministry. Wheelwright sided with his sister-in-law. They were both tried and convicted of sedition and contempt (separation of church and state was not a recognized concept in 1637 Massachusetts). Their punishment was banishment from the Commonwealth. Hutchinson went to Rhode Island; Wheelwright traveled north to the Piscataqua River, where he is crediting with founding Exeter, New Hampshire.

Circumstances compelled Wheelwright to move several times. Besides Boston and Exeter, he also served as a minister in Wells, Maine; Hampton, New Hampshire; and Salisbury, Massachusetts. He was also a college chum of Oliver Cromwell, so when Cromwell ascended to power after the English Civil War, Wheelwright moved back there and assumed an exalted position. Cromwell's death several years later and the restoration of the monarchy in Charles II caused Wheelwright to retreat back to New England and resume preaching. He ended his career and his life in Salisbury, Massachusetts, where he died and was buried in 1679.

The full text of the deed has been typed and is available in PDF form on the registry website.    

Friday, July 08, 2016

New Foreclosure Decision by Appeals Court

The Massachusetts Appeals Court held today that a homeowner was precluded from litigating in a Superior Court action issues related to the legality of the foreclosure process and to the alleged negligence of his lender in processing the homeowner’s mortgage modification application where the homeowner failed to raise those same issues in an earlier eviction proceeding between the same parties in the District Court.
The case is Santos v US Bank, Massachusetts Appeals Court case 15-P-334. The full decision is available here

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Midyear Revenue Collections

Besides recording documents, the registry of deeds also takes in revenue for the Commonwealth in the form of recording fees, excise taxes, surcharges for the Community Preservation Act matching fund, and a few others. Revenue for the first six months of calendar year 2016 is significantly higher than the same six months in 2015. Here are some particulars:

Overall revenue is up 19%, from $6,320,680 in the first half of CY15 to $7,520,323 of CY16;

Recording fees are up 5%, from $2,021,201 to $2,123,125;

The big increase is in deeds excise tax collections which increased 31%, from $3,450,603 to $4,518,864. Because the number of deeds recorded is only up slightly, this indicates that home prices are up considerably since the excise tax is calculated based on the sales price of property sold.