By Dustin Luca
---- — It could have been called “Ballardvale Springs,” Andover’s next proverbial field of dreams on a once-contaminated industrial site along the Shawsheen River that is better known by its prior owner, Reichhold, Inc.
But sluggish negotiations fell apart, and despite the town being authorized to spend nearly $1.8 million over the span of several years to buy the Lowell Junction Road land, it has gone to a private buyer.
Believe-Andover, LLC, based out of North Reading, bought the last remaining piece of the Reichhold property on Dec. 17 for $1.8 million. It was paid in part with a $1.35 million mortgage through the Reading Co-operative Bank, according to Registry of Deeds documents.
The purchase by the private investment group led by James T. Lynch is the latest chapter in the town’s more than decade-long history with the property.
With 33.5 acres around the site secured by the town in 2006, exclusive rights to buy the remaining 13 acres of land expired later that year as work to clean up contamination went forward.
Over the years, Town Meeting had approved spending $1,325,000 on the last piece of acreage. Then in May, voters at the annual Town Meeting agreed to the final allotment of $550,000 to seal the deal.
The Conservation Commission even voted on July 2 to call the site Ballardvale Springs “if and when we acquire the property,” according to meeting minutes.
John Oldham, Reichhold’s director of site remediation at the company’s North Carolina headquarters, said his team “worked hard to try to make that property part of the town. They’ve been given opportunities for years.”
“It just didn’t work out. It’s that simple,” Oldham said. “We finished the work that needed to be done and it was a good opportunity to sell the property. We took that opportunity and moved on.”
Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski said he was disappointed with the sale of the property to private owners. But that isn’t to say the site is a total loss, however.
“We’re actively using the land we already have, at least the conservation piece,” Stapczynski said.
Over the years, the town has acquired portions of the site, including Serio’s Grove. Purchased in 2001, that site is widely used by residents for boat access and camping amenities, according to the Andover Trails Committee website.
Information on Believe-Andover, meanwhile, is limited. The company was formed on Nov. 12, 2013 by Lynch as manager, according to filings with the state Secretary of the Commonwealth.
The deed finalizing the purchase lists the company’s address as 348 Park St., Suite 103, in North Reading.
Documents on the official town website also show that Lynch, of James T. Lynch Construction in North Reading, secured a drain-layer’s license through Andover’s Health Department last year.
Lynch couldn’t be reached for comment for this story.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Alex Vispoli said the town was waiting for a grant to subsidize the purchase. But Reichhold “wanted a quick turn-around.”
In response, Oldham said the town’s negotiating price “was too low.” He, however, declined to offer the price on the table.
“Reichhold has been willing to sell property for years to the town,” Oldham said. “We did sell a number of parcels to the town, and we’ve been happy to work with the town. It was just one of those situations where the deal couldn’t be made and it was time. We had to move on.”
When Town Meeting voters in May consented to the final infusion of cash to purchase the property, conceptual graphics showed potentially two soccer fields and two softball diamonds on the land.
While Selectman Brian Major was disappointed about losing the site, he said, “I completely understand the company is trying to get some cash.”
Major said while the elusive final piece of the site “is a nice block of land,” the town still owns a sizable stretch along the water that it will maintain.
He added there are other options for creating baseball, softball and soccer fields elsewhere in town to satisfy the town’s existing recreational needs.
“We can still look at the Deyermond facility, where we will be capping (the landfill). There is potential for putting additional fields there,” Major said. “We can build additional fields behind South, Sanborn (schools). We have space to do it.”
While the Reichhold property could have been the next field of dreams in town, there are limitations on the site due to the prior contamination, according to Registry of Deed documents.
The site can’t be used for housing, a school, day care, nursery, agriculture or farming. Additionally, a state hazardous waste site cleanup professional must sign off on any work removing soils or any construction or renovation efforts at the site before work occurs, the documents say.