LEICESTER, Mass. — The abandoned Alpine and the old Exxon station in the center of town have been eyesores for years, and now the Leicester selectmen are looking into cleaning up the properties by taking control of them through eminent domain.
At Monday night's selectboard meeting, Selectman Doug Belanger proposed using grant money to explore eminent domain and potentially take over the abandoned gas station.
More than 10 years ago, Belanger proposed using the gas station for the town's ambulance service.
"It'd free up space that we do desperately need in Station 1 for the the Fire Department," said Belanger. Although this would be a temporary fix before building a fire department, "at least it would free up some space for first responders."
The building offers many benefits for such a service because it has three bays, space that could be made into sleeping quarters, he said.
The building is owned by Cumberland Farms, which Belanger said has been looking at options for the property for years and has discussed potential plans to reconfigure or expand.
"But that was over 10 years ago," said Belanger. "It's reached a boiling point, and our newest member Matt Dennison came to me about it because while he was on the campaign trail it was really the No. 1 topic."
"Collectively, we decided enough is enough, either fish or cut bait," he added.
Town Administrator Robert Reed is reaching out to the representatives of Cumberland Farms to continue talks.
Dennison also brought up the Alpine in Cherry Valley, another abandoned building that he says has been a source of frustration, especially for those who live in that neighborhood.
"Unfortunately, it's been in a deteriorating condition for years now, and the residents of that area and the town in general have to drive by it everyday. It's become a dumping ground for people — out of town, I think — that come in and dump trash there. And that's made it even worse than it already is."
The residents have become fed up with it, Dennison said.
"It depreciates their property values, and a lot of people mentioned to me that they feel like the Board of Selectmen should try to act on that," he said. "People consider the Alpine the gateway to the center of town, and Cherry Valley, and that abandoned gas station is the face of the center of town."
When the board were first approached Cumberland Farms about the situation a decade ago, Belanger said, the company went out of its way to spruce up the building and keep it from becoming a blighted property.
Still, he says the abandoned gas station has left a stigma on the town's business development and serves "as a symbol of a boarded up building vs. a town that wants to move progressively and welcome business and customers."
This has been one of the missions of the town's newly reinvigorated Economic Development Committee, on which Belanger and Dennison serve. A brochure is in the works to help advertise Leicester's business friendly aspects and encourage development.
"The Economic Development Committee wants to promote the town and show something positive, not a boarded-up building," said Belanger.
Dennison added, "Certainly a lot of people feel that if you're coming into town to open up a business, and you see these two abandoned properties that have been that way for quite some time, as a prospective business owner those are two things that catch your eye."