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Ownership, cleanup and development of Crow Hill property still uncertain

Worcester residents are likely familiar with the legal battle that has been waged for years between the city and the owners of 15 acres of undeveloped property at Crow Hill. While the area is zoned for the development of single-family residential units, such development is unlikely anytime soon as it's still unclear who actually owns the property.

Records indicate that 4.3 acres of the property were used during the 1930s and 1940s as a dump site. Sixteen years ago, "evidence of incinerator ash" which was buried some eight feel below the ground was found at the site. Due to the potential toxicity of the hazardous materials, under state environmental laws, the Massachusetts Contingency Plan ordered cleanup of any hazardous materials by February of 2016.

With the clean-up deadline quickly approaching, the city and Green Landscapes, the longtime owners of the property, are currently embroiled in a legal battle over not only who legally owns the property, but also who is responsible for the site's cleanup and how or whether the land should be developed.

In 2007, Green Landscapes filed a lawsuit against the city claiming that, because the city previously sanctioned to use the land as a dump, it was the city that was responsible for its cleanup. Six years later, a judge finally ruled that the city was indeed responsible and, last April, ordered the city to abide by a $25 million plan to remove any and all hazardous materials which would then allow Green Landscapes to develop the land for residential use.

In July, City Council members met and, according to public records, decided to "spend $770,000 to buy a parcel of land for open space preservation." Under the eminent domain laws, the city informed Green Landscapes that it was no longer the owner of the property and therefore not responsible for the site's cleanup, as the city had previously argued.

The city claimed that it was able to legally take over ownership of the land which abuts the Crow Hill conversation area and that it planned to conduct its own cleanup. Because the land would remain open and undeveloped space, the city argued that it was only required to seal off the contaminated material rather than remove it which would cost between $1.1 and $1.3 million.

In our next blog post, we'll continue to discuss the Crow Hill real estate dispute.

Source: Worcester Telegram, "Crow Hill: Former Worcester dump site snarled in legal fight over cleanup," Cyrus Moulton, Sept. 28, 2015

Worcester Telegram, "Worcester ordered to begin $25M Crow Hill cleanup project," Cyrus Moulton, Oct. 31, 2015

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