Wellesley Town Meeting approved Article 26 Tuesday night – authorizing selectmen to renegotiate the town's lease with Gravestar Inc. for the Cochituate Aqueduct land next to the Star Market property - enabling a deal for Whole Foods Supermarket to move to the site.
Gravestar owns the Star Market property and building, and leases the adjacent, town-owned 30,894 sq ft parcel which rests atop the Cochituate Aqueduct. The town land is a rectangular in shape and runs through the middle of the lot behind the building. Gravestar owns a portion of the lot on the other side of the parcel.
The renewed lease would be for 20 years, with the option of five extensions of five years each, for a possible total of 45 years at the site. The rent on the new lease in the first year would be $92,682, the same as what the town receives under the current deal with Gravestar, which ends on Sept. 30, 2012. The new lease, however, has a provision to increase the rent by six percent at eight, 13 and 18 - year intervals.
The Article passed by a strong voice vote in the first half of Tuesday's session, which was continued from a discussion at the end of Monday night's meeting. Opposing voices were sparse in comparison to the number speaking against the measure.
Most people against the article fell into two groups: those in favor of existing businesses at the property and those questioning the length of the lease.
The first group championed two businesses currently leased at the site - Star Market and the Tian Fu Chinese Restaurant. The two businesses, along with Rite Aid, will now be ousted in favor of the new Whole Foods store.
Thomas Ulfelder, Precinct C, noted the lack of affordable places for people like teachers and police officers to shop for groceries in town. "They ought to have a right to try to live in town as well," Ulfelder said, and a decision that took Star Market out of Wellesley would drive cost-conscious shoppers out of town. "I don't think that's right," he said.
Jason Rich, Precinct D, urged voters to defeat the article, noting that it endorsed ending the lease of the current businesses two years early.
Pam Kubbins of Precinct B pointed out that, "We're not responsible for Gravestar's decision to lease their property to Whole Foods."
Marla Robinson, Precinct E, who works in real estate, questioned the length of the lease, noting the usual length of a commercial lease is 10 years. Executive Director Hans Larsen said Gravestar's deal with Whole Foods likely hinged on the length of the lease, and noted that commercial real estate company Collier, Meredith & Grew of Boston had reviewed the lease and said it was reasonable.
After the article passed, Town Moderator Peg Metzger announced a break. When Town Meeting returned, voters approved:
Article 27, extending the lease of the Volkswagen dealership on Linden Street until 2013, with a promise that sidewalks along the property will be redone, and a stipulation that the extension is contingent upon a noise mitigation hearing and compliance with noise restrictions spelled out in the development agreement.
Article 30, setting new rules for the size, placement and permitting of commercial signs in town.
Town Meeting will meet again Monday, May 3 at Wellesley Middle School, 50 Kingsbury St., 7:30 p.m.