As written today by Rita Savard of the Lowell Sun:
CHELMSFORD — In the town’s only contested race, voters said a controversial building project led the charge for a shake-up on the Planning Board.
Attorney Richard McClure, who is suing the town over an alleged preservation restriction violation at 9 North Road, topped the three-way race for two open seats, pushing out Chairwoman Ann McGuigan.
McClure earned 2,392 votes, followed by Michael Raisbeck with 2,180 votes. McGuigan trailed with 1,883 votes.
“I believe the election results were clearly a referendum on the 9 North Road project, given the ouster of the chair of the Planning Board,” McClure said in an email last night. “I am very thankful for the voters and I hope to do my best in representing their interests.”
The results took some by surprise last night, including members of the Planning Board, who have been sued by McClure.
“I will still go about doing the business of Chelmsford as always,” board member George Zaharoolis said. “The Planning Board has a responsibility to uphold the bylaws. That’s what I’ll continue to do, and I hope the new members do the same.”
The 9 North Road parcel, next to the Center Fire Station, ignited the feuds that led to several ongoing legal battles.
Michael Eliopoulos, father of former longtime Selectman Philip Eliopoulos, purchased the privately owned land from Eastern Bank for $400,000 in 2009. McClure has sued the town over an alleged violation of a 1978 preservation restriction, which he said was created to retain the two-acre parcel as open space.McClure also alleges that the land sold for such a low price because it has always been marked as “unbuildable.”
Former Selectmen John Carson, Paul Hart and Joe Shanahan, who helped author the preservation restriction more than 30 years ago, spoke before town officials last year to confirm the intent of the bylaw was to keep the land as open space.
But other town officials argue that the bylaw was not written specifically to prevent building on the parcel. An attempt to halt construction last year was rejected by a state Land Court judge.
Accusations that the land was acquired through backroom deals have spurred several lawsuits. McClure is also the attorney representing Chelmsford businessman Roland Van Liew in his suits against various town officials.
McGuigan was unable to be reached for comment.
Raisbeck, who was a Planning Board alternate, said he might have done well with voters because he positioned himself “somewhat in between the other two.”
“I was a fan of Ann’s,” he said. “I don’t really know Dick McClure that well, but I’m looking forward to getting to know him and having a productive term on the board.”
The amount of blank ballots for the race, 2,726, topped all candidates’ votes.
Looking at the results last night, Town Meeting representative Brian Latina said it is clear that “this election was about 9 North Road.”
“People were sending a message,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”