Town will get to vote on restaurant purchase

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JAY – Selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday to turn the question of buying the Jay Family Restaurant over to voters at a special town meeting to be held on Jan. 29.

Buying the 7,000 square-foot building from owner Janet Diaz would cost about $250,000. Renovating it to be used as office space for the police department and town employees is expected to cost at least another $500,000, Town Manager Ruth Marden said.

The town has less than a month to make a decision before Diaz will start thinking about selling to other interested buyers, Marden said.

Only the upper floor of the nearly 7,400-square-foot town office is being used now, Chairman Bill Harlow explained to budget committee members Tuesday. Air quality and mold issues in the downstairs have made even storing some documents impossible.

The town has been putting money aside for a new building for years, Harlow said. Nearly $730,000 is in the reserve account earmarked for that purpose.

Four or five years ago, Harlow said, plans were drawn up for the new building, which was designed to be 10,000-square-feet and cost more than $1.2 million. In today’s market, it would probably cost around $1.5 million, he said.

But budget committee members and members of the audience – along with selectmen themselves – had big questions about whether purchasing the restaurant is a good idea.

Barbara Cook wondered if buying a building the same size as the one that’s now too small would be a good idea. While selectmen explained the reason the town office is too small is because half of it is not being used, Cook and others at the meeting maintained buying an old building 3,000 square feet smaller than what was originally planned would not be a smart use of money.

There’s also the question of the now-vacant restaurant’s condition. Admittedly, Harlow said, Diaz’s late husband, Joe Diaz, did not maintain the property well, and it has a mold problem.

Barbara Cook also suggested encouraging Diaz to sell the building to someone interested in opening a new business in town. The building might be worth more to the town in terms of employment and tax dollars as a business than as a town office.

In the end, selectmen voted to let the taxpayers decide the matter at a special town meeting to be held on Monday, Jan. 29.

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