AUBURN – The city will buy the Gooseberry Barn property at 211 Fairview Ave., after a divided City Council vote.

After first debating the legality of even meeting Monday, councilors voted 4-3 to purchase the 3.8-acre lot at Fairview and Minot avenues for $625,000. The city has held a purchase option on property for 20 months, paying $80,000 to tie up the land.

Economic Development Director Roland Miller said landowners Rachel and Harvey Desgrosseilliers have agreed to spend $10,000 to demolish the building on the lot and pay about $21,000 in back property taxes. The city will also count the $80,000 it’s paid in options as credit. In the end, the city will pay about $514,000, Miller said.

“We’re going to turn around and try to sell it,” Miller said. He has been negotiating with at least one interested group.

“But our hands were tied because you cannot sell something you do not own,” Miller said. Miller said he hopes to close on the deal by Nov. 30.

The sale will end a checkered four-year history, since the Desgrosseilliers closed their gift shop. They said then that they had plans to sell the property, but weren’t able to reach a deal.

Cumberland Farms approached the city in 2005 with plans to put a 4,000-square-foot convenience store with eight gas pumps and an automated car wash on the lot, as well as a drive-through Dunkin’ Donuts store. But neighbors and parents, fearing the increased traffic would harm their kids, helped quash the deal.

That’s when the city put an option to purchase on the property. School officials were interested in using part of the land for additional parking, and the city was confident it could sell the remainder.

The council’s final decision to sell was weighted by three outgoing councilors Ward 3’s Eric Samson, Ward 1’s Dick Gleason and at-large Councilor Ellen Peters. They combined with Ward 2’s Robert Hayes to approve the deal, over the objections of at-large Councilor Bob Mennealy, Ward 4’s Bruce Bickford and Ward 5’s Ray Berube.

Berube objected to the price, saying he doubted the city could get its money back. He also balked at having outgoing councilors vote on the sale, saying the newly elected council should be the ones to decide. The three new councilors will take office Dec. 3.

“People have to understand that the city does not buy land,” Berube said. “The taxpayers do. This is taxpayers’ money we’re spending, and we need to be careful about how we do that.”

Councilor Gleason said he thought it was fair deal.

“We’re not spending; We’re investing,” Gleason said. “As long as we are sure we can get the city’s money back, this counts as investing.”

Councilor Peters said she was still a city councilor.

“I may no longer be here in a couple of weeks, but I will still be answerable for my decisions. I don’t make them willy-nilly. I still work for the people.”

Illegal meeting?

Ed Desgrosseilliers, brother of landowner Harvey, charged that the meeting was illegal from the beginning. Desgrosseilliers said the city clerk failed to post notice of the meeting on paper in her office until Monday morning. Since city offices were closed Thursday and Friday of last week, he said a paper copy of the agenda should have been tacked up in her office by Tuesday of last week.

“This has nothing to do with what you are voting on or who is involved,” Desgrosseilliers said. “What you are doing here is illegal, eleventh-hour meeting, and you need to stop what you are doing and go home.”

Clerk Mary Lou Magno said the agenda was not posted in office until Monday, but was on the city’s Web site by Wednesday. Notice was also sent out via E-mail.

Mayor John Jenkins said he did mention Monday’s meeting in his remarks during the Nov. 19 meeting, although he did not mention the topic.

Between the e-mailed notice, posting the agenda on the Web and the mayor’s mention, that should be enough notice, Magno said.

“All of those things, taken together, are enough to satisfy the law,” she said.

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