There's more than a half dozen ideas for how Hamilton might use the 27 acres Joanne Patton is giving to the town.
Some of the ideas include building three ball fields, creating hiking trails, opening up a dock for canoes and kayaks on the Ipswich River, building residential housing and creating a museum about the Patton family.
In addiition, several new ideas surfaced last week when Chairman Peter Clark asked his fellow Planning Board members what they would do with the Asbury Street property. Of particular interest are any uses that might generate revenue for the town to help maintain the property.
The challenge - the $1.9 million site not only may be coming off the tax rolls, but maintaining the land and the buildings will also cost the town money. One estimate is that it costs about $100,000 a year to maintain the home and pay for the utilities.
Town Manager Michael Lombardo has told the Board of Selectmen the Patton donation would be revenue neutral. To persuade the town residents at Annual Town Meeting this spring to support accepting the gift, town officials believe they must come up with a plan to come up with revenue to support the site.
During the Planning Board's discussion last week, some of the ideas board members, staff and members of the audience offered included using one of the buildings to house a restaurant that serves organic produce gathered from the adjacent , developing facilities to host weddings - particularly near the “wedding tree” already in the center of the property - and adapting the Patton house to accommodate corporate retreats.
Board member Rob McKean suggested that a good use of the site would be to capitalize on its historic value.
“There is nothing on the North Shore like Plymouth or Lexington and Concord,” he said. The historical ties the site offers to the legendary World War II general would be a tourist attraction, he said.
The Patton house at 650 Asbury St. was built in 1786, with additions made in later years. General George S. Patton Jr. bought the property in 1928. His wife, Beatrice, lived there during World War II while her husband served overseas. The first General Patton died in 1945.
The daughter-in-law of the legendary general Patton, Joanne Patton, now 80, settled in the house when her husband retired from the Army in 1980. Her husband died in 2004. She is planning to move to another house nearby in Topsfield.
Town Planning Coordinator Marcie Ricker proposed that the town rent out one of the buildings on the site for use as a restaurant. She said she believes there are restaurateurs who might pay $5,000 or even $10,000 a month to rent the space and offer a menu that promotes local organic produce grown on neighboring farms.
has collaborated with the Patton family to archive the historical papers and artifacts in the Patton home. The town is talking with the college to see what use it might have for the home in the future and whether it is willing to pay rent.
Board member Evelyn Shuman said the house and swimming pool would make a great facility for corporations to hold retreats, which would help generate revenue to pay the costs to maintain the house.
The planning board appointed Clark to serve on a special town committee to plan the future uses of the property, if the donation is accepted. The committee will include two Selectmen, several department heads, a developer, an attorney and Clark.
The board chairman seemed to warm to the idea of using some of the site for weddings and related events. Couples use the wedding tree on the property as a backdrop for their weddings and wedding photos. He said a floor would have to be constructed or the lawn would be torn up by wedding parties.
The discussion raised several questions that Clark said he would raise with Lombardo and members of the new committee. They included:
- Who would manage the property?
- Would the town subdivide the property to sell off lots for residential development?
- Would the town get into running businesses?
One idea that did not come up was whether the town should sell the property. Under the donation agreement, if the town decided it wanted to sell the property, the Patton family would have the right of first refusal.