State clears way for Alliance lease at Head Garage

The Head Garage, soon to be the headquarters for the Westport River Watershed Alliance. The Head Garage, soon to be the headquarters for the Westport River Watershed Alliance.

The Head Garage, soon to be the headquarters for the Westport River Watershed Alliance.

The Head Garage, soon to be the headquarters for the Westport River Watershed Alliance.

Legislative action last week puts the Westport River Watershed Alliance a step closer to its dream of a new home at the Head of Westport.

A home rule petition enabling a 30-year lease for the 493 Old County Road Head Garage land at the Head of Westport has passed into law. The property is owned by the town and governed by the Landing Commission.

“I would like to thank our legislators, Senator Rodrigues and Representative Schmid, for making this possible, said WRWA Director Matt Patrick.

The now-approved home rule petition removes an obstacle created by an 1850s enabling act governing the property that limited any land lease there to three years.

“For us to get a mortgage from a bank … and to make the sort of investment we have in mind for the property, we would need at least a 30-year lease,” Mr. Patrick said.

Town Meeting voters approved moving forward with that petition last spring and it now has legislative approval.

Under that plan, the WRWA would buy the garage from present owner Dan Tripp who is listing it for around $150,000.

Since the building sits on a small (.12 acre) town-owned lot next to and east of Osprey Sea Kayak Adventures at the Head of Westport, the WRWA would pay a lease to the town and offered to pay money in lieu of taxes (as a non-profit, the WRWA is property tax exempt).

The Alliance expects that the entire project — buying the garage and renovating it to the point that it could serve as a new headquarters — will cost around $900,000.

It hopes that Town Meeting voters will approve a CPC question in May of just over $160,000 toward the historical restoration of the building. The Alliance has also applied for a $370,000 grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council to help pay for construction. And Mr. Patrick said the Alliance hopes to raise the rest of the funds.

A town building permit and a wastewater permit are also needed, but “with any luck we think we can get going with the project in the fall,” he said, adding that work should take about a year.

Then the Alliance will be able to move from its present rented space space at 1151 Main Road in the Central Village area.

The 3,200-square-foot former Ford garage is structurally sound, Mr. Patrick said, but needs a complete overhaul to meet the Alliance’s needs.

Not only does WRWA want to move its offices there but it hopes to transform the building into an environmental showcase with composting toilets, rooftop solar energy system, rainfall collection and more. It is not only a practical location, he said, “but a symbolic one” as well.

“It’s right at the Head, close to the water and near to where some of the important work we have been involved in goes on,” he said.

The WRWA holds its annual River Day celebration at the Head of Westport and built a model rain garden system there (next to the kayak shop) that corrals and filters stormwater that flows down Old County Road toward the river. It is also a closely watched location since it is through the Head that waters from the northern watershed meet the upper Westport River.

Mr. Patrick said he believes this will be a good arrangement for Westport.

“We’d be paying the lease and money in lieu of taxes and we’ll really fix it up.”

The garage building has a small parking area to the rear.

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