Stoneham official proposes prison

STONEHAM - Selectman George Seibold approached the owner of the Boston Regional Medical Center (BRMC) site in recent weeks to gauge his feelings about constructing a prison at the property.

Pitching his proposal to erect a temporary detention center at the vacant BRMC site last week, Seibold told his Selectmen counterparts that he had already discussed the idea with Arthur Gutierrez, Jr., the Vice-president of the Burlington-based Gutierrez Company.

The hospital site is located on the Fells Reservation Parkway across from Spot Pond near the Winchester, Melrose, Malden, and Medford lines.

According to Seibold, the Middlesex Sheriff's Office recently announced its intentions to relocate its existing holding center at Cambridge's Superior Courthouse after asbestos was found at the site.

"I know the sheriff is looking for space for a new jail. I had called attorney Charlie Houghton about possibly talking to Mr. Gutierrez," Seibold commented last Thursday.

"I know it's going to be awfully, awfully negative because Stoneham doesn't want a jail and this and that. But look at Concord, a beautiful community, and Norfolk, Plymouth and Bridgewater," the Selectman argued.

According to Seibold, who works with the Middlesex Sheriff's Office, his employment with the state agency doesn't constitute any conflict-of-interest.

Specifically, the Selectman insisted that he had nothing to gain from the construction of a prison, and that he proposed the idea as a way to generate revenue for the town, while minimizing any drain on town services.

"Personally, I'd be retired before this is all said and done. So it really wouldn't affect me," Seibold commented in a phone interview on Tuesday night.

"If we could get a payment-in-lieu of taxes, this would be a win-win for the town. What could be better for the town than something that will bring in revenues and have no impact on services?" the local official added.

The Gutierrez Company, along with Colorado-based Simpson Housing, LP, presently plan to construct a 450-unit affordable housing project at the 22-acre lot.

However, that proposal, the object of two lawsuits challenging the development, still needs to receive permission from the state's Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA) before it breaks ground.

Earlier this winter, the state office ruled that a reduced-build project needed to be proposed that mitigated traffic and environmental concerns.

Attempts to reach Gutierrez for comment about Seibold's proposal were unsuccessful. However, according to Houghton, who represents the Burlington-developer, the petitioners are still moving forward with the current affordable housing plan.

In addition, Spencer Welton, Simpson Housing's Vice-President for development, commented that his firm has no intentions of abandoning the 450-unit affordable housing plan.

"I don't really know anything about that," Welton responded, when asked about Seibold's hopes to construct a prison at the hospital property. "Currently, there is no plan other than to build housing and offices. We have every intention of going forward with this project, and we still hold a purchase and sales agreement."

As Houghton and Welton indicated that they are not pursuing any other development options, one of the housing proposal's staunchest opponents expressed some openness to erecting a prison at the site.

Floored by the news that other plans were being discussed, Mike Ryan, the Executive Director for the Friends of the Fells, agreed that at first-glance, a prison would negate many of the traffic and other environmental concerns cited by those fighting the current housing project.

However, the environmental activist also cautioned that he would need to investigate a concrete proposal before he endorsed any future development plans for the property.

"Wow, did you just hear my jaw dropping to the floor?" Ryan remarked, upon hearing of Seibold's pitch. "You don't think of a prison as generating a lot of traffic. So it is a novel idea."

"I don't think we would rule anything out-of-hand. But my suspicion, knowing Arthur, is that it would be a massive prison of gigantic scale," the Melrose resident added. "So the devil really is in the details. We would need of see some of the plans."

© 2000 Woburn Daily Times Inc.