Horses, bunnies, and conflicts of interest: Ora hearing has it all

Presenting the application for Ora were from left: Attorney Chip Nylen, architect John Hardin and project manager Jennifer Williams (ICAM screen shot).

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IPSWICH — There would be no animal testing, but the location would be Ora’s corporate headquarters after all.

In a long meeting devoted solely to the Ora application, the planning board touched on a lot of topics, including water, traffic, fiscal impacts, animal testing on rabbits, and another discussion about a possible conflict of interest.

Asked about plans for its Andover location, Ora’s senior project manager, Jennifer Williams, said the company plans to drop its lease there. It can handle around 120 employees, she said.

“That doesn’t mean all the people that used to go there on a daily basis will be going to the Ipswich property on a daily basis,” Williams said. For example, the clinical staff would move to a medical office, she added.

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The company is completely changing its approach to office-based work, and employees would be mostly remote, Williams said.

animal testing

Ora’s opponents recently pointed to US Department of Agriculture inspection reports from Ora’s Andover facility.

Resident Chris Florio called the offenses “egregious.” However, resident Joni Soffron said they had been resolved and the employee involved was let go.

The long-time owner of Wolf Hollow, she added that she had dealt with both the USDA and PETA, the animal-rights group that publicized the USDA reports.

Soffron said the group is “extremist,” and urged the equestrians opposed to Ora to beware of PETA. “They don’t like you, either,” she noted.

Ora’s attorney, Chip Nylen, said the board could make a permit conditional on there being no testing.

Tax impact

Opponents said they wanted more information from Ora on the potential fiscal impact. Nylen said it could bring $200,000 in taxes if all three phases are built.

However, resident Jennifer Eddy was skeptical. “They will not be paying anything near as much as they suggest,” she said.

The mansion and 39.9 acres bring in $38,000 in property taxes to the town, she noted.

If Ora buys the property for $5.5 million and the town valuation changes, it would net $15,000 more because more of the land would be in a conservation restriction, she said.

But if the sale price was $4.3 million or less, it would bring in less than current taxes, Eddy argued. The exact price is unknown at this point, because it was one of many redactions in the document submitted to the town.

Nylen disagreed with the Eddy’s approach and said the company would spend $4 to $5 million renovating the mansion alone.

Resident John Lichten said heavy construction vehicles would damage the road.

Friends’ website

Under citizens queries, before the meeting started, town historian Gordon Harris said a number of images and text from his Historic Ipswich website was reproduced on the Friends of Waldingfield site.

He was given credit but said he didn’t want people to think he supported the Friends. In fact, he was in favor of Ora’s proposal, he said.

Traffic

A recurring complaint is about the amount of traffic that could use Waldingfield Road. Board member Helen Weatherall said she has seen police recently monitoring the road. That indicated to her it was dangerous, she said.

However, Nylen said police frequently change locations and don’t like their patrols to be predictable. He said there was one accident per year on the road.

Although there are just nine residents, 1,645 trips per day were counted on the street. Ora estimates it would add another 250.

Resident Elizabeth Townsend said construction and delivery vehicles would have a large impact over the proposed “multiple phases of construction.”

conflict

Soffron raised the issue again of a possible conflict of interest with Weatherall. Her husband, Chris Florio, has frequently spoken against the project.

Soffron said she wasn’t suggesting a financial aspect but that the board should review state guidance. She called for Weatherall to refuse herself.

Later in the meeting, Florio said he and Weatherall met with former town manager Tony Marino when the matter first came up. Since then, he has always pointed to his relationship with Weatherall, he added.

“’I very, very firmly believe in my right as a private citizen to voice my opinion,” he told the board.

‘”I’ll take it up with town counsel and get a definitive answer,” said chairwoman Carolyn Britt.

The hearing was continued to July.

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