9 North Road and the Selectmen Recall: A Timeline

A look at how Chelmsford got to where it is today regarding 9 North Road and the recall.

In the days leading up to the recall election on Aug. 2, we're taking a look at all aspects of the issue at hand. Today, we take a look at the timeline of the issue and how it all has come down to the election on Aug. 2. You can also check out and


2007: The Emerson House is owned by MassBank, predecessor company to Eastern Bank. Developer Michael Eliopoulos (the father of Philip Eliopoulos, who at the time was a member of the Board of Selectmen) asks the bank if they would consider selling North Road parcel. MassBank declines.

 2007: Roland Van Liew starts Slow Growth Initiative (SGI).

 September 2007: Fire Department/Department of Public Works Facility Study Committee presents recommendations to Board of Selectmen. They say North Road site is too small and that renovating is not feasible. Committee recommends that Fire Dept. should ideally relocate.

October 2008: Pat Maloney of the Permanent Building Committee raises questions about whether the Chelmsford Street/Wilson Street site was most economical and fiscally sound option. He suggested closer look at existing Fire Dept. site and property behind it.

February 2009:   Town Manager Paul Cohen hears that Eastern Bank was considering subdividing and selling the Emerson House and land behind it.  Cohen and Pat Maloney call Tom Dunn of Eastern Bank to ask if he’d consider selling just the land parcel to the town.  Dunn says he’ll get back to them.

February 2009:  Pat Maloney notifies the Permanent Building Committee of the possibility of acquiring land behind the fire station from Eastern Bank.

February 2009: Paul Cohen tells Pat Maloney the bank’s appraisal value of Emerson House plus the land is $430,000, and there is an offer of $480,000 from Michael Eliopoulos of Epsilon Group. Both feel it may still be possible for the town to purchase some of the land.

March 2009: Paul Cohen receives approval from Board of Selectmen to inquire of the bank about possibility of purchasing some of the land behind the fire station. Phil Eliopoulos is not present at that portion of the meeting.

April 2009: Selectmen Philip Eliopoulos and Bill Dalton decide not to run for re-election. The Epsilon Group LLC, owned by Michael Eliopoulos, finalizes purchase & sale agreement with Eastern Bank for Emerson House and the land. Paul Cohen is informed by Eastern Bank and first learns of the intent of Epsilon Group to construct a new office building.

July 2009: Slow Growth Initiative tries to recall the town manager. The effort fails because the town manager cannot be recalled.

October 2009: Epsilon Group files plans to construct a 15,400 square-foot office building on the former Eastern Bank property, subject to a preservation restriction contained within the deed. The restriction identifies the Board of Selectmen as the only enforcement authority to insure its conditions are met in the event that the land is developed.

December 2009 through March 2010: Historic District Commission, Conservation Commission and Planning Board approve the project.

March 2010: Phil Eliopoulos gets letter clearing him from Ethics Commission.

July 2010: Chelmsford building inspector issues permit for Epsilon Group building foundation.

August 2010: Board of Selectmen votes 2-1 that the

October 2010: Roland Van Liew begins the process to recall Planning Board members Sue Carter, Ann McGuigan and George Zaharoolis for their positions on 9 North Road. Ann McGuigan cannot be recalled because her term is too close to ending.

November 2010: Roland Van Liew hires to collect signatures at the polls on Election Day.

November 2010: The Planning Board recall effort fails due to lack of signatures.

March 21, 2011: 

April 5: Van Liew again hires

April 19:  Van Liew returns the first set of petitions to the town clerk and the

April: Attorney Richard McClure, who at first represents Roland Van Liew, raises questions about  Town Manager Paul Cohen asserts the town is A judge wanted both to appear in court .

May: . Also, after going back and fourth to court over the number of petitions that should be issued from the town clerk and when the 14-day window to collect signatures starts, the .

May: Still, and.  Selectmen choose Aug. 2 as the date.


May: " to fight the recall effort.

June 23: Choose Chelmsford holds an informational meeting. Two hours of questions were taken in an open mic setting.

July: Both sides do their best to rally voters.  

Aug. 2: Election day.

Mike Combs July 27, 2011 at 09:55 PM
I'm just stunned at how selectively this edited out events in order to present a very biased view. Wow. Why not mention the sworn testimony that Eastern bank contact Paul Cohen months bfore Paul says he conttacted them? Why not mention that Phil Eliopoulos was negotiating to buy the land in August 2008, while he was still chairman of the BOS? There's more, and it makes me wonder: Is this just lazy reporting? Lack of skill? Bias? I'm mystified.
Paul E. Cohen July 27, 2011 at 10:55 PM
Mike, Please provide with the testimony from Thomas Dunn's deposition that states that Eastern Bank contacted me months before I contacted the bank. Perhaps this is lazy commentary, lack of skill, or bias on your behalf.
Krista Perry July 27, 2011 at 10:59 PM
Mike, I did my best to present an easy to understand and pared-down version of events that was the least people needed to know without becoming really confused or reading something the length of a novel. As you know it's a complicated issue. If you feel I'm "biased" and left out important elements, feel free to write a more detailed letter to the editor about it.
Mike Combs July 27, 2011 at 11:49 PM
Hi Paul. I'm happy to help, though I'm sure you have a copy. Q's are from McClure, A's are from Thomas Dunn, and are sworn testimony for his deposition. So far as I know, you haven't stated anything under oath yet, so it's not really your word against his. It's his word under threat of perjury against yours. Page 153, Q: Were you under the impression that the town was interested in the property? Dunn: Not -- the town didn't contact me with interest in the property. Q: Did you contact the town regarding interest in the property? Dunn: I did. Q: When did that take place? Dunn: That took place as we were negotiating the purchase and sale and we were negotiating the price. Q: Why would you contact the town of Chelmsford if you were negotiating with Epsilon? Dunn: To see if I could get a better price. Q: What were you offering to the town of Chelmsford? Dunn: I wasn't offering. I was asking if they had interest. Q: Any interest? Dunn: Uh-huh. Q: Who were you dealing with from the town of Chelmsford? Dunn: Paul Cohen. Q: You made the call to Mr. Cohen? Dunn: I did.
Phil stanway July 27, 2011 at 11:51 PM
Krista, As some people age they become jaded with the political system and sometimes even life. I know you are doing your best considering that a for a balanced story you need to talk to both side and one side is hard if not impossible to talk to. From time to time people get swept up in the emotion of an election or event and lash out at people without basis and in this case I think that is what happened. I for one know you are one of the hardest working people I know. You try to stay middle of the road at all times despite pressure that try to pull you to one side or another. This recall has brought both the best and worst of our town and all I can say is it will be over Aug 2nd. Take a deep breath and keep doing the amazing job you are doing for one so young. Trust me there are so many in town that love patch and have come to respect your professionalism. I think that in the days to come even those who criticize you will take a second look and say they are sorry. Don’t let this get you down and keep up the great work.. in the future when I am old and gray (ok I am already but wicked old and wicked gray) I will expect to read you byline in the Globe and think about this recall as one of the crucibles that forged a great reporter.
Mike Combs July 28, 2011 at 12:06 AM
Paul, the excerpt from Dunn's deposition contrast sharply with your previous statement on the subject, from your "Better not Bigger Response, July 26, 2010": "On February 5, 2009 Firefighter Hank Houle, who was serving as a member of the DPW-Fire Department Facility Planning Committee, notified me that he had received information from a friend, Tom Dunn, who worked in the real estate division of Eastern Bank that the bank had been contacted by Mike Eliopoulos regarding the sale of the Emerson House property located at 9 North Road. Since the site directly abuts the Center Fire Station, this land may be valuable to the Town for the renovation/expansion of the fire station. I contacted Mr. Dunn who informed me that the bank was in discussions regarding the sale of the 4.6 acre property. I informed him that the Town may be interested in the property."
Mike Combs July 28, 2011 at 12:12 AM
Krista, you don't find the truth by comparing Roland's long letters to the Choose Chelmsford timeline. You find it by going to the source material. In this case, there are minutes posted from the FD/DPW committee, the Board of Selectmen, the deposition, and Paul's written response. You may not have the time to do the homework on this; sadly newspapers are simply understaffed these days. But it would be better to have printed nothing than to have printed something so misleading.
Christina Walsh July 28, 2011 at 02:02 AM
Mike, this excerpt does not prove your point that "Eastern bank contact Paul Cohen months before Paul says he conttacted them?" There is no timeline mentioned. You cannot use excerpts out of context in this deposition to prove your point. I have read the deposition in full and it appears to me that McClure had to ask the same questions over and over of Tom Dunn to get the answers he was looking for. It really amounted to a fishing expedition to me. I truly believe it is time to move on. The building is there and it isn't going to come down. Use the lessons we have learned to guide future policy decisions. But the ongoing debate on 9 North Rd is hurting this town.
Paul E. Cohen July 28, 2011 at 02:21 AM
Mike, the two reply posts that you have made do not support your allegation that Eastern Bank contacted me months before I said that I contacted the bank.
Mike Combs July 28, 2011 at 02:28 AM
Christina, My goal isn't to tear down the building. I think the perception that a selectman put his family before Chelmsford is hurting this town, and as long as we say "nothing was wrong", we're going to be divided. I'll try to give it a rest, though.
Mike Combs July 28, 2011 at 02:45 AM
Here's another excerpt. Q. You made the call to Mr. Cohen? A. I did. Q. It was during the negotiation of the P & S? A. Correct. Q. That could have been anywhere from December 2008 to April 2009, correct? A. Yeah, I believe it was relatively early on. If he called you first, then his call would have been before the February date that you say you called him, right? And since the P&S was signed April 2, February wouldn't be early on, it'd be in the middle. Do you think Dunn was mistaken?
Jon Kurland July 28, 2011 at 02:48 AM
Mike - My problem with Mr. Dunn;s testimony is that he says he can't recall what happened 57 times. This tells me that his memory of this transaction is not very good. We learned in law school that the longer the delay between the event and the testimony, the more unreliable the testimony. This deposition took place nearly 2 years after the events. Paul has a very specific memory as to how he found out about the possible sale and how he responded. I favor Paul's memory over Tom Dunn's on this transaction.
Mike Combs July 28, 2011 at 02:56 AM
Jon, that's a possible way of reading the deposition that I hadn't considered. Thanks. As far as the reporting on this goes, I still maintain that it's wrong to present one side's story as fact and omit the alternate point of view, especially on points like this that are important yet controversial.
Paul E. Cohen July 28, 2011 at 03:06 AM
Mike, I do believe that Tom Dunn was mistaken. He and I initially spoke in February, not the previous December. However, you have asserted that his version is accurate without any evidence to support your claim.
Paul E. Cohen July 28, 2011 at 03:18 AM
Mike, the minutes of the Permanent Building Committee and PBC Chairman Pat Maloney support my account of when my discussion with Tom Dunn occurred.
Peter Bashall July 28, 2011 at 12:33 PM
Paul, Stop talking, you are only digging a bigger hole. I read the whole deposition as well. You should be very careful when you say people are mistaken. For instance you claim that you raised the issue of the property at a BOS meeting in Feb that you knew Phil was not attending because of your knowledge of his father's interest in the land. Then you state two months later that you first learn of their plan to build a building on the land. Really what did you think they were planning. Did you ever ask Phil or did he ever tell you. Paul, you can't have it both ways. Are you saying that you did not know what Phil's plans were and were sandbagged by a sitting selectmen as to what his plans actually were for the land or did you know the whole time and not raise it as a bigger issue for other reasons. I think you wanted to build on Wilson St and really were not that interested in the land and only made a perfunctory inquiry to cover your bases. The shame of this whole thing is that Phil's lack of honesty and your lack of disclosure is the real basis for the recall.
Krista Perry July 28, 2011 at 12:39 PM
Before this gets too crazy, I just want to say: we can all disagree without being disagreeable. Open discussion is great and I know tensions are high but let's keep it friendly.
Paul E. Cohen July 28, 2011 at 01:43 PM
Peter, Once again you post inaccurate information. I did not write that I raised the issue at a February BOS Meeting, I discussed this with the 4 members of the BOS in March at which time the BOS directed me to explore acquiring the land behind the fire station. At that time, I was unaware of any plans for the construction of a new building on the site. I believed that Epsilon was seeking to acquire and renovate the Emerson House. I never asked Phil and he never informed me. There was no sandbagging going on. Clearly, Eastern Bank was in discussions with Epsilon for months prior to any interest by the Town. As for the sincerity of my interest, check the minutes of the Permanent Building Committee in which Pat Maloney provides repeated updates on the Town's negotiations to acquire the land behind the fire station. There was no lack of disclosure by me.
Peter Bashall July 28, 2011 at 01:53 PM
Paul, I am only looking at Krista's timelines above. In the deposition, Dunn only recalls two phone calls and they were of such a nature he could not really much about them. It does not sound like a great deal of interest. The real question is why would you not ask a sitting BOS member what their plans were in more detail with regard to property the town had an interest in as well. And Krista, I never called anyone a name. I am only pointing out the facts from your timeline. It seems to me that Paul is the one saying others are not being entirely truthful. It seems like the only warnings you issue are to people against Phil and Paul Cohen.
Krista Perry July 28, 2011 at 02:00 PM
Never said you did. Just trying to be proactive.
Paul E. Cohen July 28, 2011 at 02:07 PM
Peter, Tom Dunn's lack of recollection about his and my conversations may reflect the fact that Eastern Bank was not very interested in selling the property to the Town. Clearly, the bank was in discussions with Epsilon for months prior to any discussions with the Town. The Town contacted Eastern Bank when the bank's discussions with Epsilon leaked out. The bank's interest in selling the land to the Town may have only been perfunctory. Why would I contact Phil to tip him off that the Town was considering to acquire some of the property that his client/family had been working to acquire for quite some time well in advance of any interest/contact with bank officials?
Peter Bashall July 28, 2011 at 02:36 PM
Paul, You have it backwards. The lack of recall by Mr. Dunn may be because your calls were not very long. He also made a statement that he called the town even as he was negotiating with Phil. His comment in response to the question as to why, was to get a better price. He also made the statement that he would have preferred to sell to the town, all things being equal. As to "tipping off" Phil. Why would you as town manager not ask a sitting BOS member what his plans were for the property. Also, why would be have to be "tipped off" if he was part of the process of the planning for the fire station. It seems that at some point he knew what wa going on. Your response, in my mind indicates that you seem to now think, if you did not at the time, that Phil was in a conflict position. Paul, I am not attacking your integrity. I do think that you are now the unfair target of a person with an agenda. The problem is the guy who I feel is most at fault has conveniently moved on. One final note, Krista, your comment was unwarranted. I stand my my observation that the warnings are only made when it is not one of your favored posters
Krista Perry July 28, 2011 at 03:06 PM
My note was not made exclusively to anyone. It was meant as a reminder to everyone and I'm sorry you didn't take it as such.
Mike Combs July 28, 2011 at 03:43 PM
Paul, the town's interest in the parcel did not begin when you called Eastern Bank. It began when the town put a Preservation Restriction on the parcel, and it became a more direct interest when the town spent money to study expanding the fire station into it. Five months later, word of the deal leaked out. Hank Houle came to you and you called Eastern. Even assuming Thomas Dunn was mistaken and you hadn't been contacted earlier, by your timeline you waited about five weeks to inform the Selectmen. During that time there was good reason to believe that Phil needed to disclose, but you didn't ask him to do it. In March, when Pat Maloney showed the board plans to expand into that parcel as the lowest cost option, that should have been another red flare that Phil had failed an obligation to disclose. Again, nothing happened. I don't see a conspiracy, but I don't understand why you didn't take stronger steps, and take them more quickly. The clock was ticking. As I re-read my post here, I think I've just restated what Peter said, only perhaps without his clarity. In the tradition of blogs everywhere, I'll post anyway.
Peter Bashall July 28, 2011 at 04:23 PM
Krista, It just seems odd that the comments from you only come after a negative post about the current BOS, Paul Cohen or Phil. I have seen posters challange people as to where they live and vote. That is not friendly in my mind at all. I know Van Liew is not a likeable guy and you rely on the certain select number of favored posted to contribute as well, but be careful, your bias shows
Krista Perry July 28, 2011 at 04:34 PM
In the future, if you ever feel like a certain comment on Patch is offensive or rude and I haven't seen it or done anything about it yet, please don't hesitate to let me know about it and I'm happy to step in.


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