Golf Course update: Committee holding “final public input” meeting tomorrow night; “Save” campaign changes theme (Updated)

by beth on January 31, 2017

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Above: A committee is seeking one last round of community feedback on the St. Mark’s Golf Course, while a group of residents seeks building public support to protect the land and “our heritage”. (photo by Alan Bezanson)

Tomorrow night, the St. Mark’s Golf Course Master Plan Committee is holding another meeting. The committee is promoting this one as the last chance for the public to provide their input.

Each weekly meeting has encouraged feedback from a specific group. This week, the focus is an open forum for general public feedback:

The fifth input session is scheduled for Wednesday February [1st], at 7 pm will be held at the Southborough Senior Center. The committee elected for this final session to be an “open forum” to discuss any topics of interest or concern presented by the community at large. As with all meetings, the public is invited and encouraged to attend.

The committee is charged with reporting back to selectmen before the March Special Town Meeting. They are expected to give selectmen better understanding of how residents want the property used.

Selectmen are already aware that some residents want the use to remain as a golf course. One of those groups is using a citizen’s petition to try to buy the land but keep the public safety building off it. That group has apparently shifted its marketing strategy.

Save Our Heritage profile pic on Facebook and twitterPreviously, I shared that one group was campaigning under the website saveourgolfcourse.org. The website disappeared (calling up a 404 error). But a similar, though updated, site is up and running for the same Warrant Article. As referenced in the new url, the group is focusing the pitch on saving “our heritage”:

The beautiful open space of St. Mark’s Golf Course is a defining feature that sets Southborough apart from neighboring towns, and is an essential part of our town’s identity and heritage.​ . .

Preserving it will let future generations know that Southborough cared about our history and our natural resources.

You can read more on the website saveourheritagesboro.org, and linked accounts on twitter and Facebook.

As for the SMGCMPC meeting, you can read their full press release below: 

On Wednesday February 1st, The Saint Mark’s Golf Course Master Plan Committee (“SMGCMPC”) will hold the last of five themed “input sessions”; designed by the committee to hear the opinions of community members and various stake holders relative to the town’s proposed land swap and purchase of the Saint Mark’s Golf Course and subsequent construction of a new public safety facility on approximately 10% of this property.

To date, the SMGCMPC has conducted four of its five planned “input sessions” organized to focus discussion around a series of topics.

  • The first session was held on January 4th and included an overview of the police and fire complex proposed for a portion of the golf course property, and discussions regarding the recreational and elderly facility needs of the town, facilitated by a joint presentation from the Southborough Recreation Commission and The Council on Aging.
  • The second session was held on January 11th and heard the interests and concerns of property abutters and current golf course users, including a brief history of the golf course and a citizen’s presentation which demonstrated how the golf course may be modified to co-exist with the proposed new public safety complex.
  • The third session was held on January 18th and discussed the property’s historical and open space values, including a presentation by the Open Space Preservation Commission, an informal discussion unofficially led by a member of the town’s Historic Commission regarding the town’s desires for an official historic district. The meeting ended with a Q&A session with one of the Town’s Selectmen.
  • The fourth session was held on January 25th and discussed topics which intended to address needs and concerns of any of the Town’s other boards, commissions and committees, with unofficial representation by the Planning Commission, Wetland’s Commission, Public Safety Complex and Planning Committee.

The fifth input session is scheduled for Wednesday February [1st], at 7 pm will be held at the Southborough Senior Center. The committee elected for this final session to be an “open forum” to discuss any topics of interest or concern presented by the community at large. As with all meetings, the public is invited and encouraged to attend.
What is The SMGCMPC?

  • The primary charge of the Saint Mark’s Golf Course Master Plan Committee is as follows:
  • Review the term sheet negotiated by the Board of Selectmen with St. Marks School for the purchase
  • Review the work product to date of the Public Safety Study Committee
  • Engage abutters to the Golf Course property, town departments and other interested parties as to future needs of the Town
  • Identify pros and cons of future needs, balancing the needs of the Town and those of other interested parties
  • Engage a consultant to coordinate a planning charrette for the Golf Course property which should be conducted prior to any Town Meeting where the acquisition of the Golf Course property be discussed and voted upon
  • Provide periodic updates to the Board of Selectmen and solicit their input as the process develops.

The committee is expected to make its’ reporting to the Town Selectmen prior a scheduled Special Town Meeting, to be held in early March.

The committee includes one member of the Recreation Commission (Brian Shifrin, Chairperson), one member of the Council on Aging (Bill Harrington), one member of the Open Space Preservation Commission (Lisa Braccio, Vice Chairperson), one member of the Advisory Committee (Sam Stivers), three direct abutters to the golf course property (Ed Pearson, Stephen Scaringi and Larry Vagnini) and three members of the community at large (Joe Kacevich, Tim Lescalleet, and Ginny Martins).

Updated (2/1/17 6:57 am): The press release accidentally would listed Wednesday as second. The meeting takes place tonight.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Donna McDaniel January 31, 2017 at 9:53 PM

Date for meeting?
The article says Wed., Feb. 2nd… I do believe we’re in the same time/calendar zone and Wed. is Feb. 1st, yes? So is it the 1st on Wed. or the 2nd on Thurs.????
Hoping people find out…

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2 beth February 1, 2017 at 6:53 AM

I didn’t notice the typo in the press release. It is today Wednesday, February 1

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3 mike February 1, 2017 at 9:04 AM

I claim ignorance, have we already purchased this property? Any background on what it did cost or will cost? Are there any private equity partners looking to purchase it to develop?

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4 beth February 1, 2017 at 9:11 AM

I didn’t provide background because I have written about it so many times before.

The Special Town Meeting in March is for the Town to ask voters to agree to a land deal. It includes purchase of the property for the purpose of siting a public safety complex there.

This came out of the Town’s request to purchase some land abutting the current stations that was required for initial plans to build a new complex at that site. St. Mark’s School’s board said they weren’t interested in selling land there but would be interested in selling the golf course as part of a deal that gives them the parcel where the stations are.

You can read more details and follow the drama behind the golf course land deal and the plans for the new public safety building by clicking on the links.

There have been public meetings on these issue. And there will be more.

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5 David Parry February 1, 2017 at 10:40 AM

In your story above, you mentioned that there had been (quote) “a presentation on Jan 11 of a citizen’s presentation which demonstrated how the golf course may be modified to co-exist with the proposed new public safety complex”.

I would like to add information of some significance. This group, led by Mr John Wilson, made a second presentation on Jan.18, at which they described how a professional golf course designer, Brian Silva, (who has designed numerous, famous courses) had flown up from Florida for one day, especially to make a site survey and to determine if, in his expert opinion, this course could be modified, and still remain a very good course. His answer, in brief, was “yes”, and “it should be”.

But to accomplish this, Mr Silva stipulated several changes which would have to be made to the preliminary site layout of the Public Safety Facility, to minimize its impact..These changes have since been drawn up, in draft form, and presented to the Public Safety Committee and to their architectural and engineering consultants. The changes are now being checked out, but appear to be workable. The main issue is expansion of the visitors parking on the Public Safety site, so that it can be shared with golfers. No changes are necessary to the technical layout of the police/fire building or operations.

A further significant point is that this group is also proposing to save the modified golf course land as “open space”, for the benefit of the town and its residents, by placing a Conservation Restriction on all the land south of the Public Safety Facility. That open land comprises over 93% of the entire existing golf course. It is not 100% because it allows for the Public Safety Facility. Preservation of 93% is far above the 50% stipulated as a minimum % open space in the “land swap” agreement between St Marks School and the Board of Selectmen. This is incorporated in one of the Citizens Petition Articles for the March 8 Special Town Meeting..

So this is all good news for those who want to save the golf course, and save beautiful views, wildlife habitat and open space. More information on this issue will be presented to the Selectmen at their meeting of February 7,

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6 Anne Elfland February 2, 2017 at 9:06 AM

Thank you for getting the word out regarding the social media updates our group has made in an effort to clarify information for the public. We changed our name to highlight the incredible value of the property beyond golfing.
And to make clear that the golf course land is our heritage and a legacy we want to leave to future generations.

I encourage all citizens of Southborough to read more at http://www.saveourheritagesboro.org Facebooklink:https://www.facebook.com/saveourheritagesboro/
Twitter link:https://twitter.com/sboroheritage

We do not want to see any development happening on the historic, open vista that is St. Mark’s Golf Course, a part of our heritage since 1897…. a property that has been identified as the top wildlife habitat property in our town by the Massachusetts Audubon Society……a jewel in the heart of our town that offers so much to all residents — golfing, sledding, cross country skiing, sunset viewing, dog walking…

We support our dedicated firefighters and police officers in their need for appropriate facilities. There are alternatives.

Please educate yourself, attend special town meeting and vote!

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7 Dick Cruciani February 2, 2017 at 4:59 PM

Dear editor,

Your story about the golf course is good, but it needs updating with regard to proposed modifications to the course. Giant steps forward have been made in the last week.

I am a member of the group “Save The Golf Course Working Group”, which is headed by Mr John Wilson. I have lived in Southborough most of my life. I am a golfer and have been a 5 year employee of New England Golf Corporation, which has successfully leased the golf course from St Mark’s School for many years.

Last week our Working Group arranged for an expert golf course designer, Mr Brian Silva, to fly up from Florida to inform us if the Course could be modified, and how. He flew up here at his own expense, because he grew up here and cares deeply for the course. He has played here many times. Mr Silva is world renowned and has designed many famous courses. His expert opinion is that this course can be modified, and still be a very good quality golf course.

While he was here, we went on a site walk, and inspected the proposed location of the Public Safety Facility, which will be located next to Woodward School. The Facility will displace the existing 9th green ,1st tee and golf club house. Mr Silva carefully considered where the best sites would be for these items in future — the new 9th green, 1st tee and club house. These modifications will require some changes to the preliminary site layout of the Public Safety Facility, but it does not affect the design of their building or their operations. The main issue is that the public parking spaces, which are now shown as “Visitors” to the Public Safety Facility, will in future need to be expanded and shared with the golfers.

We met with the Public Safety Committee this week, and determined that the shared parking can probably be accommodated, because their site layout for the Facility is still preliminary, and does not utilize all the available land. It can therefore be changed to accommodate the needs of the modified parking and golf course. These revised plans are now being reviewed by the architects and engineers who are working for the Public Safety Committee. This Committee is supportive of our proposal, as is the Golf Course Master Plan Committee.

In conclusion, we are very optimistic that the golf course can be saved. Also, the remaining open space on the course can be preserved and protected under a Conservation Restriction. It can be saved in perpetuity, or for so long as the Town Meeting desires This means that over 90% of the land on the existing course can be preserved as open space. The existing course is now about 63 acres, and of these about 4 acres will be needed for the Public Safety Facility, leaving about 59 acres which can be preserved. That is over 90 %

All of this will be further explained at a meeting with the Board of Selectmen next week, on February 7th.

Our proposal for a modified golf course is in support of the Selectmen’s proposal for a land swap with St Mark’s School. And, of course, it works with the proposed Public Safety Facility. The opinion of our Working Group is that this is the surest solution for the Town to purchase the golf course. If we do not take this opportunity to purchase it at this Special Town Meeting, on March 8th, we run the risk of losing the whole deal.

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8 Dick Cruciani February 2, 2017 at 7:39 PM

Sorry, I forgot to leave my telephone number, which is 508- 485- 8448.
If I am not in, then please leave a message.

My e mail is : richard.cruciani@gmail.com

Please call or e mail me if you support our “Save the Golf Course Working Group”.

We need your help to get 2/3 rds vote at Town Meeting, on March 8th.

This is the only realistic way to save our.golf course.

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9 beth February 3, 2017 at 12:59 PM

I do care about this issue. And I plan to post an update. I just haven’t had time to update myself on the latest – especially what was presented and shared at recent meetings on the golf course and public safety building. (So many meetings!)

Before I can take the time to write a new post, I need to educate myself more on the updated facts. In the meantime, please keep sharing your news here!

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10 John Wilson February 3, 2017 at 11:05 AM

Along with Dick Cruciani, I have been working on retaining the golf course within all the other plans being proposed. Just one additional note concerning Dick Cruciani’s comments from above: it is important for the residents to know that, if the golf is purchased by the town, the revenue from the annual fees, greens fees, golf cart rentals and sales of golf equipment and supplies, will cover the annual costs of operations and maintenance costs.

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11 John Smith February 3, 2017 at 7:08 AM

Dick….thanks for all your hard-work and keeping us up to speed but the fact is their is no guarantee you will get the votes to put the remainder of the Golf Course in a CR and be able to operate the modified course with the New Public Safety Complex.

The only fact, is that the 1st and 2nd Articles will get your support.

Your groups vote should be directed to saving the whole course with a Yes vote on Article 4 and a NO on Articles 1, 2 and 3. Your just throwing away votes, unless you can get the Board of Selectman to revise their article and incorporate your CR (Conservation Article).

Its a set-up by the Selectman. PLEASE convince your group that the order of the Articles are strategic, so they can get your votes but not necessarily benefit you.

Align yourselves with Article 4!

As far as the St. Marks Master Plan Committee goes they are puppets in place to take the heat of of the BOS, they have also listened to groups wanting aquatic centers, performing arts etc. They are gathering all the needs and presenting them, that’s all.

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12 Al Hamilton February 3, 2017 at 8:40 AM

John

1. There is only one article on the warrant that acquires the land, that is the Selectmen’s article. If it fails, then there is no reason to approve a CR of any form since it is a moot point, you cannot place a CR on land you do not own. It would also be irrelevant to vote on a Public Safety building since we would not own the land.

2. There is no guarantee that if the land deal is defeated, acquisition of the property will ever come before Town Meeting again.

2. The other articles advising the BOS to renegotiate carry no force of law. The Selectmen are under no obligation to do so. (Remember, each of them was elected independently by somewhere between 2 and 10 times the number of people that show up at town meeting).

3. Town Meeting has several awesome powers. It authorizes spending and levies taxes to support that spending. It makes laws. It authorize the acceptance and disposition of land. It authorizes long term contracts. But is does NOT have the power to tell the BOS (or any other elected board or official) what policies they should make. They are an independent, co equal part of government. It is fundamentally a body that authorizes or denies actions proposed by the executive or by a group of citizens. You will note that you will never see a warrant article proposed by Town Meeting.

If for some reason Town Meeting decides to pass on the land deal that is on the table, there are options for dealing with the real space needs of our Police and Fire departments. However, please understand that if you want to preserve the golf course and vote no on the land then you are fundamentally rolling the dice hoping that a deal more to your liking will be negotiated. That might not happen.

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13 Latisquama Resident February 3, 2017 at 4:10 PM

Al,

Regarding your comment about “rolling the dice”…. as a resident of Latisquama who will clearly be most affected by this project, one would assume that I would be jumping at the chance to avoid a “park central” like outcome at any cost by supporting the land swap deal. That is not the case! As someone who has reviewed the situation thoroughly, I think sound judgement will prevail.

If I am willing to take this risk, I would hope citizens less directly affected would not make this a central argument in support of the project. The fear tactic is just not working on me and others I have spoken with in my neighborhood. I have confidence that in the end, the town and St. Marks will do what is right which is to conserve this historic land for the town and St. Mark’s precious legacy.

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14 John Smith February 3, 2017 at 10:40 AM

Al…..the current deal (Article 1) does not protect any of the land from future development as the term 50% undeveloped carries no force of the law, it means nothing and the BOS should be ashamed of themselves.

By the time you take out the Public Safety Complex, Wetlands , Required Set backs your almost at 50%. So that means the whole interior and Latisquama side of the Golf Course could be developed.

Your project budget is almost 23 million not to mention the purchase of the Land which is 4.5 million for a combined 28 MILLION.

We own land at the DPW / Transfer Station so build the Police Station their as you indicated as an option on January 24th and re-work the Fire Station at its current location…..I’ll bet you a steak dinner it will be a hell of lot cheaper than 28 Million!

We don’t need to be spending an additional 4.5 Million on Land!

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15 Al Hamilton February 3, 2017 at 1:58 PM

John

1. The land occupied by the proposed PS building (about 5A) would count against the 50% so of the remaining 55A only 20 could be “developed”. You are not wrong about where the “develop-able” land is but don’t forget the strip along 85.

2. The 50% undeveloped is enforceable as it is a contract. St. Marks could certainly sue if we tried to develop more that 50%. I am not sure if anyone else would have standing to sue. I believe that the BOS was trying to maintain flexibility in going down this route.

3. The PS Building Study Committee does not belong to me, it belongs to the BOS. I no longer chair the committee. I resigned the chair so I could be free to speak my mind on the merits of this proposal. I still serve on the committee. Jason Malinowski is the new chair.

4. You are correct, the current price tag for the building is just shy of $23 million. The architect and town officials have been given a list of items to review with an eye towards reducing the cost. The BOS is on record (informally at least) as stating that the program should cost no more that $20.85 million. I am deeply torn about whether I can vote for a number in excess of the BOS directive. I do not believe that the current design is the most cost effective way of meeting the legitimate needs of both departments. I regret that program costs have never been treated as a serious constraint in the process in spite of my protestations to the contrary.

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16 Fuce February 3, 2017 at 11:52 AM

John and Al, you are sincerely invaluable to our town. Whether the people agree with you or not you’re always spot on and you know the details. I agree , expand the existing fire station and police station and leave it where it’s at. Leave the DPW the way it is for further expansion later in life. We don’t need another $45 million bill in this town, we just got through with the schools.

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17 Fuce February 3, 2017 at 11:55 AM

John that’s just plain baloney. Anything the government buys or deals with is a loser. You add town employees town insurance town retirement unions etc. it becomes a boondoggle let the private sector run golf courses.

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18 David Parry February 4, 2017 at 11:06 AM

Thank you , editor, or providing this discussion forum.

I want to address the issue that some residents may be making very risky assumptions, by suggesting that voters should reject the land swap with St Marks. These risks include:

(1) That the Bd of Selectmen will agree to negotiate a new “deal” to buy only the golf course — as Mr Hamilton states , you cannot force the Bd of Selectmen to do anything,

(2) That St Marks will be willing to negotiate a whole new deal, when one of their primary goals was to consolidate land around their campus (including the present site of Police/Fire, and the one acre parcel which the Town owns on School St).. Mr Cimino pointed this out last week.

(3) The continuing (mistaken) belief held by some residents, that the Town will have a “right of first refusal” , which would have allowed the Town to match any offer from private developers to St Marks , assuming St Marks puts the golf course up for sale . This “right” can easily be removed , by removing the land from Ch 61B classification, paying 5 years back taxes, and waiting one year.

(4) A private developer could approach St Marks and offer to pay all back taxes, and a top price for development, wait one year, and then build under existing zoning rules — exactly as has recently happened in surrounding towns. And the Town would not even hear about the transaction until after it was concluded.

(5) The land is zoned Residential B, which allows 1/2 acre home lots, and “Major Residential Development” which can include some condos, all by right. And they will have legal right to have access roads off of Latisquama Rd.

(6) etc … I could go on with more unnecessary risks.

The real question is WHY are we taking these numerous risks,? Especially when the situation is so much in our favor, right now, today, as follows:

(a) the golf course is being offered to the Town now, at an incredibly good price, and

(b) we can accommodate a Public Safety Facility on a small 4 acre portion of the site, and

(c) we can screen the Facility with trees , so it is largely hidden from view, and so does not detract, in any significant way, from scenic views from Rte 85. It is less than half the size of Woodward school. Which is not screened at all.

(d) we can modify the golf course, according to an expert golf course designer, and

(e) we can have a wonderful municipal golf course, operating at a profit, and

(f) we can save all the remaining land ( 59 out of 63 acres, or well over 90%), and

(g) we can retain all the very beautiful views, and

(h) we can totally protect all of Latisquama Rd, from new driveways and obstructed views, and

(I ) we can protect all wildlife, and

(J) we can have junior and adult and senior recreation on the golf course, with year around sports ( eg. Cross country skiing, trail walking, ….),

etc .I could go on

I suggest that our Selectmen and St Marks have provided us with a very good opportunity, which is quite possibly a one-time opportunity, which will never be repeated again, and which solves so many complex problems.

Therefore, it is my opinion that we should be more grateful, and grasp this opportunity.

We can continue to tweak the site plan for the Public Safety Facility —so that it is well screened, and has minimal impact — and allows continuing golf, — and vote in favor of the Select men’s Articles for the land swap, and the funding for the Public Safet Facidity ( where the costs are right now being trimmed back to the absolute essentials) …., and also vote for Article 3 which asks for Conservation Restrictions on over 90% of the land.

I agree with the Open Space advocates, to protect as much as possible of this unique natural asset, which defines our Town “gateway” and protects our property values. Therefore we should not allow the land to be used for continuing, future, hypothetical, construction projects Sites for these can be found elsewhere …. eg. The land the Town owns behind DPW., and also the underutilized Senior Center site, on which the second floor remains vacant.

I support John Wilson and Dick Cruciani with their “Save the Golf Course Working Group”.

Thank you all.

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