Selectmen agreed to form a committee to work on a general plan for how the Town should use St. Mark’s Golf Course. It is one step in the Town’s efforts to convince voters to buy the 60 acre parcel.
Selectmen acknowledged that any plan ready for Town Meeting this spring*, would likely be somewhat loose. They won’t have detailed plans for future buildings, other than the public safety complex. But there is some information they need to be able to present to residents.
With help from the Public Safety Committee’s consultant, the Town will determine what areas of land can and shouldn’t be built on. The new committee would focus more on how the Town should prioritize uses for the land use beyond building the new emergency services facility. That includes how much to preserve for Open Space (and where) and what other facilities might be built.
Town Administrator Mark Purple said that people have been talking almost as if the land purchase and its use for a public safety facility is a done deal. Now they are focused on what else can we do there. But he pointed out that if they don’t succeed on the “first domino”, approvals to purchase the land from St. Mark’s, none of the rest will matter.
The new committee would help the Town come up with a plan that hopefully reflects the community’s wishes. It’s a large task, since even among selectmen and Town officials there isn’t consensus yet on what priorities should be.
Freddie Gillespie** worried about Open Space being treated as an after thought. She said that often people determine what land can be built on then just use the leftover areas for Open Space. And she worried that too little land would be protected.
Gillespie said that originally, she had heard only a few acres of the 60 would be needed for the public safety complex. Now 50% is the minimum open space to be preserved. She said that minimums often turn into maximums.
Purple explained that the 50% undeveloped land was a minimum requirement by the school which selectmen agreed to. Selectmen referred to it as a starting point for discussion. They believed that if they preemptively made the decision on how much to protect, residents would be angry. And Purple followed that they don’t want restrictions that cause problems for the Town 40-60 years down the road.
Throughout the meeting, selectmen stressed that Town Meeting voters will always have to approve anything built on the land.
As for what could be built – ideas floated included recreation fields, a Recreation Center, a Community Center, a new Senior Center, and even a new library (with the old one used as an annex to the Town Hall.)
Selectman Paul Cimino, taken aback by the library suggestion, cautioned that people not look at moving buildings just for the sake of moving buildings.
Selectman Dan Kolenda spoke multiple times about the need for a Recreation center. He pointed to Hopkinton’s vote to approve one as great for the kids and also bringing in money from other Towns’ renting the space. Purple responded that Hopkinton and ForeKicks in Marlborough are built in industrial zones, not near downtown.
Purple will be following up with the Community Preservation Commission at their next meeting. At member Freddie Gillespie’s* suggestion, Purple will ask them to look into funding a consultant that the committee would hire. The committee would use the consultant to run a “charette” meeting.
Gillespie pitched the idea of the Town holding the meeting to solicit feedback from residents on how they think the parcel should be used. The brainstorming, feedback and planning sessions were helpful in drafting an Open Space and Recreation Plan.
She talked about building consensus, or at least allowing the community to feel heard. If multiple small silos think their ideas are ignored, she said the impact could torpedo the land purchase at Town Meeting.
Meanwhile an abutter on Latisquama had opened the discussion by asking selectmen for reassurance that they would be protected. He said that neighbors need to hear a promise from selectmen will ensure a “healthy buffer” of open space for residences. Otherwise, the “negativity train” would begin to pick up steam. Later, he worried about other interest groups looking for new facilities outnumbering abutters at any Town Meeting vote.
Kolenda reassured him that they heard abutters’ concerns. And he reiterated that it would make no sense to have public safety using Latisquama as main access, for fire trucks or putting the facility on that side to have them cross to Route 85 – the main road they want to use.
The board plans to vote on an official charge for the committee at their November 15th meeting. And they may appoint members at that time. The preliminary plan is to appoint seven members: two direct abutters, two other residents at large, and representatives of Recreation, Council of the Aging and the Open Space Preservation Commission.
Purple told me that prior to that meeting, he will post a draft of the charge on the Town website. At that time, residents can begin to apply for a seat on the committee. So, stay tuned.
*The Public Safety Committee is preparing to potentially hold a Special Town Meeting in March. If that doesn’t happen, the project will proceed to the Annual Town Meeting in April.
*Gillespie is a member of Open Space and the Community Preservation Commission, and the Stewardship Committeee – but she spoke at the meeting as an individual, not the member of any board she serves.