Golf Course: Discord over control of Conservation Restriction; pursuing a potential name change

Above: Town Officials disagree over how to handle protections for the “precious” open space at the “St. Mark’s” Golf Course (image posted to Facebook by Freddie Gillespie)

According to Southborough Wicked Local, Town Counsel will pursue a Conservation Restriction for the St. Mark’s Golf Course co-held between a Town committee and outside non-profit. The 4-1 decision by selectmen was over objections of some concerned residents and the ad-hoc committee appointed to work on the CR.

At heart of the conflict – how much control should the Town to retain, given the potential for conflicts with the public safety facility and golf course operations?

Later in the same Tuesday night meeting, the board discussed starting a process to rename the course.

Renaming is justified as needed to overcome a marketing issue. But a recently adopted policy makes naming facilities a multi-step process. If followed, that process could pose a different marketing challenge.

On the first topic, SWL reports:

The Golf Course Conservation Restriction Committee voted last month to recommend to have Sudbury Valley Trustees be the sole holder of the restriction, while Town Counsel Aldo Cipriano recommends a joint holding between the Trustees and the town’s Conservation Commission.

Freddie Gillespie, chairwoman of the committee, said the committee disagrees with Cipriano’s recommendation saying the purpose of a conservation restriction is to give up part of the ownership to an independent land trust to protect the land. Sudbury Valley Trustees holds six conservation restrictions totaling 223.63 acres and own 6 properties in Southborough totaling 34.4 acres, according to the committee. . . 

“This CR needs to get done for a Town Meeting vote,” Gillespie said. “If you have co-holders now you have to have a memorandum of understanding. This has to be negotiating and adding another level complexity. It could take months.”

The Conservation Commission does not have the staff and will likely have to hire outside help to meet the requirements of the restriction, whereas the Trustees have already professional staff who do such work, according to report from the committee. The organization is asking for $37,598 endowment. The commission could also have conflict with the town’s plans to build the public safety building and the operation of the golf course.

Cipriano said he is recommends the commission to be a co-holder to protect “one of the most precious portions of open space in the town of Southborough.” He said there is also no backup if a sole holder falls apart in the future.

Conservation Commission member Benjamin Smith, who also served on the Golf Course Conservation Restriction Committee, said the commission has “mixed feelings” about co-holding the restriction. He thinks it will be tough for the commission to enforce the restriction in being part of town government.

“If we want to operate a functioning golf course,” he said. “It puts us in a conflicting positions.”

For more on that story, click here to see the full article.

The discussion followed closely on the heels of the executed land exchange agreement between the Town and St. Mark’s School at the end of December. (To see the final document making the golf course Town property, click here.)

With the land officially owned by the Town, selectmen opened a discussion on renaming the property. Selectman Brian Shea shared that the past (and potentially future*) management company has found the name a marketing challenge. Some perceived “St. Mark’s Golf Course” to be exclusive to the school. 

One name that came up that night was the purportedly original name “Southborough Country Club”. While some liked the idea of linking back to its roots, they worried about a similar perception issue. A name suggested by the management company that they will consider is “Southborough Links”. 

The board was in consensus to consider a new name but didn’t want to vote on any yet. Selectman Brian Shifrin shared the management company’s concern that other courses are already preparing marketing for the spring season. He indicated a name should be decided soon.

Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf reminded that they have a Naming Policy they may need to follow. She believed they needed to wait until the next meeting to vote. Town Administrator Mark Purple told the board he would send them a reminder of what the policy is.

In June, the board created the policy for Naming Town owned facilities. (Click here to view the policy.**)

On Tuesday, Board members didn’t seem to recall that the policy calls for appointing a special committee to formally collect and consider nominations of name choices. (In fact, Phaneuf seemed to think it was only for “renaming” facilities. She wondered if since they had new ownership of the property the course may be exempt.)

The board’s original intention was to put a process in place to address requests to dedicate fields/facilities in people’s names. As currently written, the policy doesn’t restrict to that intent.

The policy current blanketly “outlines the process and criteria for the naming of Town facilities or portions of Town facilities”. And it refers to the board’s responsibility for naming:

Town facilities as they are built as well portions offacilities such as buildings. grounds. rooms. etc

Although not mentioned at this week’s meeting, the board can rewrite that policy. Their recent practice has been to adopt policies with the understanding that they will revise them if they run into issues. So, stay tuned to see how they decide to handle it.

*Later that night, the board went into Executive Session to discuss a new contract for golf course management. I followed up to find out if it was approved. Town Administrator Mark Purple responded that it wasn’t.

**An official document for the Naming Policy isn’t posted to the board’s policies on the website. The pdf I shared is marked Draft, but it is the version adopted as is on June 14th.

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