Town to work with interested parties to flesh out “Pocket Park” details; St Marks St project continues (Updated)

by beth on December 1, 2021

Post image for Town to work with interested parties to flesh out “Pocket Park” details; St Marks St project continues (Updated)

Above: At the last Select Board meeting, members determined the fate of several trees and discussed public concerns about a related road and park project – including the potential to eventually follow through on initial plans for an Historical Walk. (photos by Beth Melo, image right from original concept plan)

Two weeks ago, the Select Board fielded questions and criticisms on their plan to reroute St Marks Street and build a “Pocket Park” next to the Southborough Library. The contentious discussions were split into two agenda items: an appeal hearing on trees jeopardized by the road project and a discussion of the grant funded park project.

Given the long discussions, I can’t capture all the relevant details but here are my highlights.

The Board agreed to “save” three of the nine trees the Tree Warden sought to remove. Prior to the hearing, Public Works Superintendent Karen Galligan walked through the site with the Chair and Town Administrator. She made her case then, and in the hearing, for why six trees had to go to make way for the rerouted road.

Three trees temporarily saved (images cropped from meeting packet)Three were slated for removal due to concerns that the root systems would be impacted by the sidewalks to be installed. Galligan agreed that those trees could be left up and protected “for now” in hopes they would survive.

Board members discussed the potential for saving trees by reworking the roadway. Galligan explained the road was designed with trees in mind. She said they avoided as many healthy trees as possible, and shifting the road to save an old growth 36″ oak in the intersection would require cutting down a larger oak on St. Mark’s School’s property. Some residents questioned sacrificing a tree on Town property to save one on private property. Galligan responded that the saved tree would be for the public enjoyment of all.

Tree 45 not saved (photos by Beth Melo) Tree road avoids (photos by Beth Melo)

During the official hearing, commenters were asked to limit their remarks to issues directly related to the trees. They were told that questions about the park plans and larger project would need to wait for that agenda item. That frustrated commenters like Historical Commission Chair Michael Weishan. He unsuccessfully requested the hearing to be continued until after discussions on the larger plan.

Drainage installed for reroute road project (photo by Beth Melo)Board members were influenced by the financial impact of holding up or making changes to the road project. Work already completed includes the installation of storm drain systems.

Saving some of the trees would have required scrapping planned sidewalks. The need for more ADA accessibility for the town and sidewalks on the road was a big talking point throughout both the tree hearing and the park discussion.

Caution tape marking reprieved trees (photo by Beth Melo)In the end, the Board closed the tree hearing, approved the removal of six trees and rejected three.

In the discussion on the Shared Streets grant project for the Pocket Park, Chair Lisa Braccio addressed concerns publicly raised about the site potentially disturbing on an old burial ground for indigenous people. She said that all extensive ground disturbance for the area had already been completed. It was an argument that didn’t pass muster with Weishan and resident Karen Hanlon Shimkus.

They and others also questioned the legality and ethics of an agreement with St. Mark’s School over land use prior to getting permission from Town Meeting voters.

Board members told the public that the “Historical Walk” initially proposed as part of the park is still a possibility. While the work isn’t part of the current project, they planned to look at eventual funding through other means.

As for the park design, Galligan stated that plans didn’t need to be finalized until the spring. Select Board member Andrew Dennington agreed to work with a group of interested/relevant parties including the Library Trustees and the Historical Commission on recommendations for the park’s design. The agreed upon concept was to enhance, not abandon, the current design plans. One idea supported was inclusion of recognition for historical Native American presence in the area.

As I noted up front, I can’t capture all that was discussed. For those who want more details, the Community Advocate covered some different highlights, including more discussion on the park project. You can find that article here.

Concept Plan 2 for pocket parkUpdated (12/7/21 11:06 am): For context, Historical Chair Michael Weishan shared the concept plan that the Historical Commission was provided prior to its January 12th meeting. (Click links to open the plan for the road and the concept for the park and walk project.) He pointed out to me that the key indicated that the area of the park was Town owned property. It also included a 2nd possible version of the park plan (on the last page) that didn’t clear the parcel of trees.

The item was brought up in a discussion on the Old Burial Ground. At the time, Select Board member Sam Stivers encouraged the commission to reach out to Karen Galligan to coordinate about the Historical Walk. Weishan stated that he hoped that the walk could be extended to enter the Old Burial Ground rather than just going around it.

When Weishan asked Galligan for an update at their March meeting, they were told the project was in jeopardy and unlikely to proceed due to funding issues. They apparently didn’t receive any follow up communications when the project was re-bid.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Open Letter To BOS December 3, 2021 at 2:40 PM

In the Town history book, Fences of Stone, there is a clearly marked graphic that contains a label “Nipmuc Burial Ground.” That book is in Town Hall and the library. Shouldn’t DPW, BOS, or someone have properly performed due diligence to make sure FIRST and foremost that this is NOT a cemetery or burial ground of some sort, BEFORE trees were removed and excavation started? Get your heads out of the sand or elsewhere, and out of CYA mode. It’s unacceptable.

NO ONE WANTS A ROAD, A PARK OR A PARKING LOT on what might be a burial ground. Everyone wants and expects better judgment. This should be properly checked out first.

If you think you are going to get the voters permission after all the work is done, think again. If anyone is breaking the law, especially attorneys, think twice.

Are you ACTUALLY IGNORING the town’s own history book? It certainly seems so. And the fact that this information has been called to your notice publicly multiple times?

The Trustees of the Library, an abutter, allegedly didn’t know anything about this “project” until the trees started coming down. An abutter. Absolutely outrageous. And what happened to the trees? Whomever hauled away those trees may well have taken trees worth a huge amount of money. Who the heck is overseeing DPW? Not only did mature old growth trees disappear (wouldn’t you need trees for a park??), but what about the value of these trees? In every sense?

This is not a matter of providing “proof” for work stoppage. This is a matter of common sense, good judgment, and TAKING the proper steps regarding a public matter involving public property FIRST (!!). Following the appropriate process and a process that makes sense, that isn’t offensive to taxpayers and the descendants of families who may be interred in this area.

According to the Historical Commission website, it seems that it is their very function and legal authority to work with the state archaeologists to ensure that no mistakes are being made first, right? Are you making that difficult or refusing to cooperate? Are you actively interfering with up front due diligence to make sure that no errors are being made? One would hope not.

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2 Michael Weishan December 4, 2021 at 12:33 PM

Beth, thanks for posting this. I would ask you, if possible, to re-post the map above at a larger scale, because this is the very map Ms. Galligan showed to the Historical Commission, Open Space, the Library Trustees and other interested parties. You will note that it clearly shows the “park area” as town property, which has turned out to be ABSOLUTELY FALSE. The entire triangle belongs, and will continue to belong, to St. Mark’s, and we are spending hundreds of thousand of dollars of public funds to enhance PRIVATE property. This will come up at town meeting, because we the voters will be asked to approve the easements required RETROACTIVELY after all the work is completed, without any say in whether or not we wanted to spend public monies on a rich private school in the first place. This whole thing is wrong in so many ways: the cavalier “so far so good” attitude of the BOS about the possibility of digging up colonial or Native American remains despite pleas and protestations; the misrepresentations to the Town Boards as to land ownership; the clear-cutting of the parcel which endangers the remaining trees in the Old Burial Ground; the patronizing approach of the BOS to accept restricted state funds and then simply drop crucial elements of the proposal with the hope that other boards (i.e. the Historical Commission) will scrounge around for additional money to complete the work; and worst of all, the outright assault on voters’ rights by coming to TM for permission to do projects already completed. Absolutely shameful!

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3 beth December 6, 2021 at 9:17 AM

I don’t know what map you were shown, but the one I used was from a document Karen Galligan provided me on February 1st. It doesn’t refer to the land as Town land and actually labels the park area “Subject to License Agreement with St. Mark’s School”.

You can see that here.

It is the version I posted the following day on the blog with that language here.

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4 beth December 6, 2021 at 9:27 AM

Following reading an email you sent me, I noticed that what you are referring to. The map key does indicate that the land is owned by the Town. However, the version I received already outlined land with the indication of the necessary agreement, so I didn’t notice that.

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5 beth December 7, 2021 at 11:07 AM

Michael, following up on our emails I updated the post with visuals you provided and context.

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6 use the ballot! December 5, 2021 at 7:35 PM

Does ANYONE recall having voted on this so-called “pocket park” at either of the town meetings held in 2021?

I certainly do not!

SB – STOP p*ssing away our hard earned tax dollars on useless projects like this one.

VOTERS: Try to remember how POORLY this and a plethora of other issues have been handled over the last year or two, then make the choice to toss these “politicians” out at the earliest town voting opportunity!

What a sorry bunch…

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7 Feel free to run December 6, 2021 at 5:33 PM

There are 2 seats up for election in the spring. Feel free to run for the Select Board if you don’t like the job these folks are doing….

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8 Open Letter to BOS December 7, 2021 at 7:46 AM

The false information, lack of appropriate upfront due diligence, and CYA full-steam-ahead furtherance of mistakes, not to mention the crazy arrogance, needs FULL accountability by the voters. Agree fully with Use The Ballot.

However, this mess goes beyond incompetence. Voters should not have to wait until the spring. There should be a RECALL provision in the bylaws. Also, for those loading the record with false information and/ or using false basic information that others are relying on such as supporting “plans,” those individuals should be removed or fired immediately.

Take a look at the 11-3-21 BOS minutes (google minutes and agendas, town of Southborough). The BOS chair read a statement into the record (see YouTube tape also) that town counsel and St. Marks counsel signed a license agreement (Line 200). Since when do attorneys sign agreements for their clients? This doesn’t even make any common sense or legal sense. It never happened. These minutes were approved by ALL five BOS members. The DRAFT “license” agreement turned up several weeks LATER in the 11-16-21 BOS Agenda packet. Again, ALL five BOS members APPROVED this flawed agreement. But among the many important unanswered questions this BOS has not answered is the following: were there ANY signed agreements between the town and St. Marks BEFORE the DPW, Karen Galligan, took down trees and dug up St. Mark’s land?? Which agenda packets can voters find those? What about the Concept Plans (town owned land falsely labeled) used by Karen Galligan to get the support and “buy-in” of various departments, including Historical? Have you ever seen plans, even concept plans, with NO ENGINEERING STAMP, date(?!), or land ownership information? Those plans need to be posted immediately and answers provided.

To BOS: you unanimously approved the “license” agreement at the 11-16-21 BOS meeting. There was no legal description of the land attached. This is utter incompetence. You don’t even know what you were approving. Please attach the legal description and post the signed agreement publicly. Congratulations. This agreement propels the use of taxpayer funded grants on private property. (For “drainage” by taking away a forested area and covering it with impervious area, next to the library that floods.). As one neighbor puts it, “I’m sure they appreciate it!” If this were the private sector, a major house cleaning would be in order. As the comment above noted, Use the Ballot!

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9 use the ballot! December 8, 2021 at 2:38 PM

Exactly!

This whole fiasco is like raw fish that’s been left outside in the summer sun for a few days.

I’d say bring in the clowns, but it seems they arrived some time ago!

This blog would be doing a real public service for the taxpayers of Southborough to post ASAP all of the documentation called for above, as well as addressing the concerns expressed by Wait. What? below..

…and, what IS the answer to the ownership of the triangular shaped property on which this so-called park is being built?

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10 beth December 8, 2021 at 3:13 PM

I have shared a lot of documents on the issue. If there are other specific Town documents you are looking for that you can’t find, you are free to file a public information request.

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11 Wait. What? December 7, 2021 at 6:06 PM

Do I understand this correctly? The DPW (with BOS approval) spent town money to design a parking lot for St. Mark’s on town land, and spent town money to engineer, design and build a re-routed road and park on St. Mark’s property? All with the expectation that at a future TM, once the project is completed, town residents will approve the project and an easement?
The DPW (and BOS) has no intention of swapping land with St. Mark’s (hoping for an easement), so the the park Southborough is using town-granted money to design, engineer and build, will be forever owned by St. Mark’s? Why are we using town granted money to build a park on a private school’s private land? Is the funding to build St. Mark’s parking lot also included in the money granted to the town for the History Walk? i.e, Which entity is paying for the actual construction of the private school’s parking lot (the plan is stamped by vhb, the engineer paid by the town, so we have already spent money for the design of it.
Isn’t it disingenuous to residents of Southborough and the committee that granted to Shared Spaces funds to seek the grant for the purpose of a history walk, using a map not correctly showing land ownership, be given a grant for a History Walk and then not use the money for a History Walk? (http://www.mysouthborough.com/2021/02/02/over-1m-in-state-authorizations-grants-for-southborough-history-walk-shared-streets-commuter-rail-parking-and-wastewater-treatment/ and https://www.mass.gov/news/massdot-announces-32-million-in-shared-winter-streets-spaces-program-funding-awards) Is that even allowed under the grant?

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12 Pat D December 8, 2021 at 2:00 PM

Why are so many trees being taken down at 1 Sears Road? I know the home has new owners, but this is an estate that is part of Southborough’s history. Hopefully they are not putting another house there?!

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13 Andrew Pfaff December 8, 2021 at 3:58 PM

Based upon the planning board meeting of 9/27/21 they are adding three lots to that parcel, so 4 total houses will be there. The historic house will stay. See link below for planning board packet. These are conforming lots, so they filed an ANR, approval not required plan, which was accepted by the planning board.

https://www.southboroughtown.com/sites/g/files/vyhlif7351/f/agendas/pb_public_packet_09.27.21.pdf

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14 Kelly Roney December 9, 2021 at 5:01 PM

Thanks, this helps.

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15 Goblincore December 8, 2021 at 7:45 PM

I think 3 houses are going there.

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16 roxanneperro2@gmail.com December 9, 2021 at 9:29 AM

Pat D How else do you build new homes with trees in the way

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17 Pat D December 9, 2021 at 3:21 PM

Didn’t realize there were new homes going in there–very disappointed to hear that actually. House looks naked without the trees!

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18 Truly Dispicable December 8, 2021 at 3:35 PM

Tax payer dollars are being spent to improve and enrich a private school in Southborough who pays no taxes and makes miniscule “donations” to the Town. We are making upgrades to their land with our tax dollars without approval by Town Meeting? This is scandalous and needs accounting. BOS, if this true, you should be removed by the Attorney General. Mr. Healey, I thought you were a legal expert but it appears St Marks got the best of you. Karen Galligan and DPW you reached an all new low and should resign or be fired. St Marks needs to be held to account for their role in fleecing the tax payers since clearly they are permitting private property upgrades with our money. Looks like we are the ones making donations to St Marks not the other way around.

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19 Former Resident December 9, 2021 at 1:36 PM

Pat D

The trees have been taken down at 1 Sears Rd so Mr Venincasa can build several new houses. It’s possible the historic home will be demolished also. Shameful.

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20 Pat D December 10, 2021 at 9:58 AM

Sounds Like another Burnett House issue–the town siding with the developer!!

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