St. Mark’s Street project on hold until after Town Meeting

The Select Board voted to bring the Land Swap to Annual Town Meeting before seeking to resume construction on St. Mark's Street and the park.

Above: The dirt piles near the Library will remain longer than the Select Board initially hoped. Now, they hope a delay will help them put forward a convincing case to voters in March. (photo by Beth Melo)

On Tuesday night, the Select Board began a discussion about the next steps for the St Mark’s Street and Park construction project. Early into it, they got news that suddenly made their decision much easier.

It turns out that waiting until spring to resume construction won’t definitively cost the Town more.

The Board had been set to discuss weighing the pros and cons of waiting until March, scheduling a Special Town Meeting, or forging ahead without voter approval. From their later comments, it seems the majority of the Board was already leaning against the latter. Without a financial downside for waiting until Annual Town Meeting, their decision was a no-brainer.

To frame the discussion Chair Kathy Cook sought to lay out the relevant facts about the project history and status. As part of that, she explained that the contractor for the “various streets” contract that covers the road work planned to terminate his contract at the end of this year.

DPW head Karen Galligan updated them, that might not be the case. The vendor may need to return in the spring to finish some of the other work. If so, he would be willing to also work on the St. Mark’s project. She also explained that even if the contract is terminated, there isn’t a clear increased cost for finishing the project under a new contract. She has yet to bid out her next large road maintenance contract.

Galligan said she held up the bid to see about adding the St. Mark’s project and work for the schools as add/alts*. Cook asked if inflation would mean that a future contract would be less favorable. Galligan indicated she didn’t believe so. She said that one variable based on inflation is the cost of liquid pavement on the day paving is done, since the Town has to make up that increased cost. She noted that can go up and down.

Cook stated that she had already changed her mind about moving forward two weeks ago. She said she was repeatedly reminded recently that approving a proposed land swap is the purview of Town Meeting voters. She opined that it wasn’t the Board’s place to find a way to legally get around it.

Vice Chair Chelsea Malinowski concurred. She told the Board that if they moved forward with construction then Town Meeting rejected the land swap, they’d be back in the same place they were in the spring. (That’s when the Board had to regroup after Town Meeting made clear their anger that officials began work without first getting easements approved by voters.)

Member Lisa Braccio said she had also been leaning that way. She indicated she would have been more willing to consider a Special Town Meeting than forging ahead. 

Member Andrew Dennington, the Board’s representative on the St. Mark’s Working Group said he was happy to hear the news. He reserved his other comments for another time. The only member who was still in favor of moving quicker was member Sam Stivers. But he voted with the majority.

The only non-financial motivation the Board previously discussed for moving faster was to clean up the eyesore of the unfinished project. It sounded uncertain that the contractor would have been able to finish that work this fall even if Galligan asked him to.  And St Mark’s Working Group Member Kevin Miller noted that no one is picketing to demand a park immediately. He urged that it has looked that way for months and could stay that way a few more. He hoped an eventual park will be there forever.

Between now and March the Board hopes to focus on communications to convince voters to support the project. Braccio suggested they also take care of in advance any Planning Board meetings that would subsequently be required for the new road.

Earlier, Dennington had asked the Board to extend the deadline to December 15th for the Working Group to report their design recommendation. Ultimately, the Board chose not to give a set deadline. They will expect at least an interim report by December 15th and for the Group to be available for Annual Town Meeting. Members terms currently are set through June.

During the meeting, resident Patricia Burns-Fiore asked questions about the potential that the Working Group might spend more money on the park project before Town Meeting. She asked if the Group would be again contracting a designer based on resident feedback in a future public forum. Cook told her no.

The Working Group’s new date for a public forum has yet to be posted.

*Under a Request for Proposals add/alt, contractors submit bids specifying the cost for the main work and then the extra cost if the add/alt section is included in the contract.

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Al Hamilton
1 month ago

It is unclear at this time if the BOS intends to proceed with this project regardless of the position of Town Meeting under the so called “License Agreement”. If that is the case then bringing this matter before Town Meeting is unproductive at best.
Town Meeting does hold some cards in this game but it’s instruments of control are blunt. Here are a few things that Town Meeting could do if there was a will to stop this project.

  1. The big hammer TM holds is budget approval. There are very few end arounds this power. TM could cut a budget or 2 (eg Legal or DPW) unless the Select Board committed to end the project.
  2. TM could rescind the approval given to the BOS to negotiate contracts of longer duration.
  3. TM could withhold approval of certain capital items unless the BOS committed to end the project.
  4. TM could vote to convey the town’s parcel that was going to St Marks to a different party.

I suspect that there are other avenues of approach that could be productive. All of these efforts would require work prior to ATM and some planning.
Town Meeting is a co equal branch of our government imbued with substantial authority if it choose to use it and opponents of this project are willing to do the leg work.

Kelly Roney
1 month ago

No one has yet rebutted
In my opinion, the Select Board did not have the legal authority to enter into the License Agreement without approval (by 2/3s) of Town Meeting. I don’t think the License Agreement is enforceable, although the Select Board entering into it under the circumstances may be a civil tort that St. Mark’s could sue Southborough over.

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