Letter: Making Headway On the St Marks Road Project

[Ed note: My Southborough accepts signed letters to the editor submitted by Southborough residents. Letters may be emailed to mysouthborough@gmail.com.]

To the Editor:

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE RECENT “PUBLIC HEARING” MEETING of the “St Marks Road and Park Working Group”, held on a Saturday morning (November 12, at the Public Safety Complex) ? Something quite remarkable.

I (and I am certain many other people) went to this meeting with a strong sense of foreboding, knowing the long history of mix-ups and failures, especially at two recent Town Meetings, where there had been resounding denial of approval for necessary easements — asked for “after the fact” — and other fiascos (see below for more on this). There can be no doubt whatsoever that most people who showed up (including me) were annoyed at the history of the project … but, and this is truly amazing, the meeting ended 3 hours later, very, very positively — to everyone’s huge relief.

Thankfully, the meeting was well organized for public input. Marguerite Landry and Freddie Gillespie did most of the organizing and formatting, with white boards and many colored diagrams and plans on display. Town Clerk Jim Hegarty helped with various supplies (including coffee and donuts); Former Selectman Roger Challen acted as “chairman pro tem” — WHY was HE picked ? Since he isn’t even on the Working Group ? — Because the members of the Working Group wanted to have someone with significant stature, who has never said anything publicly about this project before — in other words, he is the perfect “neutral” chairman, who can steer the meeting and issue commands, to avoid the possible fracturing, arguments, and fist fights.

To understand what happened at this meeting, it is helpful to remember how this project began, and how it soon went astray and grew in complexity …. It began with only ONE, single objective — which was to complete the network of sidewalks downtown, by extending a new sidewalk from Main St, up Marlborough Rd (Rt 85), to the front driveway entrance of St Mark’s School, off Rt 85. Then the project expanded to include other items, like realigned the entire intersection of St Marks Rd and Marlborough Rd, installing a new parking lot for St Marks school, adding a park, adding new drainage, etc. Oh yes, and new sources of funding, such as from St Mark’s School (for the parking lot which will serve their need for a lot next to their playfields), and a Mass State grant for “beautification” of roads. Well, you can pretty much guess what happened over the next two years … Here are just some of the many items that went astray:

  • Might as well start with this: No initial PUBLIC meeting to discuss the project (until later fiascos forced meetings after the fact).
  • The land was bulldozed and many trees were cut down without approval.
  • Construction began without adequate notice.
  • The grant money for “beautification” was spent by the consultant engineers on various items with little to no public input.
  • The new alignment of St Marks Rd was not approved by the Selectboard or Planning Board.
  • The new St Marks Parking Lot (now buried underground) is situated over land owned by the Town, but without easements requiring prior approval at Town Meeting.
  • The new St Marks Road (now buried underground) passes over land belonging to St Marks school and the Town, but without easements requiring prior approval at Town Meeting.
  • The previous Selectboard issued “licenses”, back and forth, between the Town and St Marks school — in an attempt to avoid having to get easements approved by Town Meeting. (Easements are the proper legal way to proceed.)
  • No notice was given to affected parties, in charge of protecting adjacent historic properties, such as the Historical Commision who are in charge of protecting the Old Burial Ground, which is now threatened with increased wind damage because the wind buffer created by a belt of trees was cut down without approval.
  • Library officials were not notified of anything, even though there is a long-term plan for Library expansion to the north — toward the new intersection — but the new St Marks road and “park” together take up so much open land to the north, that this is likely to create problems with future expansion of the Library parking lot and septic field.
  • And finally, we are told we MUST have a park there (south of the intersection), because the grant money requires some “beautification” to be completed, and we already spent most of the grant money, even though nobody asked for a park in the first place.

OK … Relax, it all sounds terrible, (and some of it was embarrassingly stupid). But let’s get back to the Working Group meeting. What happened at the meeting on Nov 12 was remarkable, because while a lot of people vented (how couldnd’t they, given the disastrous history ?) … we all somehow managed to get the venting over with, so that we were able to agreed … that while a lot of money has already been spent, it is not necessarily all wasted … because it has paid for valuable construction work, which is STILL THERE — (INVISIBLE, BECAUSE IT IS UNDERGROUND and COVERED IN DIRT) — BUT IT IS STILL THERE AND IT IS STILL USABLE — IF WE CAN ALL AGREE TO LIVE WITH THE RE-CONFIGURED INTERSECTION AND PARKING LOT LAYOUT, of course with proper easements.

After (wisely) allowing for much venting to be aired, Chairman Challen split the attendees into three groups, with the assignment of deciding which of the 3 alternative park designs each group preferred. These 3 designs had been prepared by the road engineers Vanesse Hangen. The same firm also engineered the Main St project.

When it came time for each group to explain what they thought about the 3 alternative designs, most people agreed that ALL 3 parks were over-designed, and, in fact, NO PARK WAS NEED AT ALL, at that particular location. Period … Therefore, we all concluded that the “assignment” from the Selectboard to the Working Group, describing the particular task the Working group was supposed to tackle — which was explicitly to review and recommend ONE FINAL PARK PLAN – should, in fact, NOT be followed, for the simple reason that the Working Group has determined that NO PARK AT ALL is needed or justified …. Here is the actual wording of the assignment from the Selectboard , and I think most readers will agree that it is clearly intended to FORCE the Working Group into accepting some kind of “park” — (Quote): “The Select Board would like to assemble a working group of citizens and interested parties to generate a written recommendation to the Select Board, regarding the design and themes for the proposed park — that will be constructed between the library and the re-constructed intersection of St. Mark’s Street and Route 85.”

Instead of a “park”, most people liked the very elegant proposal of Patti Fiore — for a “History Walk”, which is (as I understand it) a sidewalk / pathway network, which starts at the original site of the train station on East Main St in our tiny downtown, and extends all the way along Main, (along the way pointing out the old stores, houses, Fire station, Police station, Community House, Library), THEN UP MARLBOROUGH RD (Rt 85) to the main entry to St Marks School, and then back down St Marks Rd, (past the Indian burial ground, old school house, old cemetery, and Unitarian church — before it became Congregational), to St Marks church and Fay School buildings A, B, C, D, E … and then on another half mile, all the way to Sears Rd and the grand Garfield mansion, on Main at Deerfoot, and finally ending in the equally grand Sears Mansion which is opposite the Garfield House, on the corner of Sears and Main.

What a history that is, to read and tell about on a History Walk. Truly wonderful, and such a positive addition to our historic downtown.

I am not sure what the signage or informational device(s) Patti Fiore has in mind, (to inform walkers of what they are passing by) but there all kinds of possibilities, aren’t there, to make this brilliant idea work. Everyone, almost without exception (at our meeting), voted for the History Walk, to replace the unneeded park (in THAT PARTICULAR location, up at the remote intersection).

To conclude this matter of the “History Walk”, can it be agreed that it can replace the word “Park”, in the task assignment from the Selectboard ? If we can interpret the word “park” to include a “history walk”, then the Working Group can continue their good work regardless. I am sure the Selectboard would like that to happen.

Finally, to return back to the meeting consensus on what construction should happen at the new intersection at 85 and St Marks Rd, everyone agreed that the road and parking lot (now covered in dirt), should be completed as soon as possible, along with proper approval of necessary easements by Town Meeting. The consensus was — “Just get on with it and finish the road and parking lot, please. Clean up the site, plant a nice row of trees along the new road, and build the sidewalk loop for the future History Walk. We don’t need any park in that remote location. Leave the remaining land open and available for future Library expansion.”

ONE FINAL POINT. (A personal opinion here) — I have recently made a proposal for a completely different park — a small but very significant park which celebrates our town’s TRI-CENTENNIAL, which is in 2027 — just 5 years away, thus providing just enough lead time to obtain the land, prepare the site, and design and construct a memorial to (for example) our founders, like Burnett and Fay. io AM CALLING THIS PARK “THE 4TH QUADRANT”. To earn why I have given it this name, please watch the VIDEO of my very brief presentation, only 5 minutes long. to the Selectboard … . Why is it so short? Because I faced the limitations of “Public Comment” at official meetings, which allow no discussion. That is why I have since requested a place on a regular agenda of the Selectboard, in January, when discussion can take place, in depth. If you are interested in the ” 4th Quadrant “, then please come to that future meeting in early January, and speak up.

The 5 minute video can be seen on YouTube, under Southborough Access Media, titled “Selectmen Meeting Nov 15.” — It is right at the very end, so fast forward until the clock reads 2. 49. 00 (2 hours, 49 minutes).

Perhaps the Editor would do us all a good turn, by providing a quick link to the video HERE.*

David Parry
22 Main Street

*[Editor’s Note: Formatting issues keep interfering with YouTube video links within a post. But you can find the video by copying and pasting the following URL — https://youtu.be/QBKAymc_YRo?t=10194]

Updated (12/2/22 3:43 pm): I changed the headline for the letter after realizing that one was provided.

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JACK BARRON
1 month ago

Thank you Mr. Parry for a very clear and well written letter. I also hope that the committee determines what was behind the wrongful acts that took place before this committee met. What people or organizations benefited from taxpayer funds?? This is important for us to know so we can put in more safeguards for future generations of this town.

Margarite Landry
1 month ago

I am writing this not as the chair of the St. Mark’s St. Working Group, but as a resident who attended the Public Forum about the park designs held at the public safety building on Saturday Nov. 12.
The Working Group presented 3 potential park designs based on the input of WG members (WG = Two members of Historical Commission, one from Open Space Preservation, one from Select Board, one a student at St. Mark’s, as well as myself, Chair of the Library Board of Trustees.)
I agree with David Parry that the meeting was an enjoyable event that generated a lot of good ideas for the use of the triangle. People used their creativity in the breakout tables, and came up with some wonderful ideas that went into the record. It was a very productive and cooperative and synergistic meeting.
The 3 designs presented to work off of had elements that the Working Group had discussed over the months (historical component, heritage oak trees, quiet space, native plantings, accessible and linked to sidewalks, offering wi-fi, offering public drinking water, etc.)
All the suggestions from the breakout groups were written down, but no vote or final decision on the use of the park was done at any point. Patti Burns-Fiori contact me after the meeting with an additional park design that she had worked out with Sally Watters, and it was also very useful in considering use of this space.
Thank you to David, and to all who contributed so helpfully to finding a beneficial use for this space. The WG hopes to have additional public forums about the use of this space in the near future.
But again, no vote or decision about the use of this space was undertaken at this public forum.
Residents, please consider attending a future forum. It is amazing what residents here can accomplish when they work together to decide on the use of a space.
Margarite Landry

Patricia Burns Fiore
1 month ago

Having attended the public forum, I would like to clarify a couple of points.
I had some thoughts on simplifying the overall plan/design so we can move on from this enormous embarrassment and unsightly mess in the middle of downtown Southborough. Our “table” at the forum liked the idea and decided to present it to the group. After the public forum, Margarite Landry reached out to me to sketch out our plan for the park to present directly to the working group and I did so with the help of Sally Watters.
The idea is a History Walk. The state granted money to Southborough to build a history walk and, perhaps, that is what we should do – keep the costs minimal to avoid a tax burden, but within state expectations so Southborough does not have to pay back the money already (inappropriately) spent.
A history walk would begin in the triangle area (rather than the train station site on Main Street) with a small plaza, minimal seating and markers pointing out historical sites when looking in various directions. The center of the plaza has an inlaid compass rose celebrating the tricentennial of Southborough. The remainder of the entire triangle to be grassed and trees re-planted with an attractive perennial garden area feturing a shade tree for Library story time. Space is available for future library parking if the building is expanded (and depletes some current spaces).
Taking after Boston’s Freedom Trail (inlaid brick in some places and painted sidewalk in others), the history walk would continue southwest to point out additional sites such as the Old Burial Ground, Pilgrim Church, Flagg School, Town Pound, Town House and St. Mark’s Church, to end at Main Street and a future expansion along that street (which the Historical Society and Historical Commission have both discussed). Simple markers at each stop could describe the history of the location with QR code to more information on it and the entire walk on the Historical Society (or town) website.
I hope the Working Group, Select Board and taxpayers consider this scaled down option a wise solution. There are a number of valid reasons to dismiss the plans from VHB and opt for something entirely different:
I don’t believe a budget for this project has ever been discussed. A budget should have been approved and established before designs were commissioned. The VHB designs appear to be quite expensive to implement and NO estimates on construction were supplied. The state grant was $290,000 (which Ms. Galligan has spent creating a half-completed intersection, with nothing spent on the park – the purpose for the grant). What happens when a bid of $1.5M to $2.M comes in to construct the chosen design? Where does all the additional money come from?
Finally, in my humble opinion, I believe this is a park no one asked for, no one wanted (except for Ms. Galligan, and eventually, Marty Healey), and no one wants to pay for. Let’s make the best of a messy situation, construct something that will be an attractive addition to the downtown area, as well as a valuable asset for the history of Southborough.

John Gulbankian
1 month ago

The sole contribution from St Marks School for this project is the land under (1) the proposed new St Marks Rd, and (2) the new parking lot intended to be used for events at St Marks School. This is according to the Town Administrator.
The plain fact is that we, the taxpayers of Southborough, are being asked to pay for these facilities to be used primarily by St Marks School. This is certainly not fair. But I am willing to bet that almost the entire town thinks that St Marks is actually paying the full cost of their new parking lot. They are not. But they SHOULD. 
What’s more, St Marks School is not even paying their fair share of our local property taxes, in the form of Payments-In-Lieu-Of-Taxes (PILOT).
But still more on this issue — some staff and teachers at St Marks, living in regular homes in Southborough, are sending their children to our expensive public schools, yet they are not paying one cent toward the school costs. Why not? Because their homes are near the campus, and therefore deemed to be part of the overall Not-For-Profit-Enterprise.
Some people would call this entire matter a SNAFU which is not only unfair, but also unwanted and unethical.

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