[Ed note: My Southborough accepts signed letters to the editor submitted by Southborough residents. Letters may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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.*
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.