Letter: Town Meeting Articles 12 and 13 (from a former project opponent)

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

This letter is from Patricia Burns Fiore.]

To the Editor:

As many know, I have spent a lot of time looking at, and into, the project regarding the intersection change, St. Mark’s parking lot and town park. I have attended or viewed numerous meetings, talked with people, and requested and reviewed numerous PRRs over the last year and a half.

I first learned of the project after I sent an email to Mark Purple on November 3, 2021 asking why the town was cutting down trees on St. Mark’s property. And then the crap hit the proverbial fan.

Last year at Town Meeting, we all decidedly disagreed with the then-current Select Board’s plan to use a license to do work on this project and seek permission from Town Meeting after. In fact, the previous Select Board chair made it perfectly clear a positive vote was not needed on the easements as there was a license agreement. Taxpayers did not agree, and work was stopped after Town Meeting.

Although the previous Select Board and/or chair had no tolerance for discussion or dissention on this project, the current board and chair have responded and listened, and they are making a very valid attempt to right the boat as much as possible.

My primary and first objection to this project from the very beginning was that public taxpayer’s money was being spent on private property. I have been pretty adamant that cannot happen. The select board listened. A land swap was negotiated with St. Mark’s, and now each party will own their respective parcels.

Others were concerned about possible Native American burials on or near the site. People listened. St. Mark’s agreed to spend $20K on an archeological survey and it was done.

VHB was hired to design a park, and plans were presented by the Working Group in a public forum for thoughts and comments. I objected to the grand scale, overuse of hardscape, the cost to implement such a design, and that a History Walk (which was the primary intention of the $290K state grant) was nowhere to be seen. The Working Group listened, put many, many hours into discussion of the best way to move forward and agreed to a much simplified design that would create a starting point for a History Walk. (Back in the early 1700s, three things were needed to request the approval from the governor to incorporate a town. Each one of these – mustering ground, meeting hall and burial ground – will be visible from the location of the main plaza in the park, creating an ideal starting point for a history walk and discussion of Southborough’s history.)

This year, when the MOU negotiated by our Town Counsel and St. Mark’s included a nearly identical license to last year, I urged the board to throw out the entire license agreement as it would be seen as an end around Town Meeting’s vote and suffer the same fate as before. They listened, and opted to take out reference to the license agreement (I believe at the objection of Town Counsel), which essentially leaves no Plan B. And, furthermore, they insisted language in the MOU be adjusted so that it was clear each party would pay for any construction on its own property and the town would not shoulder the costs to demolish a street nor create a parking lot for St. Mark’s – a very important detail.

On many occasions I have asked the current Select Board and St. Mark’s Street Park Working Group to listen. And, they have.

This Saturday at Town Meeting, I intend to vote in favor of Articles 12 and 13 and urge others to do as well. This project was a mess from the beginning. And, it is time we clean up the mess (literally, and figuratively), move on, and ensure it does not happen again.

Anything other decision, will cost taxpayers more money, we will end up with an unsightly pile of dirt in the middle of our downtown, and potential ill-will with the state for having to return a $290K grant.

Compromise is the essence of a democracy. And compromise is what is needed now. We should finish this project in the most cost-effective way for taxpayers who will end up with an attractive, useable space for all, and one that is owned by the citizens and taxpayers of Southborough.

Please vote in favor of articles 12 and 13 and let’s move forward.


Patricia Burns Fiore
10 Winter Street

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John Gulbankian
2 months ago

Please vote NO on Articles 12 and 13.  This deal is an unnecessary, legally questionable, bad business deal leaving taxpayers with the short end of the stick. For a deal that may cost taxpayers in the range of $1m roughly, we get little to nothing in return, including accountability. What do taxpayers get? So far that was $80,000 in last year’s PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) from St. Mark’s.   And BOS is willing to give up an existing high use public road for a private owner to get a few parking spaces? This deal is crazily nonsensical.  The deal has to be renegotiated or no deal.  St. Mark’s gets nothing.    
Many residents have taken a hard and long look at the St. Mark’s parking lot / town park debacle.  Those who are in favor of this project are urging voters with the mischaracterization “to move on” while the all important town meeting authority has been bypassed, ignored.   In spite of claims of compromise, this remains a mis-management disaster of the spending of public money on private land with little to no oversight and very little public explanation.   
This Select Board would like nothing more than to not return the $290,000 Shared Streets Grant to the state, money that was not spent in the public domain as required by law, and “move on” with no accountability.  
Don’t let that happen. Vote NO and make your voice heard.  
Vote no to the misspending of your tax dollars to subsidize St. Mark’s private school.   The important question still remains: How is spending public taxpayer money ok on private land?  The grant for “a history walk” was spent on private land. Also, the town road budget was depleted. Yet, Chapter 90 expressly forbids it. Still, it happened on this Select Board’s watch. 
This is a political and mismanagement mess. This is not a needed, requested, or necessary moving of an intersection.  This is an expensive make-work job that benefits a private entity using your tax dollars.  St. Mark’s wants an in-use public road for a few parking spaces?  It doesn’t get more ludicrous.  This is a political deal.  It has zero benefit to the taxpayers.  If we build a park near a road, guess who we are building it for and who is going to use it.  Take a look at St. Mark’s road on game day.   St. Mark’s wants this parking for their out of town guests.
There are numerous questionable legal aspects of this matter, including the dubious “license” agreement that bypasses town meeting authority.  In spite of claims of compromise, that was not a compromise.  There are legal experts who do not share the opinion that this is a legal license, and therefore the authority of course was and remains in the hands of you, the voters.   
As for a parking lot on a possible cemetery? Regarding the archeological survey done over the concerns of the native burial ground, as depicted in a town history book, the Mass Historical Commission responded with a letter asking where exactly did the contractor dig the two trenches, since they were not expressly indicated in the lengthy report.  One trench was dug off-site, not on St. Mark’s land at all, and both were dug in the area of walls and known foundations—hardly a thorough look for human burials.  It is noteworthy that the usual professional methodology for locating burials was successfully employed on abutting Old Burial Ground.  Currently, there are well known national companies that use advanced technology for locating, for instance, African American grave sites identified with great success , that was not done here.  The almost one acre site used a spot dig method, digging two holes – and one was not on site, leaving the state to ask where exactly were the trenches located. 
It makes no sense to take this terrible expensive nonsensical saga to another crazy iteration, one that ignores and runs roughshod over voters’ town meeting floor authority. This entire deal needs to be renegotiated or St. Mark’s gets nothing.  This is a business deal with no business sense and has questionable legal aspects.  Vote NO on Articles 12 and 13.  Send the Select Board and St. Mark’s packing – back to the negotiating table.  St. Mark’s is not getting a public road that is perfectly safe and we already paid for and re-aligned with their driveway.  Thank you.
John Gulbankian

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