Petition to “Stop Sale” of South Union

Residents want a working group that includes neighbors to explore uses of 21 Highland Street before any decisions are made.

Above: Petitioners are calling for a Working Group including neighboring residents to be created to formulate options for use of the historic building, playground and property at 21 Highland Street. (photos by Beth Melo)

Yesterday afternoon, I finally found the time to post a recap of the Select Board’s discussion on September 5th about the future of 21 Highland Street. Unbeknownst to me, earlier that morning, 130 residents submitted a petition to the the Select Board seeking to stop the sale of the property.

The petition calls for a committee of stakeholders be created to research the use of the parcel. The petition begins:

We, citizens of Southborough, wish the Select Board to cease any decision-making or determination about the future of the 21 Highland Property or building there on, until a working group with members from the Cordaville neighborhood, affected departments, and advising boards can be convened to formulate a slate of options and proposals to present at a future town meeting.

Board member Al Hamilton, who has been researching options for use of the property, responded publicly to the petition with a letter to the editor today. In it he addresses some of the points raised in the letter, including possible misperceptions.

As I explained in yesterday’s post, the Select Board hasn’t yet made a decision to sell the property. What they agreed to was further researching that and other possibilities through a Feasibility Study.

Hamilton’s letter specifies what I assumed residents would already know (therefore didn’t mention in yesterday’s post) — even if the Select Board decides it does want to sell the building, they would need Town Meeting voters’ approval. Disposition of land requires authority granted by 2/3 of the hall.

In the letter, he also stresses his agreement with petitioners’ desire to protect the playground and the sledding hill on the property. Although they haven’t voted, fellow board members did appear to agree on keeping the playground. But the board hasn’t yet come to a clear agreement about development of the remaining land on the parcel.

The residents’ call for a working group including residents is an approach the Select Board had dismissed in their last meeting. You can read about their discussion in my coverage here, and Hamilton’s letter responding to petitioners here.

Below is the rest of the text from the petition:

Due to insufficient outreach to the affected neighborhoods, citizens in the area are unaware of the discussions related to the property at 21 Highland St., even though we would be the most affected by any decision made. Even the “21 Highland Committee” was given a singular charge to investigate affordable housing on the site. Citizens living near, using, and enjoying the property were never notified that the 21 Highland St. property was put out for bids of a potential sale by a decision at a previous town meeting.

Your neighbors in Cordaville and the Southborough populace at large deserve to be presented with a slate of options, projects, and financials relating to 21 Highland Street, other than abandoning the property by any means expedient.

There are many more options which should be considered. We don’t believe that expediency is beneficial to those of us who live next to this lovely town property. We love it as it is, but understand as with all publicly owned properties, there is sometimes a need for change, modifications, and investments for the better. However, we require to be involved in the public exploration and decision-making progress pertaining to this property. We respectfully insist that the Select Board not rush the community toward a decision that will release or sell this property to private interests.

This is a generational piece of property that once lost will not be replaceable to the community that surrounds it, uses it, and enjoys it. If the Select Board wishes to keep all future discussions of the property during its meetings, we welcome a fresh start which will include:

• Citizen outreach at all stages of engagement to expand the discussion to the level and detail we feel satisfies our considerations;
• Clarification to all the final financial conclusions that concern the property at present;
• Reviewing potential solutions and development options;
• The opportunity to propose our own solution.

We suspect that the Board believes what it currently has in hand is sufficient (and is) enough to justify decisions without a broad-based community vote. We do not agree.

We request the forming of a new 21 Highland Committee tasked with exploring options for the future of the property, including the existing problems and how it might be envisioned to serve the neighborhood and town in the future. This committee should include members of the neighborhood. We believe that taking this action will make life easier for the Select Board by letting the community drive the decision process that allows the Select Board to concentrate on larger and important issues facing our town.

This property is appreciated, utilized, beloved, and critical to the Cordaville neighborhood in Southborough. We are very excited to keep this property as a thriving community space.

Attached to the petition was the 130 names, addresses and email addresses of residents who signed onto it.

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