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CPC nixes feasibility studies for new athletic fields, approves remaining requests

After much deliberation, the Community Preservation Committee has voted on its funding recommendations for the upcoming fiscal year. At the Feb. 10 CPC meeting, the committee discussed and voted on eight funding applications and approved all but two. These approved applications will be presented to the town as warrant articles at the Spring Town Meeting.

The Parks and Recreation Commission’s application for the funding of two feasibility studies to determine if the commissions’ parcels of land at Harvard Park and Bare Hill Pond are suitable for recreational activity had become a contested issue over the last few weeks. Parks and Rec, through the Athletic Field Planning Subcommittee, had requested $20,000 to fund the study of the Bare Hill Pond property and $30,000 to fund the study of the Harvard Park property. Environmental concerns, however, led the majority of CPC members to vote against these proposals.

On one hand, some CPC members were against funding the studies entirely. John Lee, for instance, said he had worked on the original design for Harvard Park, which had included tennis courts and an additional soccer field. However, Lee explained, even putting in the current walking trail had been difficult because adequate drainage had to be included in the design. “I can’t see putting anything back there,” he said, and added that the Bare Hill Pond property should remain undisturbed as well.

Lee’s argument echoed that of members of both the Conservation Commission and the Bare Hill Pond Watershed Management Committee. Both of these groups have said that neither parcel would be able to support recreational use––particularly athletic fields, which were Parks and Rec’s original hope. This is because both properties border wetlands and are heavily wooded. The chairs of these two committees, Don Ritchie and Bruce Leicher, wrote to the CPC on Jan. 19 and Feb. 1, respectively, explaining the environmental issues associated with developing this land for recreation. They wrote that the elevated wetlands at Harvard Park would affect a playing field unless significant measures were taken to raise the field; and the Bare Hill Pond woods not only border wetlands and the town’s wellheads, but also serve an important purpose in filtering and reducing runoff. At last Wednesday’s CPC meeting, Leicher added that feasibility studies would be costly and likely prove what the environmental committees are already concerned about in regard to this land.

On the other hand, a few CPC members voiced support for at least one of the two possible studies. Doug Thornton, the Parks and Rec representative on the CPC, was the only member to vote “yes” for both. Thornton, along with Parks and Rec Chair Bob O’Shea, said the studies would be able to show what the properties could be used for––whether that be recreational use or conservation––and that their close proximity to the schools made them viable options to explore. Ultimately, however, concern over developing property so close to wetlands outweighed this argument in the CPC’s final vote.

The mixed reactions among committee members, however, spurred a conversation about the CPC funding such an initiative in the future. Acknowledging Parks and Rec’s efforts to make newer and more accessible athletic fields, CPC Chair Didi Chadran said, “I want to commend the Athletic Field Planning Subcommittee and Parks and Rec for pursuing athletic equality for the town.” He encouraged Parks and Rec to continue looking into the possibility of developing more athletic fields and other recreational areas in town, and suggested revisiting the idea of granting CPC funding to the commission at a later date.

Funding for the Community Harvest Project, requested through the Conservation Commission, was the largest application that the CPC received and approved. The commission requested $150,000 to help fund the purchase of an agricultural preservation restriction, or APR, for the Prospect Hill farm. The APR costs a total of $2.5 million, and the CPC is one of many groups contributing to the effort, having granted another $150,000 to the project last year as well.

Although this application passed almost unanimously, there was controversy over whether to increase the funding amount to $200,000, which would have pushed the Community Harvest Project slightly closer to its goal. “The extent of the project and what it means for the town is huge,” said Jo Ward, the Conservation Commission representative on the CPC. She noted that the project still has to raise a significant amount of funds and any additional funding from the town would be useful. Others worried that spending an additional $50,000 on this project would leave less funding for needs that may arise throughout the year. Michelle Catalina, for instance, noted that as the committee is not currently funding Parks and Rec’s feasibility studies, perhaps the additional funding should be reserved should the commission request funding again in the fall. The amendment to grant an additional $50,000 for the APR did not pass.

The remainder of the funding applications passed unanimously, with ease. First, the CPC voted to approve Parks and Rec’s $5,000 request to upgrade the rental kiosk at the town pond. This upgrade would include updated software for the self-service payment method, magnetic locks to prevent keys from being taken, and more paddleboards.

Moreover, the CPC voted to approve both of the Town Hall’s applications, a request for $25,000 to fund the preservation of historical documents, and a request for $48,000 to pay off construction debts.

The committee also voted to approve reserving $32,000 for affordable housing. Affordable housing is one of three categories ––in addition to historic preservation and open space and recreation––that state law requires the CPC to allocate at least 10% of its budget to each fiscal year. As there were no funding applications that fell into this category, this amount will be reserved until needed.

Finally, the CPC voted to approve the funding application for its own committee: $2,500 to cover the committee’s administrative expenses, including membership to the Community Preservation Coalition.

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