Friday, November 9, 2007
Boards confer on Pathway Project
In a model of efficiency, on October 30 in the Town Hall's Clark Room, the Historical Commission held a joint public hearing with the Bicycle/Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee (Pathways Committee), the Board of Selectmen and Tree Warden Gary Davis to address specific details of the Pathways Committee's plans for Concord and Lowell Streets. Before the meeting, Selectman Tim Hult praised the four boards "for coming together for the good of the town."
Deb Belanger, chair of the Pathways Committee, displayed a Powerpoint presentation that focused on small portions of the proposed pathways. The committee was seeking approval from the Planning Board on the removal and cutting of certain trees and on modifications to two stone walls. These are under the aegis of the Planning Board under the town's Scenic Byways bylaw. The purview of the Historical Commission was preservation of the historic district.
A lengthy discussion centered on the intersection of Church and Concord Streets, acknowledged by all to be a dangerous corner that demands immediate attention. Belanger said that the Traffic Safety Advisory Committee is developing a plan that would realign the intersection and would add curbing — but exactly where and how far the curbing would be installed sparked animated debate.
Hult said, "The Traffic and Safety Advisory Committee is concerned with safety and moderating speed [of cars] in the center. They recognize that curbs are dangerous for bicycles and want to keep curbing to a minimum in town." Geoff Freeman of the Historical Commission spoke in favor of a grassy entrance (the verges) to the town that announces the approach to the historic district. Larry Sorli of the Historical Commission favors "dropping the curbs if we have a grassy verge" and asked rhetorically, "Will safety always trump historical preservation? There are many ways to achieve safety." Although there was general agreement that safety is the number one issue, Historical Commission Chair Peggy Hilton expressed the hope that "a balance could be struck between safety and historical integrity."
The pathway affects Sylvia Sillers' historical house at Church and Concord Streets in major ways. A utility pole and a crabapple tree lie in the path on Concord Street; the pole is unlikely to be relocated and the tree will need major trimming. Speaking as an abutter and not as a member of the Historical Commission, Sillers voiced her concern over the health of the tree when limbs are removed and pointed out that the pathway will be "eight feet from my living room," affecting her privacy. Potential drainage problems resulting from the pathway construction raise further concerns.
Achieving the best outcome
From the audience, John Lee of Lowell Street pointed out that "the real problem in the center is failure to enforce the speed limit." Tom Lockwood of Lowell Street observed that the committees were "trying to be all things to all people," to which Belanger replied, "We're trying to achieve an outcome that benefits the most people. Our goal is to create safe pedestrian walkways."
Belanger's slide tour of the pathway proceeded out Concord Street and addressed trees marked for removal. The Planning Board approved the proposed removal of about 12 trees, some of which were described as "in poor health." Excepted were three trees in the center whose fate depends on the resolution of the curbing issue at Church and Concord Streets. The Planning Board also approved moving a stone wall to accommodate the pathway.
The placement of the utility pole unfortunately located in the middle of the pathways near the Sillers house will be discussed at the site by the Traffic Safety Committee and the Historical Commission, a step proposed by Larry Bearfield of the Historical Commission. Of concern to the Historical Commission are the dimensions of the pathways that must be routed behind the pole; the commission needs drawings that include the pathway dimensions in front of and behind the pole. At issue are regulations of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) for the minimum width of a pathway which must be explored further.
At the end of the Concord Street discussion, Belanger noted that the extent of any curbing on the pathway by the Sillers house was still unresolved and that "work on the intersection [of Church and Concord] will be done later."
Lowell Street curbing
Proceeding to Lowell Street, curbing was less of a thorny issue. Curbing already exists from the Center down Lowell Street to the Police Station. Belanger proposed continuing the curbing to a point to be determined by the Historical Commission jointly with the Traffic Safety Committee.
The proposed pathway would extend across the frontage of the Lockwoods' house; Tom Lockwood spoke in favor of curbing, which would prevent cars from parking on their property and creating an unsightly area.
John and Annette Lee expressed frustration with the impact of the pathway on their Lowell Street home. They are concerned about drainage problems arising from the grade of the pathway and potential damage to their gate. While Belanger offered assurances that engineering concerns would be resolved at the site by the pathways contractor, the Lees want drawings and construction details before work begins.
Anxious to achieve closure on outstanding board approvals, Belanger said that "open items will be discussed in November."
Moving to tree removal along Lowell Street, the Planning Board approved removal of several tagged trees. In addition, they approved creating a six- to eight-foot opening in a stone wall to accommodate the pathway behind the wall, as well as the total removal of a small stone wall.
Gale Constable of Lowell Street made a plea for safety in the center, especially for children walking to school. Belanger assured her that the Traffic Safety Committee was researching the problem. Then, undoubtedly voicing the frustration felt by Center residents during this very long march toward pathways, Constable said, "We put up with a lot, living in the Center."
The lengthy and comprehensive meeting ended at midnight.
© 2007 The