The Community Preservation Committee at its meeting Thursday night discussed an apparent misunderstanding about the parameters of outreach required for a $40,000 grant approved at May’s Annual Town Meeting for the Trail Coordination and Management Committee. The TCMC was to conduct a preliminary engineering study for the proposed western alternative route for the Upper Charles Trail.
The point of contention between the CPC and the TCMC is the future of a parcel referred to as the Gorman property. As discussed at last week’s CPC meeting, TCMC chair Peter LaGoy noted that his request was for the route to begin on town-owned land west of the Hughes property. It would continue to land west of the Charlesview neighborhood and then connect to the Mastroianni property. He noted that an agreement has not yet been reached on the Gorman property and that the land was not included in the funding request.
According to CPC chair Ken Weismantel, he and LaGoy had planned to work on the proposed article language before it was submitted for the warrant. Weismantel said he received LaGoy’s draft “later than expected,” prompting him to write and submit his own language, which ultimately received Town Meeting approval.
Weismantel said he believed confusion arose because LaGoy assumed his language was being used when Weismantel’s submission was submitted. In Article 24, Section M, the article states that the grant was for funding for “preliminary engineering including wetlands assessment, topographical evaluation, and trail mapping of the town-owned portions and abutting properties of the Western Route Trail.”
In addition, the article stipulated that before spending any money for engineering, the TCMC needs to get “written statement[s] from private property owners for permission to walk the site, determine wetlands, and survey the land for future trail locations, and [property owners must express a] willingness to enter into discussions on the town purchasing an easement or land for the future trail.”
Weismantel showed a map submitted with the article that included the Gorman property, for which LaGoy has not received the written statements requested.
That requirement was made, Weismantel said, to ensure that the property owner had considered talking with the town about a potential purchase of land or an easement before work commenced. Weismantel called it “a pretty low bar” to fulfill as a first step.
Before the money is spent, Weismantel said the committee needs to know the proposed route and receive the written statements.
LaGoy said that when he appeared before the committee in November 2022, he originally proposed having an engineering study on “just the town-owned pieces.” He expanded the scope, he said, because he had had discussions with the other two property owners for the Colella and Chirco parcels. LaGoy explained that the majority of the wetlands that would require the engineering study are on these two properties, and both owners provided permission statements to walk the land.
Said LaGoy: “That was always the intent, to do those two pieces plus the town-owned land.”
Weismantel reiterated that LaGoy needs permission for activity on the Gorman property to continue with the engineering study. LaGoy disagreed, saying that the article only refers to “private property owners.” He stressed that the Gorman property is “Chapter 61 land.” This regulation allows the town a right of first refusal should the property go up for sale.
In his draft article language submitted to Weismantel in December, LaGoy stressed that the Gorman land was not referenced.
Said Weismantel: “That’s why we didn’t accept that draft.”
“There’s no sense to spend a dime on engineering if you know you’ve got a roadblock,” he continued, noting that just because the land has a Chapter 61 designation doesn’t mean the town will buy it. An example of such land is Weston Nurseries, which the town decided not to purchase.
Weismantel referred to the Gorman property as “a very developable piece of land” with connections to two adjacent subdivisions.
There is another trail option, LaGoy said, that would only use the town-owned land and the Chirco and Colella properties, but it would cross Daniel Road. This may prove contentious, as residents previously said they did not want a trail there when approached by the Upper Charles Trail Committee. At Wednesday night’s TCMC meeting, LaGoy said he “would not push” that alternative.
At that point, Jim Ciriello, the CPC’s Conservation Commission liaison, interjected.
“For me, permission to walk on someone’s land is not the same as an intention to grant an easement or sell a property,” he said. “I want to see their intentions. And why would you do it without Gorman?”
He added that it was his understanding that the town-owned land was under the control of the Conservation Commission. LaGoy would then need permission from the Conservation Commission as well.
Dan Terry, the CPC’s Parks & Recreation Commission liaison, said this process showed that the committee has “to be a little more careful” with applicants moving forward about the requirement of landowner permission.
LaGoy said that at the CPC’s Nov. 17 meeting, he articulated that he was not including the Gorman property. He did not recall the request for landowner permissions, but he did seek permission “to do an assessment of the land.” Had he known, he said he would have asked for the other permissions.
Terry also asked why the Gorman property would not have been included to do it “in the right order.”
Said Weismantel: “I wouldn’t have voted for the western route if I didn’t think it was going through the Gorman property.”
Jane Moran, the UCTC chair, spoke as a private citizen about hearing the Gorman property referenced at a CPC meeting about the proposal. She said she did not believe that permission would be received for the Gorman property. Under Chapter 61, she explained that the Gormans would have to give a year’s notice of sale to the town and have the opportunity to pay any back taxes owed on the property.
She added that “the Gormans were not interested in playing ball with the town” when the UCTC approached them about acquiring the land for a trail. Because of the town’s financial situation, she did not believe that the town would enter into a purchase agreement.
CPC member Steve Levandosky said that if the Gorman property was not mentioned, there is no reason to prevent the grant from being executed. He also noted that the town potentially could take the Gorman land by eminent domain.
Weismantel disagreed, noting that the permissions needed to be received on all properties before the money is spent, or else the TCMC would “be on the hook for it.”
When the permissions are received on the three properties, Weismantel said he would call a CPC meeting to move forward.