After months of speculation about the future of the Upper Charles Trail Committee, the Select Board on Tuesday voted unanimously to keep it separate from the Trail Coordination and Management Committee, but with both committees modifying their structures and charges.
The vote also included a provision for the UCTC to resume meeting, but only for the limited purpose of preparing a presentation for a joint meeting with the TCMC (now to be called the Trails Committee), the Select Board and town officials.
In May, the Select Board voted to suspend the UCTC from meeting after a nonbinding vote at May’s Annual Town Meeting showed that 72% of 219 voters preferred that the committee be disbanded and reconstituted as a TCMC subcommittee. The decision sparked the creation of a survey by the Select Board to gather wider public feedback on the UCTC, but the response rate was very low.
Select Board member Irfan Nasrullah, who serves as the board’s liaison to the UCTC, oversaw the discussion. He explained that because the UCTC was created by the Select Board, it had the purview over whether it should be continued or disbanded, not Town Meeting’s vote.
He stressed that the UCTC needed to “go through some training” on how to run meetings and make sure that all viewpoints on the proposed route are considered, vetted and shared with the public. One concern that arose previously was a need for the UCTC to conduct greater public outreach and increase transparency.
While Nasrullah said the UCTC had done some substantial work, “things fell apart” when the UCTC proposed that the trail cross Hayden Rowe Street as it approached the Milford border. This approach is no longer being considered as a viable option by the UCTC. More recently, the UCTC has focused on the first proposed trail segment at the Ashland border, which he described as “noncontroversial.”
Vice chair Shahidul Mannan initially said that he was “leaning toward” the UCTC becoming a TCMC subcommittee. He said the UCTC and TCMC previously competed for grant funding, which caused some tension. Bringing them together, he said, could help them move toward a unified goal.
“Visibly, the committee has been experiencing a lot of conflict over the last two years,” he said. This has prevented the UCTC from “moving the needle” forward on the trail design and having the two committees “working in a siloed fashion.”
“I realize that this has been a very difficult process for people on all sides of the question,” said Select Board chair Muriel Kramer. After considering the pros and cons, she said the committees should remain separate.
She asked that the UCTC meetings be reinstated so that members can “enter into this conversation for the next couple of months” and hold the joint meeting the UCTC requested with the TCMC, the Select Board and town leaders to discuss what the UCTC has accomplished and where it needs to evolve.
Abutters to proposed trail routes need to be notified of and included in discussions so that concerns can be addressed in a timely manner, she added. Kramer said that there should be a member from the Trails Committee on the UCTC and a UCTC member on the Trails Committee to promote better communication.
Because of public concerns about the previously proposed Hayden Rowe trail section, Kramer asked that the motion also include language stating that the Select Board opposes this route.
Select Board member Mary Jo LaFreniere agreed that the two committees should remain separate. She noted that from the start, they served two distinct functions. While the TCMC’s focus is on smaller trails in town, the UCTC’s goal is to be part of a system that connects towns and allows for multimodal transportation.
Said LaFreniere: “It’s two different animals; it’s oranges and apples.”
Select Board member Amy Ritterbusch concurred, noting the committees have separate purposes. She added that the Hayden Rowe option should be “taken off the table” — at least for now.
Ritterbusch also recommended revisions to the charges of both committees and their membership structures. She said there should no longer be nonvoting UCTC alternate members, that committee liaisons should not be allowed to vote, and that a UCTC member should be on the TCMC.
Mannan stressed that the goal of this process was “to find a new frontier” rather than revert to the UCTC’s status quo. All members agreed that UCTC reforms need to be made.
Kramer proposed the motion for the committees to remain separate “with reformatted structures.” It also called for the UCTC to be reinstated so members can prepare for the joint meeting previously described. The motion included the Select Board’s opposition to a route along Hayden Rowe, unless approved by a future Town Meeting vote.
Legislators provide update
Massachusetts Senate president Karen Spilka and Rep. James Arena-DeRosa updated the Select Board on the state budget approved earlier this week and addressed issues important to the town such as PFAS and school aid.
Spilka spoke about how Hopkinton was able to persevere and grow despite the challenges presented by the pandemic. She also praised Arena-DeRosa, saying that he “has hit the ground running” in his first term representing Hopkinton.
Said Spilka: “I believe Hopkinton has a great partnership and communication, and that has helped us to help you in the State House.”
On Monday, the Legislature passed the state budget. Spilka said a $20 million provision for farm resiliency aid was approved in a supplemental budget Monday evening that would benefit the region’s farms that had been flooded during torrential rainstorms this year.
The MetroWest Regional Transit Authority received funding as part of a $190 million investment into regional transit authorities, doubling the state’s investment in the system over last year. Also, free school lunches were approved statewide.
Hopkinton will receive $939,000 in unrestricted local aid, a 3.2% increase over last year, according to Spilka. The schools will receive $9.8 million, a 12.1% increase. Money was included for Hopkinton’s diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging initiative. Hopkinton Youth and Family Services will receive $20,000 in funding to provide youth mental health services. Project Just Because also received $20,000.
“When I see these line items come to life in communities like Hopkinton, I’m reminded that all of us as public officials have the same ability,” she said. “And we want to make a positive difference in people’s lives and help shape our communities to make them better.”
She added that she looked forward to seeing the new Elmwood School building project come to fruition.
Arena-DeRosa added that he has been heavily involved in researching the issues at the LNG facility. After attending a recent public forum, he compiled federal and state emissions reports on the project that he sent to Town Hall.
He also talked about the town’s issue with PFAS in the town’s Well 6. He questioned whether the former state firefighter training facility in Hopkinton may have led to PFAS issues in the water and said that will be reviewed. Spilka said some budget funding has been set aside to improve drinking water quality, and she will be looking for federal aid to address PFAS issues.
Arena-DeRosa also advocated for $25,000 in the budget toward the town’s new sustainability, economic development and equity project manager’s position.
Town manager proposes Affordable Housing Committee
Town Manager Norman Khumalo proposed that the town create an Affordable Housing Committee to manage the creation of affordable housing. This would help to direct the allocation of the more than $4 million that the Affordable Housing Trust Fund has amassed for that purpose since its creation in 2010.
Said Khumalo: “What has been missing is a mechanism to create the projects to be funded.”
He suggested that this committee could be structured as a nonprofit entity that would ensure that town land previously designated for affordable housing will be used solely for that purpose.
Misc: New hires approved
The Select Board unanimously approved the appointment of Poonam Rijhsinghani as the new assistant town accountant. …
Police cadet Noah Buentello, who is currently in the Police Academy, received a unanimous vote of approval from the board to become a member of the Hopkinton Police Department, pending his graduation. …
The Select Board unanimously approved the taking of Box Mill Road by the town as a private way. This action was approved by a Town Meeting vote in May. …
The board approved the appointment of Beth Malloy as the new member of the Housing Authority’s board. Also in contention for the position was Amit Tandon. …
In his town manager’s report, Khumalo noted that the current striping of the intersection at Main Street and Hayden Rowe is temporary and will be adjusted when input is received from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
Because the meeting ran for nearly 3 1/2 hours, the Select Boad’s discussion of its fiscal year 2024 goals was postponed until Aug. 23 at 6 p.m., when a special Select Board meeting will be held.