Over 100 local residents and town officials braved the snow to attend Wednesday night’s informational meeting at the on the continuing Bruce Freeman Rail Trail parking issue.
Following setbacks with the proposed “” coming from the previous meeting on the trail in , the meeting moderated by Westford town planner Chris Kluchman was designed to help inform the public on the issue while also helping town official better understand the concerns of residents.
Westford director of land use planning Angus Jennings began the informational portion of the meeting with updates on what the town has done since the August meeting, which was followed by questions from the audience and what is ultimately the three Warrant Articles that will address the trail at the March 24 Town Meeting.
“I think one thing that was productive was helping to clarify the different positions of the various parties,” said Jennings. “I think this was a helpful venue to let the proponents speak for themselves as to their objectives and what they hope to get done or how the town should spend its resources. I think there was a lot of information and I hope people got a lot out of it.”
The first article addressed, which was duplicated in two separate articles by the Selectmen and a citizen’s petition (14 and 15) would provide $5,000 to further study the issue.
Here, Westford Conservation Trust trail steward Bill Harman and Westford Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail representative Emily Teller advocated for the articles, citing the need for the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail to gain parking access comparable to other trails in town and elsewhere in Eastern Massachusetts.
In contrast to these articles, a presentation on an article that would prohibit planning or development of parking in residential areas (18) was brought forth by petitioners and trail neighborhood residents Tim Walsh and Steve Swech.
During this presentation, the case was made against the need for a parking solution within Westford’s town boundaries, citing what Swech and Walsh claimed as a plentitude of parking nearby in Chelmsford, the progress already made and economic benefits for Acton on the Acton plan, the town’s other more pressing financial concerns and the character and public safety of the residential areas being threatened if parking facilities are constructed in Westford.
The other articles, 16 (Parks and Recreation Commission) and 17 (citizen’s petition) were another redundant pair of articles presented by petitioner Chris Barrett that did not address parking, but rather discussed a proposed Eagle Scout kiosk for the trail to be built on the Vose Parcel, a small triangular piece of land near the corner of Acton and Carlisle Roads that has been repossessed by the town’s Tax Possession Sale Committee.
Although everyone in attendance agreed that the trail was a positive aspect for Westford as a whole, opinions on how to address the parking issue were as varied as opinions on how constructive the meeting was.
For many residents of the neighborhoods near the Rail Trail in the extreme southeastern part of town, the presentation was disappointing and worrying.
“I think it’s pretty clear that these people have another agenda and they’re all scheming here because they’re all working together and they all know what they’re doing, but they don’t want to come out and say it," .
Others in the neighborhood, such as Cynthia, Steve’s wife, also felt disappointed with the town’s answers to questions posed by those in attendance.
“I think there wasn’t a whole lot of information shared from the town,” said Swiech. “I’d like a complete picture of everything. I understand Angus’es position, (in) that he needs to do a lot of research, but let’s take a position. Do we have enough parking? Where do we need parking? Let’s take a position.”
These opinions were not shared by those in attendance would potentially accept parking in Westford.
“I think this was a dress rehearsal for Town Meeting,” said Teller. “I really, really hope that Westford voters will come out so all positions can be discussed and approved at Town Meeting in a way that’s positive for the rail trail.”
Both sides seem to be happy with the Acton Plan if it can be accomplished, but it was advised that while that route is certainly possible, it would be complicated due to needed coordination between the towns of Acton, Concord, Carlisle and Westford; coordination between those towns and the understaffed Massachusetts Department of Transportation railway right of way division, and obtaining approximately $165,000, or potentially more if the Iron Horse Rail Trail group is not allowed to remove the rails in Phase Two and sell them for constructing the trail as they have done elsewhere.