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Westford Town Meeting: Freeman Rail Trail

There are several warrant articles on this Saturday's Town Meeting warrant having to do with the long contested nature path in the southeastern part of town. What happens could affect Acton and Chelmsford along with Westford.

Today, part three of our five part series on this Saturday’s Westford Town Meeting looks at the five warrant articles having to do with the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail.

Articles 14 and 15: These two articles are identical, and Article 14, which was brought forth by the Selectmen, is likely going to be dismissed so there are not duplicate votes on the same issue.

Article 15, which came from a citizens’ petition, asks the town to appropriate a sum of $5,000 for surveying and technical work to develop parking inside Westford near the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail.

The Westford Conservation Trust, a non-profit group that works independently with the town to maintain Westford’s nature trails, has joined with the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail as the major proponents on this article.

Their view is that every other trail in town has parking facilities, and the demand for parking along the Bruce Freeman Trail has caused issues for those looking to access the trail in the area.

Neighbors of the trail have been the major opponents, citing several concerns ranging from safety fears to a change in the character of their neighborhoods to worries of unanticipated zoning precedents that may cause problems down the road.

Article 18:  Article 18, another citizens’ petition, has almost the exact opposite aim of Article 15: prohibiting the town from expending any resources on planning or developing public parking in residential areas a mile away from the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail.

This article came forth from residents living near the trail who would prefer the town divert trail users to parking lots in Chelmsford, which they say are never completely used, or toward “”: an area just over the border in Acton along the eventual next phase of the trail that could be used as a parking lot.

The town of Acton has agreed to the idea, although due to jurisdictional issues on the ownership of the trail and financial concerns, it would require assistance from the state to currently move forward on the plan.

Article 16 and 17: Again, these two articles are identical, and like the other set of identical articles, Article 17 is likely to be dismissed.

Article 16, which comes from the Parks and Recreation Commission, requests the transfer of a piece of property known as the Vose Parcel from the Tax Possession Sale Committee.

If passed, the hopes are that the parcel would become a small “pocket park,” and an Eagle Scout candidate has given designs for an informational kiosk which would be just feet away from the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail.

Area residents have voiced opposition to this article fear that this could be a loophole around the zoning prohibition on parking in residential areas, as parking is allowed in auxiliary uses for parks.

The Parks and Recreation Commission have stated firmly that no parking is planned or will be planned on the parcel itself if this article passes.

Parks and Recreation director Pat Savage has also stated the propsed pocket park is not intended as an access point to the trail, but rather as a way station for those already on the trail.

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