By Alexandra Molnar, Contributing Writer
Northborough – After successfully submitting their application for Open Space Acquisition to the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) in July, members of the Northborough Town Common Committee (NTCC) are in the midst of a series of three meetings with the CPC to discuss their application. The meetings will end with a vote in January that will determine if the town common article will appear on the warrant of the April 2016 Town Meeting.
The NTTC has applied for funds totaling $676,000 to purchase three downtown properties. Initially, the NTTC proposed a town common comprised of four properties: the town-owned properties of 39 West Main Street and the War Memorial site plus two abutting parcels, 45 West Main Street and 20 Rear Gale Street, whose owners have indicated interest in the project.
Since submitting its application, the NTCC has revised it based on suggestions contained in a 14-page memorandum from town staff who wished to provide their insights. Staff, including Town Administrator John Coderre, Police Chief Mark Leahy, Town Planner Kathy Joubert, DPW Director Dan Nason, Town Engineer Fred Litchfield, and Recreation Director Allie Lane, reviewed the application and outlined specific concerns and comments.
A town-ordered appraisal of 45 West Main Street was an initial step in the process for potentially including that parcel of land in the plan for the town common. It remains a viable property as the owner has written a letter of intent in which he agreed to sell the parcel at an equal or lesser value than the appraised value if the abutting parcels are approved as town common space.
The 20 Rear Gale lot was also appraised, but since the NTTC did not receive a letter of intent from its owner, they have decided to amend their application to remove the parcel of land from their plans.
The NTCC’s revised application includes a proposal to create a town common with the three parcels of land that abut Main Street: 39 West Main Street, the War Memorial site, and 45 West Main Street. The three parcels comprise about three-quarters of an acre which members of the committee believe is “useable” and enough space for its intended purpose as a town common.
A potential roadblock for a CPC vote in favor of putting the town common question on the 2016 town meeting warrant is that the committee suggests that the application changes to include just two properties, 45 West Main and the War Memorial Site. The suggestion stems from the fact that other options are being considered for the 39 West Main Street property, including disposing of it through an Invitation for Bid or Request for Proposal process, or retaining it for municipal use.
However, Amy Poretsky and Terry Giannetto, members of the NTTC, believe that it is important to have all three parcels of land. The NTTC already has a vision for the three parcels together, and they believe that there are too many unknown scenarios regarding the future of the 39 West Main property.
While the members of the NTTC believe that the common should encompass the three parcels of land, they have been working to write a response to the questions and concerns raised in the memo by the Dec. 3 CPC meeting.
The memo included questions and what Giannetto called “valid points,” concerns that Giannetto hopes to alleviate with their responses. Poretsky said that most of the concerns are fixable, with the two major ones regarding parking and questions about maintenance.
In January, the CPC will vote for which items will appear on the warrant. In the meantime, the NTTC is spreading awareness and has been very successful in garnering support. They have met with organizations such as the Northborough Rotary Club, the Northborough Junior Women’s Club, the Northborough Historical Commission, and the Planning Board who have written a letter of support. The NTTC also created and led a float in the Applefest parade.
The main feedback that members of the NTTC have heard from the CPC as to why they would potentially not vote in favor of funding the project is that the CPC has other priorities. Though Poretsky understands that many organizations apply for CPC funding, she believes that the town common is a priority since it has been in Northborough’s master plan for approximately 20 years.
Since revising their application to include only the three properties, the landscape design has also changed slightly. Diane Smith, a member of the NTTC who has been working on the design, altered it to include more grass and trees and fewer gardens. She traveled around Massachusetts to view other town commons and redesigned the proposed Northborough common to require less maintenance and to conform to concerns regarding parking and traffic logistics.
All in all, the biggest hurdle of the NTTC is where they lie on the priority spectrum of the CPC. If the CPC does not accept their application, the NTTC has the option of finding other sources of funding, including bonding and exploring grant money.
Members of the NTTC are convinced that the common would help downtown businesses as it would be a pedestrian-friendly place to gather and eat lunch, among many other uses. Beyond monetary value, it would be a place where residents could feel comfortable going to sit on a bench and relax, an opportunity that currently does not exist in the downtown area.
Both Porestky and Giannetto believe that it is a great opportunity to bring tangible, long term benefits to the people of Northborough. “[We] have one moment in time to do this,” Giannetto said.
The next CPC meeting, which will be held Thurs. Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall, 63 Main St., is open to the public. The NTTC welcomes supporters to attend the meetings and to check out its Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Northborough-Town-Common-893445490707663/