Westborough voters approve Whitney Street land purchase

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Westborough voters approve Whitney Street land purchaseBy Jennifer L. Grybowski, Contributing Writer

Westborough – A whopping 212 voters turned out to the Special Town Meeting (STM) Sept. 29,  prompting a more than 30-minute delay in the start of the meeting as the Board of Health ensured all voters were checked in and seated safely. The large turnout was unexpected, as only 152 voters turned out for the June 20 Annual Town Meeting and 136 voters turned out for the Jan. STM.

All three articles passed unanimously with little or no discussion, although several voters left after Article 1 passed with resounding applause.

Article 1 allowed the town to purchase 66 acres of land at 31-33 Eli Whitney St. for conservation and passive recreation and for the purpose of granting a conservation restriction. The land has been a priority open space parcel for the town for a number of years, and the town has tried to acquire it several times.

“It is a beautiful piece of property, something that is extremely valuable to us as a town to preserve for our residents for open space and protect it from development,” Selectman Ian Johnson said.

Open Space Preservation Committee member and Planning Board Chair Mark Silverberg said both of his groups, as well as the Walk-up Robinson Committee, unanimously approved the article.

“I thank BOS for their dedication and preservation and will to make this happen,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming. I can’t believe we have the opportunity tonight to make this happen.”

The purchase price for the land is $2.3 million and was appropriated through a transfer of $800,000 from the sale of real estate account, $750,000 from the open space account and $750,000 from the Walkup Robinson account. Because the funds come from current accounts, the purchase will not affect the tax rate. The transfers leave a balance of $1,013 in the open space account, $1,454,684 in the Walkup Robinson account and $1,849,953 in the sale of real estate account.

The acquisition contributes to the open space corridor, abuts current town-owned land and provides potential for safe routes to Fales School from the Wayside and Mountain View/Fay Mountain neighborhoods.

Article 2 allowed the fire department to replace aging Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) equipment. Fire Chief Patrick Purcell explained the equipment, which was purchased in

1998, has hit the end of its lifespan.

“This impacts the health and safety of the firefighters,” he said.

The article provides for the SCBA, cylinders, face masks Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) packs and bottles and miscellaneous items. The new equipment will enable firefighters to be tracked electronically, have a higher burn threshold and provide improved communications.

The total project cost is $318,983, but the town was awarded a $260,000 FEMA grant in August. Voters approved the balance of $58,983 from free cash.

Article 3 authorized the selectmen to award a contract of up to 10 years with an option to extend for two up to five year terms for operation of the water treatment plant. DPW Director Chris Payant explained the current contract expires next summer and that his department is going through the procurement process to hire for a new contract. He said the current contract is the same terms as the one voted on at the meeting.