By Susan Gonsalves, Contributing Writer
SOUTHBOROUGH – More than 50 residents recently signed a letter calling for a section of Chestnut Hill Road to be closed, citing traffic concerns and a desire to enhance recreational enjoyment of the scenic area.
But not everyone is on board with the idea.
The fire chief and police chief outlined their public safety concerns in writing. During its Nov. 3 meeting, Select Board members weighed in, with Chair Lisa Braccio noting there are a lot of questions to be answered before moving forward.
“I’m not there yet,” Braccio said. “This is a good start to the conversation.”
Dated Sept. 13, the residents’ pitch involves abandoning access to the two-way traffic portions of the street. The middle section, which is one way, would be used by bicyclists and pedestrians.
Resident Whitney Beals, on behalf of the residents, said that he is “a bit surprised’’ by the reactions of the chiefs, one of whom, Fire Chief Steven Achilles, joined the Zoom meeting.
Achilles recommended Chestnut Hill Road be maintained and improved to promote safe travel of vehicles from Main Street to Northborough Road.
He said that, in addition to providing access to wooded areas and fields, Chestnut Hill Road is used for alternate access to Dairy Farm Lane, along with Jericho Hill Road and Northborough Road when Johnson Road is not passable.
If portions of the road are closed to through traffic, Achilles said the fire department would require an appropriate-sized cul-de-sac or turnaround for fire apparatus at the point of closure on both ends.
At the meeting, the fire chief noted that fire trucks must have the ability to turn around on dead-end roads.
“It’s not practical to back down to Main Street,” he added.
Beals mentioned there is a parking lot across from where he lives as a potential spot to turn. If roadway improvements are made, rather than the closure, it would only result in more speeding vehicles, he said.
Braccio questioned where fire apparatus would turn when the parking lot has cars in it.
Select Board member Martin Healey said he is against the proposal and that residents had not made a “compelling case” about the need for a closure.
Beals and other residents said that the road is dangerous for pedestrians, children getting off school buses, bicyclists and people walking dogs as well as individuals pushing baby carriages. In addition, vehicles sometimes drive the wrong way down the road—creating a hazard for other cars.
Beals said the board should “welcome the opportunity to avoid serious accidents and prevent collisions from happening.”
Resident Brian Dugdale noted that finding an engineering solution for the turnaround was doable.
On that topic, Select Board member Andrew Dennington questioned whether trees would have to come down if any alterations or widening of the road took place.
As Chestnut Hill is a scenic road, the Planning Board would have to be involved in such a process.
Braccio also noted that the area is subject to conservation restrictions. She said she wanted to hear from town counsel as to what is and is not allowed under these restrictions.
She added the Select Board regularly hears from residents across town with concerns about their roads. The issue is not unique to this neighborhood, she said.
Although it was not highlighted at the meeting, Police Chief Kenneth Paulhus expressed concern in a memo about added response times by public safety officials to the northwest area of town as well as to the Dairy Farm Lane development in town.
He also cited increased response times when Johnson Road becomes blocked or inaccessible for some reason. In those instances, Paulhus wrote, public safety vehicles have to go through Marlborough and loop around to access locations of incidents.
Paulhus recommended maintenance of the road with emergency accessibility.
Emphasizing that the town’s finances are in “a bad situation,” Vice Chair Chelsea Malinowski said she is concerned about further burdening taxpayers.
Town Administrator Mark Purple said the Select Board can abandon a road via a public hearing. However, for a road to be discontinued as a public way, the matter must be approved by Town Meeting.