By Susan Gonsalves, Contributing Writer
SOUTHBOROUGH – Southborough’s Historical Commission chair called upon the Select Board on Nov. 16 to halt plans to relocate the intersection of St. Marks Street and Marlborough Road out of concern for potential disruptions to graves along the margins of the Old Burial Ground in the area, among other issues.
In addition, Commission Chair Michael Weishan questioned what he said was the exclusion of both state and local Historical Commissions, as well as the Planning Board from the process to date.
During discussions, the Select Board decided to form a group to discuss the issue further.
A large portion of this Nov. 16 meeting focused on this project, which is designed to add sidewalks, fix drainage and create a sufficient radius for fire trucks and school buses to turn around.
Creation of a “pocket park” was included as part of a $290,000 Shared Streets grant from the state, Department of Public Works Superintendent Karen Galligan said.
Originally, plans called for a children’s playground in the area and creation of a history walk with paths leading to the Old Burial Ground, library and Town Common.
However, the playground was scrapped for safety reasons and the walk idea was halted because of cost restrictions. The proposal still calls for a spot with curved benches and native plantings.
Old Burial Ground concerns aired
Weishan said cutting of woodland has ruined the windbreak for trees in the Old Burial Ground. He said it elevates the risk of storm damage to historical markers and asked the Select Board to fund a professional tree survey of the Old Burial Ground.
The Commission was initially excited about a proposed history walk, he said. Weishan expressed dismay over its removal from the plans.
“The money shifted over for sidewalks, road improvements and God only knows what else,” he said.
Weishan said the Commission was unaware of what was happening until trees started coming down.
“To say that the Historical Commission endorsed in any way this level of desecration is pretty sacrilegious,” he said.
He described the project as having “no oversight or consideration of relevant boards” that “threatens to unearth human remains” and is disrespectful to the Nipmuc tribe and Native Americans.
Representatives from the Nipmuc tribe should have been consulted, he said.
History possible walk back in plans
Select Board member Andrew Dennington noted that the omission of the playground opened up an opportunity to restore the history walk in the plans.
He also said there should be some sort of memorial or statue to recognize the Native American presence in Southborough. Dennington suggested they slow down the process to create the “best park we can.” He added that the Historical Commission could be a great help to fill out the contents of the walk.
Weishan initially balked at Dennington taking “credit” for the memorial idea. After more discussion, Chair Lisa Braccio said, “It’s not about who did what first. It’s about trying to do the right thing.”
Weishan also raised objections to the current design of the park, saying it made no sense to have a park “in a garden surrounded by stinging insects.”
Freddie Gillespie, chair of the Open Space Preservation Committee, said her group is focused on plantings that are part of an ecological effort to benefit pollinators including butterflies, bumblebees and birds.
She said there would be signs at areas people should avoid if allergic to specific insects.
She said it would be “short sighted,” to disregard hundreds of hours of volunteer work by kids from other towns and the science academy and not include this component in the park.
Weishan and other residents also questioned a reciprocal license agreement between the town and St. Marks School for easements. Acceptance of such easements are supposed to go through Town Meeting and need a two-thirds vote to pass, he said.
Several people also questioned the absence of a site plan going before the Planning Board.
Select Board member Sam Stivers said the next step should be to put a group together to get input on how best to use the space. He said the group should be “inclusive of a variety of interests.”