SOUTHBOROUGH – Plans to build a new park adjacent to the Southborough Library and relocate the intersection at St. Mark’s Street and Marlboro Road received the green light from voters at Saturday’s Annual Town Meeting at Trottier Middle School.
A crowd of 473 registered voters gave their support for two warrant articles needed for the project to move forward.
Town Moderator Paul Cimino divided Article 12 into three separate motions.
The first motion asked voters to convey a portion of St. Mark’s Street to St. Mark’s School. The second asked voters to accept a 0.7-acre parcel of land from St. Mark’s School to be used for the new park and a newly-constructed section of St. Mark’s Street. The third asked voters to discontinue St. Mark’s Street, as presently configured, at the point determined by the first motion.
Each of the three motions passed by a hand vote with Cimino declaring the two-thirds majority by sight.
Voters also approved a subsequent article to approve the use of $250,000 from free cash for the actual construction of the new park. Construction of the new section of St. Mark’s Street will come from the town’s Chapter 90 road funds.
Passage of the warrant articles comes almost exactly one year after voters shot down the project at the 2022 Annual Town Meeting.
In addition to construction of a new park, Select Board Chair Kathy Cook argued that the project would improve traffic safety, particularly as related to the turning radius for emergency vehicles such as fire trucks and ambulances. Cook said the project will also address drainage issues that have generated flooding in the area. Flooding, according to Cook, is a particular danger for the library, which she said suffered flood damage as recently as 2018.
In her presentation, she said there had been mistakes made by town officials.
Cook noted residents at the 2022 Town Meeting had expressed anger over the project and had voiced several specific concerns. Among them was a decision made by the Select Board in 2021 to jumpstart the project by entering into a reciprocal licensing agreement with St. Mark’s, allowing each party to do work on the other’s property prior to Town Meeting granting approval. That action was due, primarily, said Cook, because of a deadline for the Shared Streets grant, but many residents viewed it as an attempt to do an “end-around” the need for Town Meeting approval.
She said the board had done its best to actively address those concerns.
“The Select Board also acknowledges the significant controversy this project has engendered and has learned a few lessons from this experience,” said Cook. “The whole project was rushed [due to the grant deadline].”
She said that if more time had been taken, the board may or may not have decided that relocating the intersection was the best use of the town’s Chapter 90 road funds.
Ultimately, officials from St. Marks and the town voided the licensing agreement and, instead, entered into a memorandum of understanding for a “land swap,” needing the approval of Town Meeting voters.
“The Select Board believes they have listened to the criticisms of this project and have made substantial changes to the project as a result,” said Cook.
Debate over the two articles took about two hours.
Opponents argued that the project was a sweetheart deal for St. Mark’s, providing the school with a valuable piece of road that would be used to build additional parking. Resident David Parry said town officials were putting the needs of the school above those of residents.
“I’m just astonished at this presentation; this effort to make an ugly, eight-legged octopus appear nice,” said Parry. “This project started as an effort to provide a parking lot for St. Mark’s School, period. That was the sole purpose of this project.”
Parry also claimed the issue of flooding in the area near the library was overstated and had already been dealt with via drainage pipes installed under Route 85. He also said the newly designed intersection would be more dangerous than the old one.
However, supporters of the project outnumbered dissenters among those rising to speak at Town Meeting.
Several supporters said they had opposed the project in 2022 and were angry about the town bypassing voter approval with the licensing agreement. However, they also voiced appreciation that town officials had “listened to us” and addressed their specific concerns, earning their support this time around.
With voters having approved the two articles related to the project, Parry opted not to put forward two citizen’s petitions he had submitted as warrant articles. One called for all work on the project to cease. The other called for the town to request the state Inspector General’s Office to conduct a forensic audit of multiple town departments connected to the project.
Proposed land swap tops Southborough Town Meeting warrant