The Planning Board considered conceptual plans for improvements to the Town Common and Town Forest that are intended to unify and enhance the spaces.
Key improvements the proposal features include mid-block crosswalks, accessible trails in the Town Forest for seniors and those with limited mobility, and re-aligning the Civil War Memorial – improvements Bill Flynn of Arnett Development Group said would make the spaces more accessible and reinforce their hierarchy within the community.
“The Town Common may not be the geographical center of town, but it’s certainly the symbolic center,” he said.
“I think the beauty of the report is that it’s a starting point for discussion,” said Vice Chair Mary Soares, who serves on the Master Plan Implementation Committee as well.
Moving forward, Flynn said the most important thing the Town could do is invest $10,000 to $15,000 for programming and schematic design, by which the true cost and feasibility of the improvements, as well as a timeline for their completion, would be determined.
“That will be the most important part,” Flynn said. “That is the first step that requires community participation and outreach. There are a lot of sensitive issues that need to be addressed, such as concerns with moving the monuments.”
Town Planner Cynthia May said she thinks the department can accommodate the programming and schematic design in the planning and economic development budget this year.
Geograophic Information System Manager John Vogl noted recommendations and implementation of the plan could be completed over time.
“Half a million dollars to three quarters of a million dollars could be spread out over time and the plan could be built in whole or in parts,” he said. “We’re asking for your endorsement of this conceptual plan and to move it up to the Town Council for discussion.”
Member Scott Benson said he thinks the Town needs to determine further what to do with the Town Forest and Town Common, and likes the idea of spreading improvements out over time.
“It doesn’t need to be done all at once. I think we should explore that further,” he said.
In regard to the concept design proposed, members of the board said they would be opposed to moving the monuments.
“The Civil War Monument was erected 130 years ago,” member Ann Chiampa said. “To move that monument for purely aesthetic reasons, especially in that historic district, just goes against every fiber of my being.”
“I wouldn’t want to see the monuments moved either,” Chairman Art Rugg agreed, adding he thinks the Town needs to deal with drainage issues at the site before doing anything else. “With the Town Forest, I think we should leave it as rustic as possible.
Flynn noted the conceptual plan was not meant to be a design, and that ultimately the Town Council will decide what to implement after holding public hearings for residents to weigh in. “We seem to need more input from the community,” he said.
Other improvements the Master Plan Committee recommends in the conceptual plan include establishing an aggressive program to control invasive species growing in the Town Forest, creating a safe pedestrian circulation system to and around the Town Common, and enriching the Town Common with the inclusion of site amenities, such as defined walkways, lighting, and benches.
Kent Allen, town cemeteries sexton, said the town is overrun by invasive plant species and the problem needs to be addressed immediately.
“The Bittersweet problem is pretty much throughout the Town Forest, but more heavily on the southeastern section,” he said. “The Town has a real problem of invasives scattered throughout.”
Allen added that some areas of the forest will require heavy equipment and a good deal of volunteer efforts to clean out.
Moving forward, Rugg said the conceptual plan and issue of allocating funds for a schematic design need to go to the Town Council for input, and would ultimately need Heritage Commission approval.
“This conceptual plan had strong consensus from the Master Plan Implementation Committee, and a lot of the comments tonight are related to the design phase, Phase II,” Vogl said. “Hopefully if we proceed to that next step, we’ll have some good answers for you.”