Community Preservation Committee ~ A Public Hearing on the FY22 Budget

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The Covid-19 pandemic has suspended and modified a lot of growth and change locally – including community preservation projects.

The Community Preservation Committee last week voted to approve $1,777,680 in expenditures for projects and services in fiscal year 2022. The recommendations will be presented to the Select Board, which will decide about inclusion on the town meeting warrant.

Less than 8 percent of that total, however, is for new projects. More than half of the money goes to repayment of bonded projects, and the remainder is for work postponed at the abbreviated 2020 annual town meeting.

Community preservation funds are collected as a surcharge of 3 percent of the real estate tax. A percentage of local collections is matched by state funds. Spending is limited to three categories: affordable housing, historic preservation, and open space-recreation. The committee reaffirmed that percentage at last week’s meeting.

The biggest new expense is $56,000 for lighting the tennis courts at John Glenn Middle School, and purchasing semi-permanent netting that can be used to convert court use to the game of pickleball. Lining that defines pickleball courts also would be painted.

Residents had proposed another $55,000 to build new courts. But that was rejected, as Amy Fidalgo, Assistant Town Manager for Operations, said no appropriate site has yet been identified.

Pickleball is a paddle sport using a plastic ball. According to USA Pickleball, a court measures 20 by 44 feet. The net height is 36 inches at the sidelines and 34 inches in the middle. The court is striped similar to a tennis court with right and left service courts and a seven-foot non-volley zone in front of the net. Courts can be converted using existing tennis courts.

Speaking on behalf of a group of local pickleball players, John Romeo told the virtual meeting that “the ideal option is for the town to allocate land for four dedicated pickleball courts with lights.” The game is “arguably the fastest growing sport in the country,” providing physical and social benefits especially for older players.

He allowed that a “short-term consideration” would be to paint six courts on two of the lighted middle school tennis courts, and buy and store two semipermanent nets that could be used for pickleball. He added that pickleball could even be a physical education class,

Also, a proposed $3,000 apparatus for detecting gas leaks was not accepted by the committee, but the vote was replete with regrets and the item is likely to ultimately be approved.

The purchase was proposed by the Arbor Resources Committee, and one of its members, Dan Churella, made a final pitch for it at last week’s virtual meeting. The implement can not only find leaks that are affecting trees but also can detect methane in places proposed for plantings. Utilities are required to compensate towns for trees killed because of gas leaks, he noted.

Fidalgo said the issues with the proposal are administrative. “We do not have a process or staff in place to coordinate and follow-through,” she said, including who takes the readings.

There are 79 known gas leaks in the town, Churella said, and the utility is not obligated to repair those designated Grade 3, which are considered non-hazardous. He added that as far as the readings are concerned, “I envision doing most of that work.”

Select Board member Margot Fleischman, a community preservation veteran, acknowledged the importance of the purchase. She suggested a creative approach that could also include adding more street trees, and asked for a possible timetable, Fidalgo said it’s possible something could be prepared for next year; she said she would review the possibilities with the tree warden.

The three other “new” proposals are actually $10,000 for annual administrative costs and two continuing programs: $36,103 for the life management program sponsored by the Bedford Housing Authority, and $33,000 for membership costs in the Regional Housing Services Organization.

The most expensive carry-over project postponed from last year’s town meeting is $420,000 for a boardwalk that will traverse wetlands and connect two trails in Hartwell Town Forest. A companion plan for a boardwalk along Concord Road between Lavender Lane and Davis Road was found to be ineligible for community preservation funding.

Also endorsed by the Community Preservation Committee was $159,000 to renovate the middle floor of Old Town Hall to accommodate both Bedford TV and a town museum operated by the Bedford Historical Society. The recommendation is contingent on the Select Board’s approval of a shared space plan, which has been assigned to a consultant and delayed by the pandemic.

In a statement read by Fidalgo, Carol Amick, Historical Society Board, pointed out that a historical museum in the center of town anchors effort to establish a cultural district; facilitates collaboration with schools and businesses; and fosters a better understanding of local history.

Former Selectman Don Corey of the Historical Society Board traced the history of the organization, which has to move from the police station if planned renovations there are approved by town meeting.

The discussion was briefly sidetracked when committee member Katherine Shutkin noted the recent passing of Ann Seamans, owner of a historic house on Concord Road. The Old Town Hall location has parking and security issues and must deal with the status of Bedford TV, and “I urge people to think twice.”

Corey acknowledged that “it’s a marvelous house,” but would not accommodate the archive and artifact storage and exhibit space planned. “The consultant was very unequivocal that the Old Town Hall is the best place,” he asserted.

Former Selectman Joe Piantedosi, who chairs the Depot Park Advisory Committee, asked why the third floor of Old Town Hall couldn’t house some exhibits, thereby facilitating shared space between Bedford TV and the museum. (The town-owned depot building has been mentioned as an alternative site for Bedford TV.)

Corey confirmed that wall displays are planned for the top floor, but tables would compromise the meeting space, which is now rented for private functions. The favorable vote was 7-7-1, with Shutkin opposed and Lee Vorderer, a member of the Historical Society Board, abstaining.

The committee also repeated its support of three other projects: $100,000 for rehabilitation of Field H, behind Railroad Avenue where the bikeway extension breaks west; $55,000 for replacement of the concrete apron on the shallow end of the pond at Springs Brook Park; and $18,000 for skate park repairs,

Field H was used as a football practice field for several years after the expansion of a parking area behind Bedford High School cut the former practice field in half.

The community preservation article also will include annual payments for five bonded projects: $352,365 for the purchase of more than 40 acres of land at 350A Concord Road, forestalling development; $94,475 for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing upgrades in Town Hall; and $17,500 for development of playing fields off Liljegren Way.

Also, $178,590 toward ensuring that Bedford Village remains affordable housing, and $224,250 for the rehabilitation of Fawn Lake.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763
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