The 2012 Westford Town Meeting Warrant is now closed, but the debate over the future of the neighborhoods around the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail is still very much open.
Before a packed audience that filled the Town Hall Conference Room and at times stretched down the hall, the Westford Board of Selectmen unanimously approved all 41 articles to appear on the warrant during their Tuesday night meeting, debate ensued after whether a pair of placeholder articles related to the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail should be removed.
This debate arose due to a pair of warrant articled petitioned by local residents with nearly identical language, bringing the question if they were still needed.
Those who favored keeping the articles cited that Selectmen presenting the articles to Town Meeting gave a weight that citizen petitions could not provide, and that the Selectmen had more resources to prepare a better argument to the voters.
Meanwhile, the case for removing the placeholder articles, #18 and #38, were buoyed by the fact that they were redundant and the citizen petitioned articles could not be removed from the warrant.
Also, there were concerns from Selectman Valerie Wormell, a resident of the area, that dragging out the issue into the public spotlight without creating a consensus on how to move forward might create bad blood between neighbors near the trail.
“Believe me, you’re pitting neighbor against neighbor, you pick one number (address), you go up two and you have someone that feels the exact opposite. What’s going to happen is that Town Meeting is going to be a boxing ring.”” said Wormell. “Unless there is resolution before Town Meeting, somebody is going to win and somebody is going to lose, and those neighborhoods will be extremely uncomfortable to live in for the next decade.”
Although discussion on each article, as well as votes their recommendation, will be held during future meetings before the Mar. 24 Town Meeting, the tense atmosphere continued as a legal issue relating to the Bruce Freeman area came to the forefront.
The legal issue was brought to the town following a dispute on Landmark Drive involving the Westford Conservation Trust, neighbors in the area, and access to land separating Landmark and Elderberry Way, only feet away from the Rail Trail.
While it is unclear whether the town is a party to the dispute, that ambiguity as to whether or not this involves the town and the amount of correspondence related to the incident necessitated public disclosure and continued research from legal counsel to discover the truth for the sake of transparency according to Westford town land planner Angus Jennings.
William Leonard, an attorney for a pair of families on Landmark and a Westford resident, told the board that continued research from town legal counsel would create the adversarial atmosphere that Wormell feared and could potentially end in litigation against the town, an argument that echoed by other neighborhood residents who said the crux of the dispute was not about the land, but the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail issue.
Ultimately, Selectman Robert Jefferies found this preposterous.
“A citizen said that there are illegal acts being committed by the town of Westford. As a Selectman, it’s my responsibility to find out what the story is,” he said, noting earlier that he was also involved in a private dispute on his own land with the Trust. “That’s what I’m trying to find out; I’m not trying to address any of those other issues.”
However, the issue of parking along the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail had not received significant attention since at the due to the town’s hopes of using a parking lot in Acton as the solution for the issue, with neighbors also frustrated that this meeting could not be held in the Library again due to overcrowding that had occurred on this night.
This frustration came to a head when a man from the neighborhood near the trail officially identified for the record as Paul Marrkand asked the board to prioritize the issue’s importance on a range spanning from the Westford Public School budget to the U.S federal deficit, eventually berating the board to the point where Chairwoman Andrea Peraner-Sweet ordered him to stop.
Marrkand refused to talk with Westford Patch on the issue.
The agenda item ended with a motion to have a special meeting on various aspects of the subject sometime after town legal counsel was expected to return with a decision on the Landmark issue on Feb. 7 and before Feb. 29.