While the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail’s length in Westford is small compared to some neighboring towns, issues surrounding it were certainly looming large in a packed room at the J.V Fletcher Library on Wednesday night.
A meeting of the Board of Selectmen and various other members of municipal boards in town was convened following long standing concerns surrounding parking near the 1.8 miles of the trail on Route 27.
began stepping up enforcement of parking tickets during the past few weeks in response to potential safety issues in town along the trail, a former railway that currently runs from Lowell to near the Westford/Acton/Carlisle border, which is planned to eventually expand all the way to Framingham.
With police now currently issuing an average of four tickets per day along the stretch of road despite new signage warning motorists, the town earlier had planned to divert area trail users to Chelmsford, which currently has four parking areas along its 5.2 miles and has two more parking areas in the works.
However, that approach drew criticism among residents and elected officials in Chelmsford who believe that Westford is not shouldering its responsibility for parking along the trail despite the belief from Westford that the residential zoning surrounding the trail along the shorter piece of the trail brought forth a different set of necessities than the longer, mixed-use area to the north.
Town planning officials discussed and proposed a series of four small concept parking lots along the trail in Westford for further study while also discussing plans for spur trails to areas such as the Jack Walsh Field, or accelerating a parking lot plan just over the border in Acton for Phase II of the trail, which when finished, is planned to run through Acton, Concord, Carlisle and Sudbury.
Neighbors of the trail, such as Craig Hyslip of Anne Teresa Way, were upset with what they saw as a intractable mindset to change the nature of their area through parking lots, both tonight, and at earlier meetings regarding the trail.
“My question is why do we have all the people in the room attending if we’re not going to listen to those concerns and act on those concerns,” said Hyslip. “If we’re still just going to go forward and try to figure out a way to have parking, why did we have the meeting?”
At times audience members and members of the board interrupted each other as concerns arose over the parking issue as well as the issue of safety, the character of the neighborhood, and the desire to obtain more information on what path of action should be taken next.
During the height of the dispute between the two sides, Board of Selectmen Chairman Bob Jefferies stood firmly on his belief that the current parking issue along the trail in Westford will only get worse with time, and that no one living near the trail would be allowed in Westford if the same approach the neighbors of the trail wanted to take was applied when he moved to town in the 1970s.
“If we went by the notion whoever shows up in the room and says they don’t want something, that’s the end of it, then none of those developments would have been built, but that’s not what happens to a town that’s growing,” said Jefferies. “It really strikes at the notion that if one small area of the town wants something, that isn’t how the decision is made. The town makes a decision as a whole.”
The Selectmen voted to move forward with trying to obtain a state grant for expediting construction of the Acton lot, with the only dissenting vote coming from Selectman Valerie Wormell, who believed that not enough information had been obtained regarding all the possibilities relating to the situation.