Letter: Ward Park Association Responds to Mayor
Members of the Ward Park Neighborhood Association have responded to Mayor Arthur Vigeant's reasons for choosing Ward Park as a location for a new Senior Center.
The entire response from the neighborhood association — whose members have started a petition to stop the use of the land for anything but a park — is included below. It is longer than most letters to the editor, but it was this editor's decision that the full letter be run as is.
Ward Park Neighborhood Association
Response to Mayor A. Vigeant’s Press Release: Ward Park Senior Center Proposal, FAQ
February 5, 2013
Where will the new Senior Center be located at Ward Park? Is it on the football field?
True, the Senior Center will not be located on the football field; it will be located on the youth baseball field, an area heavily used by residents, as it does not require a permit to be used. This area is used by a faithful group of local cricket players, kids, adults with their kids, friendly neighborhood games, and cheerleading practice for MAYF - not to mention it currently has allowed for the outdoor skating rink.
Regarding the Mayor's 3% response, we assume that means that he wants residents to believe that this proposal will be limited to less than a quarter acre of land?
Ward Park is listed as 32 New Street, lot 69-394 totaling 7.6 acres of land, therefore 3% of that would be .228 acre. It seemed impossible to think our long-awaited new Senior Center would only require a .25-acre of land, so we could only then assume that it was important to read the fine print. Vigeant notes "...the total footprint of the proposed senior will use less than 3% of the entire park space." This requires explanation, however we attempted to understand.
According to Marlborough’s PIMA, Ward Park is 7.6 acres
13,000 sq ft, 2-story building
6,500 sq ft footprint, which is 80X80 sq ft.
add in a small buffer and make it 100X100 sq ft footprint = 10,000 sq ft = .23-acres
Really? Is the Mayor trying to convince us that a 13,000 sq ft facility with "sufficient office space and lots of room for activities" is going to be successfully confined to less than a 1/4 acre of land? Let's not forget that we learned in the 2002 Feasibility Study that you must require an additional 40% of total sq ft for "Circulation, walls, mechanical, public toilets, etc." which in this case is an additional 5,200 sq ft. The Mayor is not being clear and from the facts available, it seems impossible that his proposal will impact less than 3% of the Park. He must be trying to appease the over 600 petition signers that don’t want any space taken from the Park, however his comment requires clarification.
Lastly on this item - we all know that the Senior Center will be used in the evening for a variety of events, and as it should be. Whether it be hosting a Historical Society meeting, or a movie night, or even rented out for a private function (by nearby residents) as Councilor Don Landers suggested at the recent Dec 19th public meeting - hoping to convince opposed residents that it was an 'added bonus.' And why should our Senior Center be limited to daytime hours? This is another reason why it is not the right place. If the Mayor has to already state limitations on its use to convince people there will be enough parking for all the activities he is trying to squeeze into that area, then does it really makes sense?
Why Ward Park? Aren't there better locations for a Senior Center?
We would love to read the study done that shows why Ward Park is the best place. Unfortunately, there is none. In his November 29, 2012 Corner Office web interview, Mayor Vigeant said it was "...kind of a fluke conversation (with John Ghiloni)....one of those discussions...and a little bulb went off..." I would hate to think that this was the extent of the study done before making an announcement confirming its location.
Note there are a few items in this video that are questionable, including the fact that Arthur makes a point to say that the proposed site is not "in" Ward Park. But if it was not "in" the Park, then why does he need to have the land transferred from the Recreation Commission?...or check with the Solicitor to see if he could build there? He notes in this interview that MAYF was "growing out of that space anyway" and he was going to find a new home for them. We know now that might not be true according to his recent FAQ. This Corner Office interview raised many red flags.
As for Arthur's comments about having the Senior Center at the Park presents a 'unique opportunity to breathe new life into an area in need of attention and upgrades." The current Senior Center just a few blocks from Ward Park now, and it is not used for organized activities. Currently, Seniors drive to Ghiloni Park for their organized Walking Club and often meet at the Senior Center to carpool. If it is such a unique opportunity to be close to a park, then why not use it in the Senior Center Programs now, seeing it is just blocks away? And why did it take this proposal to pay attention to the Park, given the Ward Park Master Plan was created fall 2011? The current Marlborough Open Space Plan 2010-2015 states that Ward Park is “an important park for the center city and is used heavily by the residents and sports groups.”
Will Ward Park provide sufficient parking to accommodate a Senior Center?
We firmly believe there will not be enough parking for the new Senior Center, nor will the Mayor’s plans allow for adequate parking as it relates to the future of the Park. The Mayor's answer of YES is misleading.
- Marlborough Zoning Laws require 1 parking space per 2 occupancy
- ADA guidelines require a minimum of 1 handicap parking space per every 25 spaces beginning at 15 spaces (15-25 spaces requires 1 space, 26-50 requires 2 spaces, and on & on)
- there are currently approximately 63 parking spaces in that lot
- there are currently 0 properly marked handicap parking spaces in that lot
- there is no special van parking / turnaround areas in that lot
- MAYF Chairman Paul Dauderis noted in an email to Matt Elder and I on Dec 20, 2012 stating "We have 200+ Marlborough Football Players and Cheerleaders that use that field from Late July - Early November 4 nights a week and some Saturdays."
In early articles, it was said that the proposed location allows for 70-100 parking spaces, which was the most updated requirement from the Council On Aging (COA) and their Senior Center wish list. After some reality, the Mayor now releases a reduced range, stating, "Preliminary estimates are that the intended location will allow for 70+ parking spaces."
In a lot that currently has limited walkways, no handicap spaces, no van parking, and only 63 regular spaces, are they going to be able to meet ZBA and ADA requirements and still satisfy the needs of the COA? Let's say they do. Let's say they added van parking and turnaround areas, vestibules, and covered sidewalks. Will that all be squeezed into the 3% of the Park? That same .25-quarter acre of land? Again, Mayor Vigeant is being misleading as how the proposal will affect the Park.
Let's continue and say they did find space for van parking and turnaround areas, vestibules and covered sidewalks, and added the ADA minimum requirements for handicap parking and found enough room for 70 parking spaces. (Note: In CDM's presentation of the Ward Park Master Plan, they added an access path from the parking lot to the park and handicap spaces and were then only able to add 15% more spaces to the lot giving them about 70 spaces, however this is without meeting ADA guidelines, and van parking and turn around space). If they were able to fit in 70 spaces - then according to the Marlborough Zoning Laws, the occupancy for the Senior Center would be limited to 140 people. Is this big enough for our growing Senior population? Does the COA realize that their new $7million center will have such a low occupancy maximum given the Mayor's proposal? I am sure they would if a proficient study, or any study was done prior to announcing the location to the public.
As for the parking for the rest of the Park? (refer to CDM's Ward Park Master Plan) If the Mayor replaces the youth baseball field, chooses not to expand into the trees on the Liberty Street side as the Master Plan suggests, and has a goal turfing the field to attract more use - then where will everyone park? We are repeating ourselves here but it is so important to the future of the Park. The CDM presentation noted that the current Hayden Street lot was so 'poorly defined' they didn't even estimate parking spaces, but to the visual eye, they more than doubled the space for parking resulting in approximately 160 parking spaces, which they deemed necessary to carry the Park’s activities. You have to find space for the existing amenities that were displaced as you satisfy parking recommendations - such as the basketball and tennis courts in the case of the Master Plan. If the Mayor takes up land for the Senior Center and refuses to expand into the grove of trees near Liberty Street tree area (which was acquired in 1979 for “park expansion”) - how will they be able to increase parking so everyone can use a turfed field? Let's not forget that MAYF has over 200 bodies on that field for practice now! When there is not enough parking for Park activities, the narrow side streets are used. A WPNA member recalls when their house was on fire one day, the fire truck was not able to turn onto Water Terr from New St because of all the overflowing football-related cars. MAYF does their best to comply, but they are limited to the current ‘poorly defined’ parking areas.
SHORT ANSWER IS NO - there isn't sufficient parking now, and there will not be sufficient parking for the Seniors nor will there be sufficient parking for the future of Ward Park if the Mayor does not agree to expanding green space instead of taking it away.
How will the Senior Center impact the youth sport and athletic organizations that are currently utilizing Ward Park for practices and games?
We can say that in our communication with Paul Dauderis, he is certain the City will take care of them. We hope they get to stay at the Park and the Mayor's answer to this question differs from his November 29 Corner Office interview. We are anxious to hear the most updated plans. MAYF is meeting for first time with City officials this week to confirm plans.
How will a Senior Center affect traffic in the immediate neighborhood?
We were never overly concerned with added traffic flow, aside from frequent newcomers going the wrong way on several one-way streets. However, to think that our Seniors will exit easily out of New Street onto Granger Blvd is a rough sell.
In 2002, the City of Marlborough conducted a Senior Center Feasibility Study. Why isn't that plan being put into place?
Our main issue with the Mayor's response is that our petition didn't ask 'why isn't that plan being put into place?' Our petition pointed out that the study could be used as a tool in finding the right location now. 15 sites were evaluated and many seen as too small for the then 350 occupancy request. That was for a plan twice the size as the current proposal - so why not review the study to see if any of the 15 sites will work now that the wish list is drastically reduced? I understand that some of these sites are not available anymore, but again, it is a usable tool in learning how to select a site. Our petition argues that this study was not considered in any way for confirming that Ward Park is the best location - it was merely "kind of a fluke conversation..."
How will a Senior Center benefit the Ward Park neighborhood?
The Mayor fails to recognize that even in its current condition, that Park is a 'jewel' in our eyes. It is why we bought our houses there, it is our backyard, and it is our Park. Residents have been patient about promised renovations and were thrilled when just over a year ago presented with the new Master Plan that would 'someday' be, but were encouraged that it was step one. Ward Park is the benefit in our neighborhood - one of the largest parks in the City with rich history that is visible from Rt 20, South, Granger and Liberty Streets.
Two other comments about the Mayor's response under this section.
"More recently, the portable ice rink at Ward Park has been the subject of nightly vandalism and destruction that continually delayed its opening." This is outright false. According to the Marlborough Police Department, there was exactly one incident at the rink on January 15th. "Nightly vandalism" is contrived and as for the delayed opening, it is said the warm weather was a factor getting things started this year.
The Mayor says that the portable rink can remain in the Park even with the Senior Center. This is great, because it is so nice to see the older kids playing hockey under the lights on a winter night instead of being inside. Where would it go? According to a resident that overlooks the rink, it took a few days with a BobCat to level the area for the current location - I don't think they would do that to the field...so where? The Mayor is missing details in his answers here.
How will a new building at Ward Park affect the water table and sewer capacity?
There is a lot of engineering language here that we trust is accurate because Commissioner Ron LaFreniere know what he is doing. However, is this entire repair included in the $7 million bargain price? The Mayor keeps talking about a cost savings to the taxpayer and building on this park land will save so much because it eliminates the cost of purchasing land or extensive renovation of an existing building, but after all the drainage obstacles of this location, is there really a big savings? Did the Recreation Commission give up custody so quickly because it takes all these improvement costs off of their plate and on to the Public Facilities Dept?
What types of improvements will be made to the football field as a result of a Senior Center? How are the two issues related?
No details in the Mayor's answer here. He continues not to commit to any detailed renovation plans, and even has said publicly that he is not a fan of the current Master Plan. As for his closing paragraph, we again point out that the existing Senior Center is just a few blocks from Ward Park now.
In addition to responding to the Mayor's press release. We want to point out that despite being presented with our petition last week, complete with over 600 signatures & their comments, the Mayor has yet to formally respond to the Ward Park Neighborhood Association. We assume this release is his way of responding, but he fails to address all of our concerns, continues to be misleading, lacks details, and fails to acknowledge that plain and simple, over 600 people connected to his City do not want to sacrifice park land for a municipal building of any kind.
He doesn't address the fact that Ward Park is historic, and although it is labeled a 'playground' on record, had that word been 'park / conservation land’, the Mayor legally would not be able to build. Everyone knows the value of green space, and recreation space for our youth and how important it is to retain and expand these opportunities whenever possible, yet the Mayor has found a loophole in the term 'playground' and is running with it. The historic gateway states right on it that is for the youth of the City to enjoy. Again, the Senior Center is and always has been just a few blocks away to enjoy the park.
And what about the current Master Plan of the Park? What about a detailed statement for the future of the Park? Nothing detailed has been remotely discussed. The City paid CDM $30,000 for the Master Plan design - of which only used about half. Why not go back to them with new ideas and present a new working draft tom demonstrate how parking issues and land use will satisfy everyone?
The Mayor also ignores the reality that his proposed site is really too small for our growing population of Seniors. If he stays within his own set boundaries, and complies with the Marlborough Zoning Laws, the Center could end up with a maximum capacity of 140 people and will have no opportunities for expansion. This is clear, and would have been made clear if a proper study was conducted.
The 10+ current core members (3 of which are Senior residents) of the Ward Park Neighborhood Association has been meeting roughly every other week since this announcement late November, 2012 and are determined to communicate our concerns despite the lack of response from City Officials, including its own Ward Councilor. The ongoing petition has been well received and the support keeps coming. The Mayor needs to respect the voice of the community. Young and old, residents are expressing they oppose this decision. People are not only signing the petition, they are asking how to be more involved and want to become a member of the Association to make sure after this project, the Park is protected and improved.
When Mayor Vigeant called WPNA member Chrissy Manzi on the morning of December 3, 2012, they disputed the current Master Plan of the Park and how his new proposal didn't include any confirmation of the Park's future, he said, "...if none of the neighbors want it (Senior Center) there, then I will take the money and spend it somewhere else..." We hope he remembers that conversation and finds a more suitable, appropriate location for our growing Senior population.