In September, Town Councilors learned to their surprise that part of the Whitney Hill recreation area actually belongs to the Public Works Department, and is not protected park land. The Public Work subcommittee took the first step toward trying to turn the parcel into park land on Monday evening.
Most of the land on Whitney Hill has been protected as park land, and falls under the control of the Town Council and Town Manager, said Town Councilor Cecilia Lenk. The area along the main walking path - in back of the Victory Field turf field and the Public Works Facility, however, falls under Public Works' control.
The 6.4-acre parcel - including both the park land and Public Works land - is some of the last undisturbed wooded land in Watertown. Lenk said she wants to make sure it remains that way.
"I want to protect it as park land for a long time ... forever," Lenk said.
Town Councilor Vincent Piccirilli said he wants to protect it and generally leave it as is.
"There is a very high level of concern from neighbors that the town has planned to do something with that land, and are worried the area will be turned into a park facility," Piccirilli said.
Instead, Piccirilli said, he wants to keep it for passive recreation - walks, bird watching, enjoying nature - not put in play sets or basketball courts. He also wants to make sure people can continue to walk their dogs there, because that is not allowed in other town parks.
Piccirilli made a motion to move the control of the Public Works Parcel to control of the Town Council by making it park land. He also wants a survey done of the area to know what is there.
If that step is taken, any change of use would have to be approved by the Town Council and then by two-thirds of the state Legislature, Piccirilli said. If it was made conservation land, the Conservation Commission would have the first say on whether any changes could be made to the land and also require the same legislative approval.
Town Council Vice President Steve Corbett said he is uncomfortable limiting what future Town Councils can do with the DPW land.
"I don't see why we think we are smarter than future generations," Corbett said. "I think [control of the land] should say with the democratically elected representatives (the Town Council)."
Along with changing who controls the land, the deeds may have to be updated. The change would be necessary for the Public Works parcel, and Piccirilli said a change may need to be made to the deed for a small section of land in the park area was designated for a water tower.
Public Works Director Gerald Mee said there was one up there until at least the 1960s. Piccirilli found that Town Meeting records show the town's Water Department handed over control of the water tower land to the Park Department in 1899.
There will be some initial clean up costs for the park. People reported seeing trash, chairs, shopping carts, even curb stones dumped in the park.
"Once the initial clean up is done, the maintenance would be minimal," Piccirilli said.
The subcommittee voted 2-0 in favor of recommending to the full Town Council to turn the Public Works parcel into park land, with Steve Corbett voting present. They voted 3-0 to recommend that the full Council request that the Conservation Commission work with Conservation Agent Chris Hayward to come up with a maintenance plan.