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Subcommittee Seeks to Put Extra Protection on Land Behind DPW on Watertown's Whitney Hill

The Town Council learned recently that the section of Whitney Hill behind the Public Works facility is not designated as park land, and they want to change that.

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.

Janice Myler October 25, 2012 at 01:15 PM
I'm curious..... Why the sudden change to "park land?" By definition the term "park land" gives the town the freedom to do what they wand with it! It was deeded as conservation land! We DO NOT retain the right to change what was entrusted to us. It's just morally wrong!
Charlie Breitrose (Editor) October 25, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Janice, it is not deeded as conservation land. Park is already park land, and the rest, behind the DPW, belongs to the Public Works Department. The subcommittee said they want the Town Council to control the land, so they want to make it Park Land. If it is Conservation land it falls under the Conservation Commission - who would then have first say.
K Coyne October 25, 2012 at 02:46 PM
I believe that setting this land aside as natural area(as opposed to park land which can have play areas and such built on it) is forward thinking. If it were not for forward thinking people like this we would not have the wonderful park land along the Charles river which defines part of the Boston/Metro area. Many other cities have Industrial buildings on their rivers edge! I disagree with Mr Corbett's statements, as I don't believe that the councilors think they are smarter than future generations but want this small parcel of open space to be available for future generations.
Janice Myler October 26, 2012 at 01:01 PM
WaterInfo, in all actuality, you are agreeing with my point. If this land is set aside as "park land" it can and most likely will have play areas etc. set up on it at some point . What happens to the natural habitat ? There are many animals that have made their homes there for many generations. If they are disturbed, the law states they cannot be relocated into another nature setting. Their options are to go to a zoo or be euthanized. I lived in Cambridge for many years. It is a city with lots of available funding for green projects unlike Watertown. Fresh Pond is a wonderful example. It is agreed that if "looking to the future" means keeping this land unaltered so the dog walkers and such can continue to enjoy it's natural beauty and taking control of the parcels behind the DPW away. Then I'm for it. I will never agree that "WE" are smarter than generations that preceded us or future generations. It is not an argument about who is right and who is wrong. It's about maintaining a natural habitat for the animals and clearly understanding the ramifications if it is disturbed. As well as understanding residents already enjoy this land. Dog walkers, families and naturalists use the woods on a daily basis.
K Coyne October 26, 2012 at 01:20 PM
Yes Janice, I do agree with you and think that this should be made into Conservation Land as opposed to park land(which may have more broad definition and thus be built on..not used as natural space). Why isn't the land being specified in this manner? Are there specific provisions in the write-up for this area, if deemed park land, that would specifically state this use for only natural area purposes or learning purposes(I would allow some natural area educational readings/postings)).
Janice Myler October 26, 2012 at 02:37 PM
It is indeed about power and winning. The focus should be on what Waterinfo and myself expressed.

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