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Town Meeting turns down land purchase

A nearly 70-acre playing fields complex won’t be coming to South Street in Upton, after Town Meeting voters Wednesday turned down a proposal to buy the land, 265 to 138. 

Opponents of the land purchase, many of them from the neighborhood surrounding the proposed project, said the South Street parcel isn’t suitable for a community recreation complex because it sits on a floodplain, and is only accessible by narrow country roads.

“I don’t think we need a study,” said resident Andy Evens. “The road is dangerous already. I would recommend the board take a walk, take their children and grandchildren.”

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“Quite frankly, I’m not comfortable with letting feet of water sit on top of our tax money for weeks,” said resident Rick Morrell. 

Upton officials had asked Town Meeting to authorize spending $877,000 as a preliminary step for the complex, with the total providing $624,000 to buy the land, $202,000 for engineering and traffic studies and permitting, and $51,000 for legal fees.

Turning the land, which has been used as a gravel pit, into a recreational facility would likely cost several million dollars, officials said.

Some residents said the town should have completed the studies before asking voters to approve buying the land, but local officials said the purchase had to be authorized in order to qualify for a $400,000 state grant. The town would have been able to back out of the purchase if the studies showed that the parcel was unsuitable for development, officials said.

Proponents of the proposed recreation complex say that the town desperately needs playing fields for youth and adult sports, and that the facility would have features that residents of all ages could enjoy.

Officials have said local youth sports groups sometimes have to cancel games after it rains because the town’s current fields lack proper drainage, and there aren’t enough fields to allow rescheduling.

“The need is tremendous,” said Mary Cortese, the town’s recreation director.

“There are a lot of things we can do here,” said Rich Gazoorian, chairman of Upton’s Recreation Commission. “It’s not just fields.”

A list of possible features at the complex included basketball and tennis courts, rock climbing, a splash pad, and a dog park.

“We have a real chance here to do something special,” Gazoorian said.

The breadth of options wasn’t appealing to everyone, though. Resident David Gruber accused officials of “scope creep,” and not focusing enough on solving the problem of limited playing field space.

“We desperately need fields in the town,” Gruber said. “We’re a small rural community. The idea of building a park for everybody strikes me as overkill and a sell job.”

Town Manager Blythe Robinson said she wasn’t sure how the town will address its lack of playing fields now that voters rejected the proposal, but she didn’t rule out trying again for the South Street site.

“I think we just need to regroup and see how important do we think it is, and do we want to try to figure out a way for this site or somewhere else,” Robinson said.

In other Town Meeting action, voters approved spending $72,250 for recycling containers, $18,000 for new cameras for police cruisers, and $3,500 for a document scanner for the Board of Health.

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