Wetland or Not – Is This Site Right?
By Edward Shanahan
So is the proposed site at Look Park for the new Senior Center a certified wetland (or not) and thus unsuitable or fitting for development?
That official determination remains to be made and the process could be a lengthy one. But the early evidence suggests that there are huge barriers to building an 18,000 square foot center with a parking lot for 150 cars in what appears to be a very boggy tract adjacent to the Dow Pavilion.
Even the fresh top soil that has been dumped and spread over the site can not mask the true nature of the property, nudged beyond the pavilion picnic area and fronted by running water.
While not taking an official position on the issue, Gloria McPherson, a conservation and land use planner with the city, told downstreet.net after a recent visit to the site with Patte Shaughnessy, director of the Council on Aging, there is “definitely wetlands encircling the site.”
She said she was told by Look Park director Ray Ellerbrook that top soil had been applied to the site and spread over it to make the tract of land appear flat.
The Senior Center site committee has not sought any permit or approvals from the Conservation Commission, so right now no city action is required, according to McPherson.
If such a request is made, it will be the responsibility of the commission to ensure that any development meets all state and local wetland protection standards. Site committee requests for proposals to evaluate the site would trigger Conservation Commission action. “The Commission will absolutely get involved,” McPherson said.
Her own view is that given the nature of the surrounding landscape the plan for a center and parking lot as currently conceived would be extremely difficult to accommodate.
Another site issue that remains unaddressed is whether it is in the long-range public interest to use city park land for non-park use.
This is an issue that crops up frequently in many communities as financially hard-pressed cities and towns seek to use existing publicly–owned land, which costs no money, for new building projects whether they be schools, fire stations or libraries – all worthy undertakings.
The problem is that once park land is removed it is unlikely that it will be returned through additions in the future, given the soaring cost of land. Once park land is surrendered, it’s gone for good.
Most conservationists take a hard, even inflexible, line against the short-term fix of building on park land for non-park projects.
As if we need a reminder of this, drive by Sheldon Field on Route 9 where a large paved parking lot now occupies much of what had been an attractive and busy park at the city’s gateway.
Or travel down to the BP station going west on Route 9 and try to enter Look Park. Not permitted any longer. Instead, a small chunk of park land there was handed over the F.L. Roberts Co. to enable it to renovate and expand its gas station.