A “Yes” Vote Will Secure the Reformatory Branch Corridor for Bedford’s Future

~Submitted by Aaron Bourret

The decision on the warrant at Special Town Meeting in November is not an approval or disapproval of the design of the shared use path improvement project. It is a vote to either ensure the entirety of Reformatory Branch Trail is owned by the town or to let stand an existing, but previously unknown condition, where ownership is split with over two dozen individual property owners that until recently did not understand their land rights and have not been paying property tax on that land.

Right of Way Approval for federally funded Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) projects must meet a high review standard. This review identified property ownership issues unnoticed by the Town or abutting private property owners since the railroad gave up its rights to the corridor. This included the discovery that almost the entirety of the half mile stretch from the Winchester Dr access point to the Hartwell Road Treatment Plant and access to the Concord section of the trail are currently owned by private parties and not the town.

Since the acquisition of the Reformatory Branch corridor from the B&M Railroad in 1963, the town has built a number of improvements along the corridor, including sewer in 1982, water mains in 1984 and fiber optic cables from Winchester Drive to Lavender Lane in 2016. This section of the corridor, often cited as an example of the accessibility of the trail, is in this condition only because of the 2016 improvements.

A Yes vote in November will allow the Town to gain control of the trail corridor through land acquisitions using funds approved by a 61% majority vote at Town Meeting in March. Because these acquisitions may require eminent domain, this vote will require a 66% supermajority.

Any one of the abutting property owners are now within their rights to challenge public use of the corridor. While the town believes that use of the corridor as an unimproved public trail could be defended if challenged in court by a property owner, this is not guaranteed. While existing utilities could be maintained, such as repair of a water main break, the town currently does not have the rights to make improvements such as those needed on the Evans Avenue sewer pump station.

If the Town votes No in November and allows ownership of the Reformatory Branch corridor to remain in the hands of dozens of private owners, what’s next?

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The opinions expressed in Letters to the Editor are those of the writer, not The Bedford Citizen.

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Jerry B.
October 5, 2022 1:41 pm

It is not the property owners who did not understand their land rights .It was the Town that was unaware of the facts and was assessing the properties accordingly.
It was also the Town which misinformed the State Agencies and the public, as a result of ignorance, about there being no right of way issues as plans were being developed. Are these plans now even legitimate?
State Laws protect property rights for everyone by requiring a 2/3 authorization vote at Town Meeting for easement and eminent domain taking. Bedford Town Meeting did not give the Select Board this authorization for this purpose in March.
It may be a violation of property rights to bring the matter back for another vote in the first place. Remember this could be any of us next time.
It is logically absurd to imply that either this trail becomes a bicycle super highway or it is lost to the town. I was told the Town has been making offers on these land takings already. Who gave them that authority?

October 4, 2022 9:44 pm

After the town voted against this in March the Select Board could have chosen to decouple the land acquisition from building the super highway. We could have been voting on a clean land acquisition now. They chose to keep them linked.

If this fails again hopefully the Select Board will drop the superhighway and give us a clean land acquisition article.

John McClain
October 5, 2022 11:35 am
Reply to  Chris Lennon

The select board is giving this another try because a) a majority of the town wants it (and has wanted it for decades), and b) it would make available $3.2 million of state and Federal funds to fix Railroad Ave. Because Railroad Ave is a town road, state and Federal funds would not otherwise be available for these fixes.

Angela Winter
October 5, 2022 2:47 pm
Reply to  John McClain

Funny, because the poll results that are shown higher up on this page as to whether the RBT should be paved or not, show 53% saying no, as opposed to 40% saying yes. Even if the other 8% that didn’t either wanted more info, or didn’t have an opinion were added to the 40%, that’s still less than the 53% that say no. So I’m not sure where this majority that you speak of is coming from.

Mario Mendes
October 5, 2022 9:57 pm
Reply to  Angela Winter

While you are right about the poll here, he’s right about the majority voting for the path being done, because the majority of the people who voted in the town meeting voted to improve the path.

Even if more than half of town residents want to keep the trail as it is, if they don’t show up to vote in the town meeting, they simply don’t count, or as I like to say , they voted “whatever gets passed in town meeting is just fine by me.”

So, regardless of which side of the argument one is, if they truly care about the outcome, it is very important to show up to vote.

Tim Bennett
October 5, 2022 10:04 pm
Reply to  Angela Winter

Probably the majority of sensible citizens who are too busy to find arguing with people in the Bedford Citizen comments a good use of their time.

Angela Winter
October 10, 2022 10:17 am
Reply to  Tim Bennett

Yet here you are commenting on the Bedford Citizen.

Tim Bennett
October 10, 2022 10:26 pm
Reply to  Angela Winter

Sweet of you to consider me sensible :)

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