The committee’s practice is to make recommendations to town meeting voters. But Thursday, votes on the fire station and Minuteman Bikeway extension articles were 4-3. The Finance Committee has nine members, so a minimum of five votes is required for approval of any motion.
The votes reflect the division on these topics that has been prevalent in the community for more than a year.
Special Town Meeting will decide whether to authorize the Select Board to acquire easements essential to extending the Minuteman Bikeway along the so-called Reformatory Branch Trail that parallels Concord Road. A two-thirds minimum is required because some parcels would be taken by eminent domain. The same proposal failed to reach the required minimum at Annual Town Meeting, which halted the project.
Eminent domain was just one focus of some committee members’ concerns Thursday. “This is for convenience, not public safety,” Steve Steele observed. Elizabeth McClung was concerned about drainage and loss of trees. Erica Liu felt that the project doesn’t benefit the town financially (state money would correct drainage problems on Railroad Avenue).
Those three plus Ronald O’Brien voted to recommend disapproval of the bikeway article. One common denominator is all four live in neighborhoods close to the project. Voting in favor were Ben Thomas, Paul Mortenson, and Abbie Seibert, who reside in other parts of town. “I’m not going to change anybody’s mind,” Thomas said as he announced his support.
Select Board Chair Emily Mitchell reminded the committee that it supported the original article authorizing easement acquisition. “This project is not a slippery slope for more land acquisition. It is always a last resort” that requires town meeting approval, she said.
The committee accepted public comment on the issue from residents, divided evenly—pro and con.
Among them was Erin Sandler-Rath who said the Finance Committee would be irresponsible to turn down state funding for infrastructure projects that ultimately will be financed with town taxes. Aaron Bourret said leaving parts of the trail in private ownership will be problematic in the future.
Dawn Lafrance Linden, Transportation Advisory Committee chair, said “the environmental case is strong. With climate change, the best thing we can do is get more cars off the road.” The improvements would also result in “an opportunity for more people to use it and enjoy the beauty of nature.”
Lori Eggert testified that the loss of a 4,000-square-foot permanent easement on her property will “turn our lives upside down.” She added, “Claims for a greater public good for Bedford are dubious and very easily contestable.” David Radlo said that as someone who is hard of hearing, he feels endangered walking on the paved Minuteman Bikeway.
John Monahan, Railroad Avenue, who has contested plans for a shared-use path on that street for more than eight years, said flooding photos the town is using to illustrate his streets drainage woes are years out of date.
The fire station articles would, if passed, halt a process that has been moving forward since the March Annual Town Meeting purchased the site at 139 The Great Road and approved design funding.
Former Selectman Donald Corey engineered a successful effort to add two articles to the warrant by petition. One would halt current spending on the new fire station (except for payments obligated by contract). The second would set up a committee of townspeople to research prospective locations.
Corey spoke to the Finance Committee, warning of site and traffic problems with the new site. But his big pitch was for a substation covering the Middlesex Turnpike corridor – a need he said was identified almost 50 years ago and that the town has continually failed to address.
A substation would open up the site-selection process for the main firehouse, he explained, since the area east of Route 3 no longer would have to be calculated in determining response times. “This conversation should have been going on since day one,” he declared.
Mitchell said approval of the petitioners’ articles would “pose significant risk to the delivery of public-safety services.” She reminded the committee that last spring it supported buying the site and design costs. She noted that her board is working on “a constructive relationship” with the Historic District Commission, similar to the experience with the current police station expansion.
Fire Chief David Grunes said a substation has been a consideration for decades, but the need is not validated by call volume. The subject “is being used right now to kind of confuse the issue.” The new station “is something that we need, to do our job. Our core mission is to protect the town.”
Thomas moved that the committee recommend disapproval of the petitioners’ articles. His motion did not garner a second. McClung moved that the committee refrain from issuing a recommendation. That was seconded, and also failed to reach five votes.
But the outcome is the same — no recommendation.