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Upton

Town Meeting to take up land purchase

Upton Town Meeting voters Tuesday will decide whether to move forward with the purchase of a nearly 70-acre  property on South Street that could be used for a sports complex.

Town officials say the site would provide much-needed outdoor space for youth teams. But neighbors say the land isn’t suitable for playing fields.

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“We are continually faced with having to take our other fields off line because of overuse, and they’re damaged,” said Rich Gazoorian, chairman of the town’s Recreation Commission.

Local fields also often have to be closed after it rains, due to poor drainage, Gazoorian said. “Other towns play more games than we play. There’s not enough field space to reschedule, so you end up losing games.”

But Jeff Ballard, who lives near the site on South Street, said there are too many unknowns about the project, and too many reasons to think the land can’t be developed.

As a parent involved in youth sports, Ballard said, he understands the need for more playing fields, but he doesn’t think the town has seriously pursued other potential sites.

“I think there’s a lot of challenges with the site, just from a permitting and engineering standpoint,” Ballard said.

He noted that the land sits on a flood plain, and said that a playing fields complex should be on a major thoroughfare, rather than off a winding country road.

Sylvia Story, another South Street neighbor, echoed Ballard’s concerns about traffic.

“We want to know that we’re going to be safe, and that the people traveling South Street are going to be safe,” Story said. “Address that, and then we can talk.”

Story accused supporters of the project of “talking out of both sides of their mouths” by not pinning down specifics of the project.

“We have a special interest group that is trying to sell the rest of the town on an inappropriate project, and they’re spinning it any way they can,” she said.

But town officials say it’s not yet clear exactly how they’ll be able to use the land.

They’re asking Town Meeting voters to approve spending $877,000, which provides $624,000 to purchase the property, as well as money for legal fees and traffic and engineering studies to determine how the site could be developed.

If studies show the land isn’t suitable for development by the town, Upton can back out of the purchase, and would be out only the money it spends examinging the property, said Town Manager Blythe Robinson. 

The purchase is also contingent upon the town receiving a $400,000 state grant. As of late last week, the town still hadn’t heard whether it would receive the funding.

Gazoorian, the recreation chairman, said the land could probably accommodate roughly four playing fields, plus walkways and facilities for tennis and basketball.

“There’s so much there for people to enjoy,” he said.

Gazoorian said the whole project would likely cost several million dollars, but he said the town would use funds from its Community Preservation Act program and other grants to pay for it, rather than asking residents to increase their property taxes.

“We are not going to raise the tax rate in town to build this,” he said. “That’s not what we want to do.”

Calvin Hennick can be reached at calvinhennick@yahoo.com.
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