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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth – Part 3

In this conclusion of my 3-part series about the YMCA land use change request I speculate on what may have been happening behind the scenes.

My previous articles on this topic dealt with the objections to changing the land use designation. You will recall that Ted Veazy wants to remove most of the 15 decaying buildings on the property and replace them with 10 homes in a cluster on the portion of the property that is already developed.

Our ordinances encourage exactly the type of development that Mr. Veazey proposes, permanently preserving the undeveloped space rather than leaving it open for future uses allowed in Open Space/Recreation, like an intensive campground, horse stables, or greenhouses.

So why are we seeing the scorched-earth campaign against it by Boston resident Joanne D’AlComo and the Sonquipaug neighbors she has aligned with her? A major clue lies in the fact that virtually none of the residents in the Watchaug Heights neighborhood to the north oppose the change and many have spoken in favor of it. Let’s think about the differences in these two neighborhoods on opposite sides of the property.

To the north, Watchaug Heights consists of 2-acre forested lots with homes slightly above the median home value in Charlestown. The vast majority are year-round residents of Charlestown. The entrance to the YMCA camp is in this neighborhood and the homeowners along Watchuag Lane had to deal with the campground traffic for years. They speak of numerous cars dropping off and picking up children every day, weekend parties by teen groups renting the facility, buses parked on their street, etc. 

They like the reduction in traffic with the campground unused for several years and feel that 10 homes will be a much less intensive use of the land and Watchaug Pond than a campground. They fear that a rejection of this proposal will most likely result in the land being used for some sort of campground again.

A row of cottages in Sonquipaug
To the south is the Sonquipaug Association. Built before effective zoning in Charlestown, it consists of summer cottages on 1/10-acre lots. Some cottages still have cesspools though they are within a couple hundred yards of the lake. Because they are cottages, the majority of owners live elsewhere and use the cottages for weekends and vacations. 

Ms. D’Alcomo says that no one there knew that the YMCA was thinking of getting rid of the property until it was too late. I guess the Realtor listing the property could have been careless enough to not think of the Association as a buyer. More likely, in my mind, is that a few people in Sonquipaug knew about it but didn’t think there was a way to get the money together to buy it.

But some of the residents, with inspiration from Ms. D’Alcomo, see a possibility. If it could be turned into a park that the Sonquitaug Association residents could use, that would greatly enhance the sales value of their cottages. You can hear that in their statements like “I think of the YMCA land as my back yard.” Odd, that statement, with the chain link fence separating them. Perhaps they are thinking of a future possibility.

Boundary of YMCA land - click to enlarge

And Ms. D’Alcomo sees a possible way to realize that possibility. She could try to meet with Mr. Veazey and work out a deal but that would cost money. A better way would be to get someone else to pay for the land, either the town or the state, as open space, take down the chain link fence, and boost the sales value of the Sonquipaug cottages.

Of course there are issues for whoever gets the property of the expense of dealing with all of the buildings and returning the developed portion to some semblance of open space but that won't be the Sonquipaug Association's problem if this scheme works.

So now we have the Sonquipaug cottage owners trying to convince the Town Council that Mr. Veazey will destroy the property and lake with a less intensive use of the land than we would see as a campground. And they are trying to distract from the permanent protection that his plan would give to the undeveloped portions of the land. 

No one in favor of the proposal has the passion and tenacity of Ms. D’Alcomo. Seeing that, we have been trying to provide a little balance here.

I have to conclude that Mr. Veazey’s proposal is the choice for people really interested in preserving open space. The opposition is trying to make you think otherwise with lots of noise and pandering to emotions but their arguments are not based on reality.

Besides, if the town is going to spend money on open space they should probably start saving it up for another piece of property.

Author: Tom Ferrio