OPINION: Westwood Voters' Voices Remain Unheard on Hale CR Opportunity


Photo by Westwood Minute/Darlene Wong Cancell. Hale Education has announced that its land in Westwood, like that pictured above, will not be subject to a conservation restriction at this time, due to restrictions required by the Town of Westwood.

Editor's note: The below opinion article by Westwood resident Kate La Croix concerns her reaction to the apparent breakdown in negotiations between the Town of Westwood and Hale Education for a conservation restriction. Hale Education’s website states that at this time, Westwood will not be participating in a conservation restriction on Hale Education property located in Westwood. It states, "Town officials required some language in the conservation restriction that the Trustees of Reservations and local land trusts agreed was too restrictive. . . . Hale’s land in Westwood will remain unprotected, with no restrictions on land sale, development, or program growth." 

[from https://hale.education/conservation-sustainability/conservation-restriction/ (Frequently Asked Questions section), visited Feb. 14, 2024 at 10:00 p.m.]


The following opinion article represents the views and opinions of the author, and not necessarily those of Westwood Minute.

By Kate La Croix

Some Westwood residents may be unaware of the issues surrounding the purchase of a Conservation Restriction (CR) to protect Hale in perpetuity. Hale is a privately owned educational organization in Westwood and Dover. Hale’s 1,200-acre property of land is made up of woods, hiking trails, ponds, and spaces for camp and enrichment programs, with approximately half of the land in Westwood and half in Dover. It provides not only invaluable recreation opportunities and greenspace and mental health benefits to people from Westwood and many other communities, but also irreplaceable animal habitat, carbon sequestration, protection from flooding due to storms, and water recharge.

In 2019, Hale offered the towns of Dover and Westwood the opportunity to purchase Conservation Restrictions, held by The Trustees and each respective town, that would forever ensure the protection of Hale’s land from development. A Westwood Hale Task Force was formed in late 2019, and a similar task force was formed in Dover. The Dover Hale Task Force meetings were public; Westwood’s were not.

In January 2022, the Westwood Hale Task Force recommended to the Select Board that the Town pursue Hale’s offer. The group also held a public meeting on the Hale CR in June 2022. Discussions with Hale began soon after that meeting. Since that time, the Westwood Select Board has demonstrated an almost total lack of transparency in this process.

Most recently, the Hale CR opportunity appeared on the agenda for the Select Board’s January 22, 2024 meeting. The treatment of the topic was perfunctory at best. Town Counsel reported that the Select Board had reached “an impasse on several points” in the Hale negotiations.

There was no elucidation of what the obstacles were. He added, “We are hopeful that with some hard work, that we’re able to work through those impasses and creative thinking…. We’re hopeful that we can find some resolution to the places where we’re at an impasse at this point in time.”

At the same time, multiple sources, including Hale’s own website, indicated that the Town of Westwood is not participating in the Conservation Restriction. The door appears to have closed on Westwood’s opportunity to participate, while Dover moves forward and anticipates bringing the question to its voters this spring.

How do we reconcile these contradictory messages? In short, Westwood residents don’t have enough information to understand the issues at play because we were not informed about a decision-making process that should have been public. The question of Westwood’s participation in the Conservation Restriction should have been brought to town voters to give them a chance to voice their opinions. Instead, the Select Board, with the Town Counsel as its only apparent spokesperson, have taken it upon themselves to decide for us. At the very least, they should be candid about the opportunity they (and Westwood voters) have missed.

Thanks to Kate La Croix, Westwood resident, for contributing this opinion article to Westwood Minute.

Westwood Minute takes no position on the opinion articles that it publishes, but seeks accurate and thoughtful commentary on topics that matter to our community, from a variety of differing viewpoints. Feel free to reply with your reaction below, or submit another perspective to WestwoodInAMinute@gmail.com.

Related stories you may like to read:

OPINION: Answers Needed on Hale's $10 Million Conservation Restriction Proposal

Local Land Trusts Urge Westwood, Dover Residents to Protect Public Access to 1,200 Acres of Hale Property

Select Board Meeting: Town Makes History and SB Revives Issues of Conservation Restriction, Long-Term Financial Planning Committee

Westwood Follows Dover in Recommending Preservation of Open Space at Hale

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I agree the communication on this has been poor from start to finish, even after meetings where residents called for more transparency. Many meetings were held to answer questions, but residents were never given the opportunity to vote on whether the town should even be considering this proposal. Now it would appear that it's off the agenda altogether. What I would like to have seen...YEARS AGO...is an article at town meeting to get a vote on whether or not this should be pursued.
Other projects, such as the Gay Street Sidewalk, have been repeatedly voted on and approved at town meeting, with hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on design work...but apparently abandoned for lack of funding.
At the last town meeting--a special meeting called to get a vote to fund design of a new fire station (why did that suddenly become a priority enough to call a town meeting early in January?), one resident stood up and said he was surprised at this expense and was anything else coming? There was complete silence in the room while every person on stage knew that $10 million for Hale was being negotiated and a list of other capital projects like the Sheehan school are waiting...for...someone at town hall to decide that the time is right?
Westwood strives for transparency and does much better than many towns, but I have long said the problem is that residents are not truly engaged in the decision-making process. They are informed of decisions that have already been made. Sometimes they object to the decisions and fight them at town meeting. But in a case like the Hale negotiations, we don't even know what was being negotiated and never had a chance to even gauge the level of support in the community. So now it seems a lot of effort was wasted and other projects have been neglected.

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What else is new in Westwood?  Government has been operating under the radar for years.  And that is because of the lack of involvement by the residents/voters.   It has morphed into an authoritarian government with a Town Council who goes out of his way to protect the Administration from the few who do get involved because he thinks he's still a Select Board member.  Not to mention he's making a nice income on the taxpayers dime in protecting the Administration from its 'how dare you ask' residents.  With that money making legal advice, whenever the Administration is challenged by the residents, it digs in and restricts access or refuses to respond.

But the majority of residents have allowed for this to occur because they do not get involved and the Administration knows that.

One thing advocates for information on this issue should consider is filing a Freedom of Information Act and contacting the MA Secretary of State's office for guidance.  These discussions, meetings, studies, etc. the Administration has had don't appear to fall under any 'Executive Session' definition.  Meaning, any discussions on this topic should be public information and made public.

Westwood's web site has a page for filing a FOIA.

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