Highlights from Select Board Meeting of January 24, 2022
Below are highlights from the January 24, 2022 meeting of Westwood's Select Board. Traffic safety at the Pond and Clapboardtree streets intersection is addressed, Select Board supports a conservation restriction on Hale property in Westwood, and grants are awarded to COA and the Fire Department.
Complaints, Traffic Study Prompt Changes to Pond and Clapboardtree Streets
Ms. Elizabeth Oltman of The Engineering Corp (TEC) presented findings from TEC's traffic study of Pond and Clapboardtree streets. The study was commissioned after traffic concerns were raised by residents in areas of abutting and intersecting roads. The study collected data at four locations on Pond Street and two locations along Clapboardtree Street over the course of three days (or 72 hours).
Ms. Oltman noted that Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) uses the 85th percentile speed as a benchmark for establishing speed limits. TEC’s study found the 85th percentile speeds on Pond Street range from 35 m.p.h. to 38 m.p.h. At the two points on Clapboardtree Street, they are 34 to 35 m.p.h. and 41 to 44 m.p.h. Ms. Oltman additionally noted that motorists change their speed five different times in the distance of just over one mile, which can be confusing.
Pond Street has a special speed regulation on file with MassDOT from 1956 which was set at 30 m.p.h. Ms. Oltman noted that given the fact that Westwood is likely even more densely populated now than then, she would recommend that the town post 30 m.p.h. signs along Pond Street, consistently.
A complaint of large trucks traveling through the area led to a conversation about excluding that type of traffic. However, Public Works Director Todd Korchin and Police Chief Jeff Silva noted that excluding that traffic from one area would only serve to move the problem to another area of Westwood.
Rather than exclude heavy trucks from the area, Chief Silva highlighted the effectiveness of reducing speed of traffic. He noted that a large, heavy truck moving at a slower speed is perceived differently by residents than the same truck moving at even a slightly higher speed.
Chair Michael Walsh raised the anecdotal concern that a request to lower the speed limit can result in the unintended consequence of MassDOT instead requiring a raised speed limit. Ms. Oltman confirmed that this does happen, based on MassDOT’s preference to base speed limit on the 85th percentile, which could be higher than the requested speed limit.
Therefore, while Select Board was in agreement to pursue consistent and reduced speeds along these streets, Mr. Walsh suggested that Select Board wait to gather crash data before approaching MassDOT with Westwood’s requested change. Mr. Gotti and Mr. Hickey agreed.
Select Board approved a motion that yield signs in two directions at the Pond and Clapboardtree intersection will be replaced by stop signs, to create a more traditional intersection. This change will require traffic from any direction to come to a stop before proceeding through the intersection.
Mr. Walsh noted that residents seeking similar attention paid to other streets in Westwood can contact the Select Board, Public Works Department or Police. Chief Silva provided the contact information of Officer Steve Conley at email@example.com.
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Hale Task Force Recommends a Warrant Article to Preserve Open Space at Hale
Westwood’s Hale Task Force recommended that Select Board sponsor a warrant article for Town Meeting in order to fund a conservation restriction on Hale property in Westwood.
The task force’s recommendation follows a proposal from Hale Education that Westwood purchase from Hale a conservation restriction of $10 million, which would preserve 500+ acres of land in Westwood. Hale made the proposal in 2019 as it began preparing itself to become financially stable over the long-term, while attempting to prevent future sale and development of its land.
Mr. Jack Wiggin presented on behalf of Westwood's Hale Task Force, a group that was formed with the intent to advise Select Board on how to respond to Hale's proposal. Mr. Wiggin noted that a conservation restriction would enable Westwood to permanently restrict future sale and development of the largest undeveloped land in town. It would do so at far less expense than purchasing the land at market rate. Management and maintenance costs and responsibilities would be avoided, and no change in property tax would result. Hale’s non-profit status already exempts it from property taxes. Mr. Wiggin’s presentation also noted that preservation would be consistent with the town’s Comprehensive Plan and its Open Space and Recreation Plan.
The presentation also noted that such a transaction with Hale could offer an opportunity to address other town objectives. Select Board Clerk John Hickey may have specified these objectives when he remarked that the town has a “desperate” need for a recycling facility. Mr. Hickey also mentioned an “outdated” Department of Public Works and micro-housing for town employees.
All three Select Board members indicated agreement with pursuing a conservation restriction on Hale property in Westwood, with Select Board member Robert Gotti noting that this meeting represents the first public discussion in Westwood on the conservation restriction. There should be more open conversation about Hale’s proposal so that people can become familiar with the related needs, benefits, and borrowing impacts, he said.
Chair Michael Walsh described the timeline as challenging, in that the proposed article for a conservation restriction would have to be ready to present to the Finance & Warrant Commission by March this year to make it to this May's Town Meeting. Nonetheless, he noted that Select Board was in favor of progress on this initiative.
Select Board did not propose any new action, however. Instead, comments by Mr. Walsh and Mr. Hickey left it to Town Administrator Christopher Coleman to continue discussions and negotiations with Hale. The particular issues that are up for discussion and negotiation with Hale were not described at this meeting.
Westwood Minute earlier reported additional details on the proposed conservation restriction here.
Council on Aging Receives $50,000 state grant; over $20,000 in grants to Fire Department
Westwood’s Council on Aging has been awarded an unrestricted grant of $50,000 from the state, announced Director Lina Arena-DeRosa. She noted that not every COA has received this grant. While Ms. Arena-DeRosa was unsure for what reason the grant was awarded to Westwood’s COA, she surmised that programming might be a factor. Ms. Arena-DeRosa credited state Representative Paul McMurtry and state Senator Michael Rush for directing the funds to COA. While still deciding exactly how to use the funding, Ms. Arena-DeRosa stated that COVID-19 related needs will be addressed.
Select Board unanimously approved a motion to accept two grants awarded to Westwood Fire Department. Fire Chief John Deckers announced a grant of $4,600 for emergency preparedness, which he said will be applied to building fire department operations at the police department. A second grant of $17,786 was awarded to the fire department to replace two of three aging thermal imaging cameras. The cameras are used to detect heat and body signatures.
Chair Michael Walsh encouraged residents to sign up for Alert Westwood to be alerted to information regarding town elections and other community notifications such as storm and trash delays. Interested persons can sign up on the town’s website.