LETTER: Former Town Councilor Urges Support of Town/BB&N Fields Agreement

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A drawing of the proposed playing fields that BB&N School wants to build on Grove Street. The land currently belongs to Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Dear friends and neighbors,

As many of you may have heard, the Mount Auburn Cemetery’s property on Grove Street is up for sale.Just next door to Filippello Park, the site is currently being leased by the Mount Auburn Hospital for employee parking.Most bidders on the lot are looking to build lab/office or residential space there.This means more cars on Grove Street and no chance at expanding our open and green space in Watertown. There’s also a historic home on the site called the Shick House which isn’t likely to be saved under that scenario.The Shick family once operated a dairy farm from that house in the mid 1900’s.

The Trustees of the cemetery have a fiduciary responsibility to be responsible stewards of the cemetery’s assets for the long-term and have chosen to liquidate the asset.They’re going to make the responsible choice for their institutionand one can hardly blame them. Sounds pretty bleak doesn’t it?

But, wait!There is a shining light of hope in this story and that’s where Buckingham Browne and Nichols (BB&N) comes in.This nearby school is bidding on the site with the hopes of building playing fields for their student athletes. They’ve worked with the town to draft a mutually-satisfactory MOU to share these fields with the Town of Watertown AND to save the Shick House.There’s a lot written on the story on WatertownMAnews.com and its worth learning more about if you start Googling it all.

I am in support of the BB&N plan for a lot of reasons but none greater than the alternative future scenario of having another big building full of commuters driving in and out at rush hour every day.The road is already congested as things stand today and can’t take any more traffic. More playing fields is an added bonus.The pro’s and con’s of the MOU are worth debating and some may have concerns with certain elements of it but in the end, the alternative still looms menacingly in full focus for me.

The BB&N purchase and our MOU may never stand a chance if developers win the bid. They have eager financiers and they also have the prospect of zoning variances that could allow building an even more valuable project who’s price-tag would dwarf whatever BB&N could offer. If the Trustees accepted an offer like that it will likely be contingent on Planning Board approval so there is an element of uncertainty that the Trustees may just choose to avoid by choosing BB&N’s proposal. So, fans of the BB&N purchase idea are holding on to hope.

If you want to help make this happen and read a little more about what a group of advocates are saying about the deal, click here, read and hopefully join me in signing a petition to the Trustees: http://chng.it/V6wQpnRyzz

The Trustees have a task-force that’s getting last pitches from their bidders on December 4th so don’t sit on this letter for long. We want to send the petition soon and with as many signatures as possible.  Please also share this email with your neighbors and concerned users of Grove Street from surrounding communities.

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving!

All the best,
Aaron Dushku

(Dushku is a parent of a BB&N student, a WHS class of 2015 graduate and a Lowell School student. He graduated in the WHS Class of 1991.)

22 thoughts on “LETTER: Former Town Councilor Urges Support of Town/BB&N Fields Agreement

  1. Dear Aaron,

    On behalf of those of us who are not in the know, please publish the MOU. I have tried to find all the additional info you are referring and can’t. Will these be grass fields, green and nature-enhancing – or – artificial synthetic heat islands made of chemically-laden toxic materials? Why, after building these new facilities, will BB&N have exclusive use of Watertown’s very limited community green recreation space (in perpetuity?) for after school games, practices, etc, given all the scheduling problems we have heard about regarding WHS’s needs for more field space? Wasn’t there a demand for more field space so students can go to practice and then get home on time for dinner and studies? Then throw in youth soccer’s need for field time and the crunch that will come with the loss of the Hosmer field during school construction. Is this really a win for Watertown?

    What will happen to the Shick House as it will now be BB&N’s property? Is BB&N expecting Watertown to move it or lose it? If Watertown intends to move it, please let us know where that piece of land is located and how this will be paid for. Belmont already went through a similar experience with an old house. As I recall, it was finally demolished because they couldn’t find a new location for it. If it is to stay on the property, will Watertown residents be expected to contribute their valuable Community Preservation dollars to help BB&N renovate the house for BB&N’s private use? Too many contradictions, too many unanswered questions.

    Then please check out the property listings on Grove Street. BB&N already owns property there as do LLC’s, the Atrium School, etc. Also check out what properties have sold for, then the assessed value, and then the tax records. H-mmm. The area is going to be developed no matter who buys this property. It’s just a matter of when, how, and who.

    I know you have been involved with the traffic and transportation issues. If you have additional concerns around zoning and planning board approvals, isn’t it time to advocate that the town management, government, and residents come together to review the comprehensive plan? What has worked, what needs tweaking, and what is failing? Perhaps it is time to have a second go at a development moratorium given all the resident frustration in town?

    BB&N is fortunate, given its apparent substantial endowment as a private school, that it can pay millions of dollars for this land to expand its campus in Watertown. But please, as a former Town Councilor, explain why Watertown booming with development, hasn’t put up so much as a $1.00 to buy and protect any potential “green” open space/recreation space in all these years. Don’t you think the citizens of Watertown deserve complete information on what’s going on here?

    Finally, to be completely above board and transparent, shouldn’t you and Kate Coyne (who is a dear friend, is listed as the initiator of the petition, and who has tried to get a copy of the MOU for review to no avail) both disclose that your daughters attend BB&N?

    Articles have stated that this is a “win-win and no-brainer” for Watertown. It’s definitely a “no-brainer” if folks are rushing to support this deal without having all the facts. We should all expect/demand more info from our Town Management, Town Council, and BB&N before supporting any deal that impacts our future, our extremely limited “green” open space, and our tax dollars. Isn’t that what participatory democratic government is supposed to be all about?

    We Are All Watertown!

    Best,
    Elodia

    • Wow. Lots of questions and some not mine to answer but I see them as hypothetical. MOU isn’t public as far as I can tell and in my understanding it is only an agreement in principle at this stage and worth some deeper analysis at some point soon. All the same, the point I make is that even if town had no use of Bb&n fields, the alternative should be unacceptable to us. I think your statement about exclusive use of Fileppello for Bb&n is not accurate and the demand for those fields at times Bb&n has asked for is simply not there. Lastly, I’ve added the disclosure and had been working on that with Charlie since before you wrote but I don’t think it’s influencing me but fair enough to share.

      • Elodia has many of the questions which I have, though given the facts as I know them today I would endorse BBN purchase over large industrial building or more apartments(bringing much more traffic/waste). These questions utlimately need to be answered ,if in fact BBN wins the Bid. MAC deal is very fast moving and agree that Watertown needs to have a more comprehensive plan on how to purchase or obtain land going forward(schools/senior center(larger), fields…). I was able to confirm that WHS doesn’t utilize Filepello field for after school practices(BBN has actually been permited to use this at least in the past year). I agree that we should note that we are not only Watertown Residents but also BBN parents(my daughter is a new student to BBN from WPS, Aaron has a child in BBN and WPS). I have updated the petition to reflect this. That aside, I see the benefit of fields over another large building with more traffic which is why I endorsed the petition. I too would also advocate for natural turf fields if BBN wins the bid given the toxic nature of artificial turf. Thank you Elodia, the MOU is the important detail for Watertown if BBN wins the bidding ultimately.

  2. Thank you Elodia.

    This deal by no means sounds like a win-win. I think Aaron should have also disclosed that he is a parent to a BB & N student as some may see that as a conflict of interest.

    For anyone thinking about signing any petition, please find out the answers that Elodia has mentioned above. The petition is circulating around town yet there is very little discussion about the actual details. Personally, I don’t. have much faith in our town leaders to fully understand how this deal could potentially play out. It doesn’t really sound like a win- win to me.

      • Well I think I brought that to his attention after he sent out his big email. But in his reply to me, he didn’t think it mattered. I am glad that both he and Kate have added it.

  3. I want to share one last thing and it’s about this notion of participatory democracy, transparency and me supposedly being ‘in the know’. I made phone calls, asked questions and I read this website and the agendas and minutes of town meetings. I wrote this letter as a recommendation based on what I’ve learned about the many concerns that we have here (many of which you touch on in your comments). I think it’s ultimately every readers choice of whether they want to follow my recommendations or do the homework on their own as I have and as you also often do. Ultimately democracy is as much a responsibility as it is a right.

    Usually the answers to questions like yours are longer stories that don’t always have right and wrong sides of the issue and they have a history worth spending time learning about.

    Readers, get involved, ask the questions of your elected officials and listen to their responses. Most of them will make time to talk to you if you also make the time to reach out. Online forums don’t count. I think it’s unfair to expect our volunteer elected officials to respond to a barrage of questions coming at them in this forum or on social media. Pick up the phone and call them. They are spending a lot of time talking about this issue now and have a lot of good answers:
    https://www.ci.watertown.ma.us/Directory.aspx?DID=89

    • Although, I do agree that reaching out to our elected officials personally is a viable option for getting answers to questions, many of our elected officials do often respond to comments made on this forum or on social media by posting their own comments and, as we have seen, will occasionally write a letter to be published on certain subject matters. So, I cannot see how you can discount this forum and other social media as a way to answer questions from the public. Also, the answers that one person gets from a personal conversation with an elected official will not necessarily reach the greater public and therefore, many will still be left in the dark. And for our elected officials to speak personally with every member of the public who as a question on the subject would be vastly time consuming and likely impossible.

  4. I support the BB&N deal because it is the least congestive use of the space viaually and traffic-wise. Green, open space is preferable, always, in my book. I have no problem with BB&N parents advocationg for this, either; I advocate for it as a Watertown Citizen and as the parent of a kid who would use. We all breathe the air in this tiny town, and the traffic backup there is already pretty nasty at crucial times of day; commercial or residential use there would make stopped traffic air pollution far worse because of the 4-way stop at location due to the 4-way stop at Coolidge Hill and Grove.

  5. Why isn’t Watertown buying this property and making a deal with BB&N to develop and share playing fields there, instead of vice versa? Is that really out of the realm of possibility? Seems like Esau selling his birthright for a mess of pottage.

    • Excellent point Libby. On August 3, 2017, there was a Joint Meeting of the Town Council Committee on Human Services and the Conservation Commission on “A Discussion to Review Site Characteristics for Open Space Acquisition to Develop a Prioritization Plan” and I would suggest reading the meeting minutes from that meeting (https://www.watertown-ma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/23369/2017-08-17-Minutes-Open-Space-Acquisition?bidId=). “…The joint Committees hoped to reconvene in Executive Session within three months…” of that meeting. “Councilor Dushku recommended that we look at…identifying…properties in close proximity to existing open-spaces…”. It would only make sense that this property be considered for such purposes as expanding our open space ownership in Watertown.

  6. Dear Aaron Dushku,
    Sorry to say but I do not find the arguments in your letter persuasive at all. I find many things about your interest and intentions on this particular matter suspect.
    I am appreciative of Elodia Thomas’s comments and feel that there is little if anything in BB&N’s interests that actually will be beneficial to the community of Watertown. Not to be disparaging to BB&N at all but if there are benefits to the community you have not presented them here.
    Are there are reasons for Watertown to buy this property for open space or recreational purposes? Then someone needs to articulate it better so we can understand the monetary value we should attach to it. Otherwise why would we team up with them. It doesn’t sound like they need us.

  7. I may be mistaken but I believe that the Trustees of My Auburn cemetery are interested in a long term lease as opposed to selling it outright.

      • That’s good news, if it means a decision won’t be as precipitous as the information on this proposed deal makes it sound.

        Another reason for hope, I hope:
        A couple weeks ago, MAC invited Trees for Watertown, Mass. Audubon’s Habitat Center in Belmont, and Watertown, Belmont and Cambridge municipal representatives to a morning meeting, to contribute our thoughts as MAC plans for the future. During that meeting, MAC’s Director David Barnett stated MAC’s desire to make a decision regarding sale of the Grove Street property that has long term positive environmental impact.

        Wouldn’t it be great to see Watertown gather its forces to make a proposal to MAC that scores 100% on that front? How about creatively shared playing fields on the major portion of the property, retaining the Community Gardens on the small portion closest to Mount Auburn Street?

  8. I am concerned that the Grove Street location of Watertown Community Garden is not part of the discussion. It is on part of the land owned by Mount Auburn Cemetery. The BB&N deal may be the best prospect for its continuance.

    • Very good point!! Would be great if we could work the Grove Street Community Garden into a deal with BB&N! We might even be able to get BB&N students (there are very activist Eco-kids there –including my daughter) worked into the project to support current “Farm-to-School” work in Watertown Public Schools and Watertown Community Gardens support for the food pantries. BB&N’s Summer Camp programs (on the river) could also be enlisted in support of the same during the height of the vegetable growing season! Lots more fruits and veggies for those who might want them most in our town.

  9. Is there anything in this secret MOU or in anything else that would prevent BB&N from selling this land to a developer? Seems like they could turn it around and make quite a bit of money.

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