Town’s Agreement on Fields with BB&N to be Discussed at Special Town Council Meeting

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A planning document showing the design for the athletic field to be built by Buckingham, Browne & Nichols School on Grove Street.

The agreement between the Town of Watertown and Buckingham Browne & Nichols School will be discussed Tuesday at a Special Town Council Meeting.

In November 2020, the Town entered a Memorandum of Understanding with the Cambridge-based private school over land the school plans to put two athletic fields with synthetic turf on Grove Street.

A petition signed by more than 700 people asking the Town to reconsider the agreement was submitted to the Town Council. The residents who signed the petition oppose the use of synthetic turf, and note that the Memorandum of Understanding calls for “open green space,” and does not specifically include wording about synthetic turf. See the letter from the petitioners here.

The agreement gives Watertown residents access to the BB&N fields in the evenings and on weekends, and the school would be able to use the fields at Filippello Park in the afternoons, and for a few weeks before the fall and spring sports seasons.

The Planning Board recently approved the project, but the members objected to the project and were told by Town Planning Staff and the Town’s attorney that they could not deny it based on the use of synthetic turf.

Also on the agenda, is a referral to Committee on Media and Outreach to start work informing the community about the proposed changes recommended by the Charter Review Committee.

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. and will be held in-person at Town Hall. Zoom and phone participation will also be allowed, and the meeting will be shown on Watertown Cable. See info how to participate and watch below:

The meeting will be televised through WCATV (Watertown Cable Access Television): http://vodwcatv.org/CablecastPublicSite/?channel=3

Public may join the virtual meeting online at: https://watertownma.zoom.us/j/92991331344

Public may join the virtual meeting audio only by phone: 877 853 5257 (Toll Free) or 888 475 4499 (Toll Free) and enter Webinar ID: 929 9133 1344 #

Public may comment through email: vpiccirilli@watertown-ma.gov

10 thoughts on “Town’s Agreement on Fields with BB&N to be Discussed at Special Town Council Meeting

  1. Am i missing something here…700 signatures mentioned in the article looks to be inflated 3 times over. The actual letter indicates 229 signatures. Perhaps mistake- but the bottom line I hope BB&N does exactly what they want- the argument against it is tired & inaccurate.

    A former coach made a great point; Why don’t they ask Harvard University, Tufts, MIT, or any top Institution if it’s a health issue? (they all have synthetic fields)…lets stop trying to dictate terms and work towards bringing in a partner that would benefit the kids of Watertown for years to come.

    • BB&N doesn’t care about the kids and no real coach recommends turf.
      Except for some track and field not a single sports body requires or recommendations turf.

      This was a land grab by a private school sanctioned by the Town Council and its now exposed for what it is.

      This agreement should be revoked, the land turned over to town recreation and designed with real grass.

      BB&N can afford to lease our fields.

      • Matthew the town didn’t own the land, Mt. Auburn cemetery owned it, the alternative to BB&N buying it was a commercial business (ie another bio). Not sure how Watertown had any say in the purchase? It was a bid that went out a long while back, there was a period of review of the bids and they selected BB&N. Nothing again to do with Watertown. And you want them to turn over a multi-million dollar land purchase to the town? I think if they don’t get what they need they’d just turn around and sell the land, which I’m guessing will be to a commercial interest that won’t be building a nice field that our kids can use. Instead they’ll be building a business that will add to our already congested traffic issues and lack of green space.

      • BB&N needed the town more than town needed BB&N. Even BB&N with all their money couldn’t compete with offers from developers. By bringing in the town on the deal they could put up a low bid and hope that the Mt. Auburn Cemetery Board of Trustees would take the lower offer for the sake of community relations, appearances, and being more charitable.

        On another note… where are all those Mt. Auburn hospital employees going to park now?

      • Matthew,

        According to the Registry of Deeds info BB&N paid $40.5M for this property.
        There is also an Agreement between Mount Auburn Cemetery and BB&N which includes: Right of First Offer to purchase the property and certain use and improvement restrictions which will run for a period of 20 years from the date of the agreement, January 29, 2021.

        At this point, the issue is the MOU and the devil in the details of this deal.

    • Wayne, To date there are 770 signatures on the petition directed to BB&N. The Citizen’s Petition to the town had 229 signatures to be verified by the town. 216 were verified by Janet Murphy, the Town Clerk.

  2. I can see how artificial turf would be less expensive to maintain but grass would slow down water runoff and allow our water-table to recharge and make our Charles River more resilient. Is that the nature of the dispute here?

    • Ben,

      On November 24, 2020, BB&N revealed that they intended to install artificial turf at the Grove Street site. This was a shock to many in our community given that the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the town and BB&N states “The Cooperative Agreement will expand access to open green space for active recreational use by the children and adults in Watertown and other nearby communities and by the students of BB&N.”

      The Region 1, EPA New England definition: “Open space is any open piece of land that is undeveloped (has no buildings or other built structures) and is accessible to the public. Open space can include:
      – Green space (land that is partly or completely covered with grass, trees, shrubs, or
      other vegetation). Green space includes parks, community gardens, and cemeteries.
      – Schoolyards
      – Playgrounds
      – Public seating areas
      – Public plazas
      – Vacant lots
      Open space provides recreational areas for residents and helps to enhance the beauty and environmental quality of neighborhoods. But with this broad range of recreational sites comes an equally broad range of environmental issues. Just as in any other land uses, the way parks are managed can have good or bad environmental impacts, from pesticide runoff, siltation from overused hiking and logging trails, and destruction of habitat.
      Lack of community and public access to safe open and green space is a critical area of concern for urban residents in New England.”
      _____________________________________________________________
      Thus a petition was started to appeal to the powers that be at BB&N. Here is the petition letter that was submitted to BB&N:

      Dear BB&N,

      Beginning in 2014 we, the residents of Watertown began a successful multi-year effort to reject a plan that would place a second artificial turf playing field at Victory Field. This community effort was based on the mounting scientific evidence that the plastic blades, industrial-grade infill, and a host of additives, including fire retardants, contain hazardous chemicals and heavy metals that are especially harmful to children and to residents of all ages with compromised immune systems.

      Since 2014, the growing body of evidence that these chemicals are harmful to the environment has increased and intensified community opposition to this unnecessary substitute for state-of-the-art, organically maintained grass playing fields. Of special concern to us, regarding the BB&N site, is that stormwater runoff will carry the turf’s toxic chemicals into the Charles River.

      Climate scientists tell us that we are trending toward more frequent and longer-lasting heat waves, more “100-year storms’, more drought, and more flooding. On those same hot summer days, the green painted plastic blades on artificial turf raise the air temperature above the field, turning those fields into “heat islands.” Scientists at Columbia University analyzed thermal images of New York City and found that artificial turf fields were up to 60 degrees hotter than grass fields.

      According to the EPA, “Heat islands contribute to higher daytime temperatures, reduced nighttime cooling, and heat-related illnesses.” [Heat Island Impacts – https://www.epa.gov/heatislands/heat-island-impacts%5D.

      One might think that in the midst of a worldwide climate emergency, where protection of the environment is paramount, and while simultaneously in the midst of a devastating pandemic, with its end not yet in sight, choosing the healthy environment/ healthy immune system option would be a no-brainer.

      The problem is money and marketing.

      We have been here before. Three infamous industries: Tobacco, Asbestos, and Lead Paint, spared no expense in trying to convince the public that their products were safe. They ran ads, sponsored studies, lobbied all levels of government, and tried endlessly to place the burden of proof on their critics. All three succeeded for a lot longer than they should have. Eventually, scientific consensus turned the tide − just as scientific consensus finally turned the tide against climate change skeptics.

      In every community, the artificial turf industry uses the same old tactics as the Infamous Three and they have gone one better. By enlisting the support of athletic directors, coaches, alumni, and local boosters − those who have easy access to decision-makers − the industry and its small percentage of community supporters enjoy a disproportionate advantage over the majority.

      The industry and its surrogates argue that the durability of their product will bring more playing time for student-athletes. They also argue that their product will end up costing less than natural grass. Both arguments are demonstrably false.

      Also false is any vendor claim that, at the end of the field’s useful life, of approximately 8 to 10 years, the field will be responsibly recycled. In reality, recycling this toxic waste is cost-prohibitive, so contractors unload the waste to sub-contractors who will often dispose of it irresponsibly and sometimes illegally. Wherever it ends up, it will go on polluting land, air, and water forever. None of it is biodegradable.

      These are just the essential points. There is so much more to add, and it can best be done through dialogue.

      Therefore, we respectfully request that BB&N, before committing to artificial turf fields, allow members of the greater Watertown community, to make our case for choosing the healthy environment/healthy immune system option: state-of-the-art organically maintained natural grass.

      In the end, the decision belongs entirely to BB&N.

      Thank you for reading this petition! We end this request with something to ponder.

      Greta Thunberg ended her speech to world leaders at the Davos Summit with these words:

      “And again, I’m not here to tell you what to do. After all, safeguarding the future living conditions and preserving life on earth as we know it is voluntary. The choice is yours to make.

      But I can assure you this. You can’t negotiate with physics. And your children and grandchildren will hold you accountable for the choices that you make. How’s that for a deal? [https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/01/greta-thunberg-message-to-the-davos-agenda/].”

      She was speaking to all of us. And she was speaking on behalf of a generation.

      Elodia Thomas, Ph.D. & Bruce Coltin
      We Are All Watertown
      ____________________________________________________________
      Since then there has been a community meeting where BB&N gave a slick presentation and totally ignored the informed statements from many in our community. There was no Q&A. There have been many letters, a “cease and desist” letter from BB&N’s attorney directed to me, a contentious planning board hearing, and more. Therefore a Citizen’s Petition was presented to the Town Council for a hearing on this issue.

      Feel free to contact me if you have more questions.

      • The cease and desist letter is a despicable action and shows a lack of good faith on the part of BB & N. There has been a bad odor to this affair from the start.
        But no lawyer of good integrity would try to interfere with a citizen exercising their rights to participate in public process and voice their constitutionally protected opinion.

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