Photo: The location on Rock Meadow where parking will be located for a golf tournament in June.
The Belmont Conservation Commission narrowly approved a conditional agreement to allow the Professional Golf Association Tour (PGA) to use approximately 11 acres of Rock Meadow Conservation Land off upper Concord Avenue for up to 1,000 parking spaces to support a major golf tournament taking place at Belmont Country Club during the second week of June.
The 3-2 vote came after an hour in which the commission members and Conservation Agent Mary Trudeau debated whether the land – never used for such an activity – would be damaged by vehicular pollution or whether a “yes” vote would set a bad precedence versus the commission’s real need for outside funding to continue the upkeep of the land and the nearby Victory Gardens.
“I am literally begging to find grants and money as the [Town Meeting] doesn’t give [the Conservation Commission] a penny,” said Trudeau, in an impassioned plea to the board to pass the proposal.
The approval came with the proviso that all fees for using the meadow will be placed in the Conservation Commission’s Victory Garden Revolving Account to provide money to mow the meadow.
With the Commission’s approval, the PGA and the town – through its Town Administration Office – will begin negotiations on a contract that will include both fees for parking and for other town services. In addition, the PGA has made considerable charitable contributions to municipalities and
The PGA is scheduled to meet with the Belmont Police Department on Thursday, April 16, to discuss required traffic control and details.
Rock Meadow is 70 acres of public conservation land that includes a meadow, wetlands, streams and woods. It is a part of the Western Greenway, a corridor of undeveloped green spaces that connects the towns of Belmont, Waltham and Lexington. It is a favorite place for hiking, birding, biking, picnicking, cross-country skiing, and community gardening.
The meeting began with a presentation from the PGA’s Joe Rotellini and Geoff Hill to give a highlights of the Constellation Senior Players Championship, one of the five “major” tournaments for older (those on the PGA’s Champions Tour for players over 50 years old) but still very popular golfers such as Bernhard Langer, Tom Watson, Fred Couples and Vijay Singh.
Rotellini, who oversees the day-to-day operation of the tournament, told the commissioners that people will come out to see the marque players and it’s critical to have parking in the area. He stated that the PGA was also in negotiations with other nearby communities for parking.
As part of its extensive management plan, the PGA will require parking from Tuesday, June 9 to Sunday, June 14 with the number of vehicles “ramps up” during the four days of the actual tournament, starting on Thursday, June 11, said Rotellini.
The temporary parking lot will begin to accept cars at approximately 7:30 a.m. with most vehicles departing by sunset. During the week, Winter Street from Concord Avenue to Route 2 will be one-way towards Lexington.
The parking plan will be laid out by a professional management firm hired by the PGA. Under the plan envisioned by the Tour, a pair of temporary curb cuts will be placed along Concord Avenue near the intersection of Winter Street (see image) that will allow a one-way circular loop where a shuttle bus will pick up attendees and deliver them to the country club. The cut will require moving large rocks that occupy the spaces.
“It is a temporary roadway that may require stones if it rains,” said Trudeau.
That portion of the North Meadow will be the location of the largest of three parking areas, used by 700 vehicle spaces from June 9 to 14. The activity will likely require moving a proposed sheep grazing site. (see image)
The second lot, expected to be used from June 12 to June 14, is what most residents recognize as Rock Meadow adjacent to the Mill Street entrance and the Victory Gardens. Up to 250 vehicles can use this location.
A final, and smallest, parking area will be located to the south of the first two sites, accompanying 150 spaces. Rotellini said if it does rain during the event, it’s unlikely to use the second and third areas as crowd numbers will be dampened.
In addition to setting up and roping off the parking areas, the PGA is insured up to $10 million, is set to acquire all permits, will bring in public restrooms and trash containers which will be cleaned at the end of each day, and have the necessary number of shuttle buses available to allow for 10 minutes between trips.
Rotellini said he and Trudeau have had discussions on repairing and restoring the meadow for any damage beyond the normal wear and tear expected from the activity that week. He said the property will be video recorded before the land is used to resolve any problems.
“We are the PGA tour. We do things the right way,” said Rotellini, saying the PGA hopes to create a working relationship with Belmont so when the tour hopefully returns – the Senior Players Championship will be in other locations in 2016 and 2017 – “we can rekindle those partnerships.”
Trudeau said she had discussed the proposal with Belmont Town Counsel George Hall, who judged that there didn’t appear to be a conflict using conservation land, granted to the town via state charter, for this activity.
Commissioner Margaret Velie asked if it wouldn’t be prudent to request a review with the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs “because it is conservation land.”
In addition, she expressed concern for restoring the land and the possible release of pollution by the vehicles while on the meadow for up to six days.
Following on Velie’s line, David Webster said Rock Meadow was created “for passive recreation uses,” and by approving the plan, “how do tell our neighbors they can’t use the meadow for another uses?”
“This will set a bad precedence. What’s next? Soccer fields? Dog parks?” he said.
But Commission Chair James Roth said he didn’t see any long-term problems from having the vehicles on the site as the “hard and firm” soil is similar to farmland “just that we’re growing grass.”
For Trudeau, the concerns of conservation and possibly opening the area for other activity were trumped by the desperate financial state the commission finds itself. She noted that Belmont is an outlier from surrounding communities as it does not fund the Conservation Commission – what she called “our zero budget” – to pay for the necessary upkeep of the land.
“We’re in a tight spot, and there is no willingness by Town Meeting to fund us,” said Trudeau.
The PGA’s Rotellini reiterated that through the Tour’s “charitable side” that gives to locales where events take place, a donation to fund two years of necessary mowing – approximately $2,000 – could be forthcoming.
“That’s what interests us,” he said.
When it appeared that the commissioners were evenly split 2-2 on the measure – with Miriam Weil joining Roth willing to vote to approve the plan – Commissioner Charles Chiang arrived and immediately voted “yes” to move the plan forward.
The plan now goes to the town where a contract is expected by April 28.