Less is More Appeals to Many at Grove Playground Public Meeting

Photo: The Activitas team, Jonathan Charwick (left) and Patrick Maguire, at the public meeting at the Beech Street Center.

Paths, trees, reconfigured ball fields, soccer field, exercise stations, new parking and tennis courts.

For Dalton Road’s Deborah Lockett, the question isn’t that these activities and features are “good things” (most are, she said) to be included in master plan for a renovated Grove Street Playground in East Belmont that was presented before 60 residents at a public meeting held Monday, April 13, at the Beech Street Center.

But for Lockett, what needs to be asked by the town, community, and the firm designing the new plan is if it is all too much for one park to incorporate.

“Any report that is written must identify when [the playground] reaches maximum usage,” said Lockett, a Precinct 7 Town Meeting Member.

The question and others were presented to the town’s consultants from the landscaping and planning firm Activitas as the Dedham-based company prepares to present a nearly finalized landscaping design as well as an estimated cost for revitalizing Grove Street, which has been the long-time home to Belmont Youth Baseball (with three diamonds) and Belmont Youth Soccer.

“I can be back here in about a month with an updated plan,” Jonathan Charwick, the Activitas associate who creating the landscape blueprint and design for the playground, told the Belmontonian after the meeting.

And from what he and Patrick Maguire, Activitas’ president, heard, the less, the better according to the audience.

For many of the abutters in attendance, even small improvements such as walking paths taking residents from one section of the park and formal parking, would take away the “rural” nature of the playground.

But for Maguire, “there are no issues that can not be overcome” as he presented two conceptional plans to the audience. In both, the designs were there to improve this “great” park that had become “rough around the edges.”

The first, dubbed Option 1, was the clear favorite of those in attendance. In the design (see the plan here and below):

  • the baseball fields would stay in their current location but with temporary fencing that will allow for multiple uses in the baseball off-season,
  • a removable double batting cage that is placed into the park’s prominent slope,
  • a new small hill that will create a slightly larger sledding hill during winter,
  • a reorganized playground along Grove Street.

In addition, Maguire pointed out there will be paved walking paths to be used by parents using strollers, children on bikes and older residents to transverse the playground; specified parking spaces on Dalton Road, Grosvenor Street and Foster Road; four exercise/fitness stations along the paths; and entry “plazas” that will provide seating.

The second option, which suggested more significant changes to the parkland – a 43 space parking lot at Dalton and Grosvenor, a new playground that would take two tennis courts and the ballparks would be cramped onto land that has two fields – was universally rejected by the residents attending the meeting.

Residents questioned ranged from where to store the removable fences (that will be determined in the future, according to Belmont Department of Public Works Director Jay Marcotte), how will the improvements will be paid (nothing set aside as of now, said Town Administrator David Kale, but likely it will come from a combination of funding from the Community Preservation Committee, the Capital Budget Committee and from public/private contributions) and if there could be a dedicated source of money for upkeep and maintenance.

There was also a request that the design does not have barriers such as bushes or seating as it attracts “sex and drinking” in the past.

“We will attempt to make sure there is no congregating or conjugating,” said Maguire.

A few abutters felt that adding walking paths, permanent parking, and exercise areas would bring the park “have an urban feel” that takes away from the “rural-ness” they had hoped to see.

For Charwick, a path would prevent the field from reverting to a “muddy” area.

Others suggested a stronger police presence in the area would serve as a better parking control rather than creating actual spaces.

After the meeting, Charwick said taking the residents’ suggestions (“keeping it as green as possible”) while attempting to enhance the park’s “programs” – be it youth sports or for just the casual visitor – “will take a balance of what we know works.”

Whatever the outcome, Lockett wants to see any master plan have specific language on how the town will determine when the park “hits its max” of the number of activities in Grove Street.
“And unless it’s in black and white, on paper, we will be back with the same concerns that began this,” said Lockett, referring to Youth Baseball’s initial attempt to place the batting cage on the site.

“Unless it’s written down, then there’s room for something else being brought into the playground,” said Lockett.

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