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Taming Outgrowth: Commission Focuses on Regulating Fitzgerald Property Use

Taming Outgrowth: Commission Focuses on Regulating Fitzgerald Property Use

The Commission on the Use of Publicly Owned Property, or CUPOP, is working to regulate some of the processes to manage the use of the community gardens and the Fitzgerald Tract walking trail. The town-owned property, located at the intersection of Center and Beecher roads, is a popular meeting spot for fans of passive recreation. Many residents like to walk or jog along the fields and woods, or come out for bird watching and other outdoor pursuits. Part of the blue trail system runs perpendicular to the property, and opens it up to the larger trail system.

Community gardens: The western part of the property has community garden plots, which residents can rent for $20 per season to grow flowers and vegetables or other produce. Most of the vegetable gardens are fenced and locked, but some gardeners cultivate for the pleasure of all, and leave their plots open for the public to enjoy.

The community gardens were started in 1975, said Lor Ferrante, vice chairman of CUPOP. There are some 100 plots, the majority of which are being cultivated. Most renew the next spring. There are running water stations and compost and wood chips available to gardeners. Andy and Vera Stack have been overseeing the community gardens for the town.

In the past few years, however, there has been an increase in memorial benches along the walking trails, and, most recently, a gardener installed a memorial rose garden for his deceased wife, complete with granite benches. Although he sought permission from the Board of Selectmen, they had not much to base a decision on, as there are no regulations in place.

This development had some people alarmed. “The Fitzgerald Tract needs more careful oversight,” wrote Amey Marrella in an open letter to the Board of Selectmen last May. First Selectman Ellen Scalettar agreed. “Maybe it is time for a more formal approach,” she said at the time.

The Board of Selectmen asked CUPOP to take on that task and agreed to institute a moratorium on the establishment of new memorials (“markersˮ) until the commission has progressed with its recommendations. Selectmen asked for a report back by March 1. Since it has been charged, the commission has walked the property, heard from stakeholders and reached out to other land-use commissions.

It is working to put together a set of guidelines for the community gardens, a new rental agreement and specs for memorial benches. For instance, the commission would recommend keeping the gardens organic and pesticide-free. It is recommending instituting a clean-up deposit for those cases when a garden is not maintained or trash left behind. It has talked about the fencing, trying to find a balance between uniformity and individual choice.  The commission has talked about establishing a three-member committee to oversee the community gardens and report back to CUPOP. At the end of the day, it’s up to the Board of Selectmen to adopt any of the recommendations, Ferrante said.

Gardeners are allowed to drive to the community gardens from the general parking lot in order to load and unload, but nobody checks why people are driving along that trail. Occasionally, drivers are going too fast for conditions. The commission proposes posting more visible signage at the entrance.

As far as the ice rink is concerned, it cannot be expanded in that location, as some people have suggested, Ferrante said. It abuts the parking lot and there are wetlands on the other side. If the town wants a bigger ice rink, it needs to find another location for it.

Ferrante said the town acquired the property back in the day to allow for an expansion of the town center, should it become necessary. That is why no conservation easement was placed on it.

Serving on the commission are Kim Hynes, chairman; Lor Ferrante, vice chairman; Teri Schatz, Marty Halprin, Michael Maoz and Marc Keslow. “We had a lot of people send letters and come to meetings, Ferrante said. “Everybody has a different vision.” One thing, however, united them all. “People are very passionate about keeping it for passive recreation,” she said. Woodbridge is a town without sidewalks, she pointed out, adding that these trails allow people to take a walk in a safe place, especially for an aging population. “We are trying to maintain the rural nature of the community,” she said, “and to address people’s need to enjoy natureˮ.

By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent

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