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Council to vote April 19 on appropriations for Rail Trail project

Date: 4/11/2012

April 11, 2012

By Debbie Gardner

WESTFIELD —The City Council took half a step down the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail on April 5, unanimously approving the first reading of a land taking order necessary for a parking lot and public trail access, but keeping the corresponding funding appropriation in the Finance Committee.

During the reading of the Order of Taking for two easements from Shaker Farms Country Club "to provide public access to the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail," At Large City Councilor John Beltrandi II noted that the order was the "second piece" of the appropriation that had been left in the Finance Committee earlier in the meeting. He added that both pieces were necessary to insure that the rail trail project move forward.

Finance Committee Chair and Ward Five City Councilor Richard Onofrey Jr. assured Beltrandi and the other councilors that the funding appropriation —which seeks to transfer $106,000 from the city's Free Cash Undesignated account to the Engineering Department, Purchase of Services "with regard to the land at Shaker Farms Country Club for public access the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail" —would come out of committee for approval at the council's April 19 meeting, coinciding with the second reading of the Order of Taking.

Earlier that day City Engineer Mark Cresotti told Reminder Publications that initial work on phase one of the rail trail, which when completed would stretch from the Southwick town line to Little River —excluding the bridge — commenced on April 2 and should be completed in June. The land-taking appropriations under consideration by the City Council, he explained, were necessary because Shaker Farms Country Club owns half of the area designated for a 60-space parking lot for the trail.

"Local law requires that when [the city] is acquiring property, it must register it through imminent domain," Cressotti said, adding that even though the transfer between Shaker Farms and the city is a "friendly process," it has to follow the legal procedure.

"When the council votes, we will be able to start work on the parking lot," he said.

Cressotti further noted that the majority of the funding for Phase I construction of the rail trail came through a $1 million Gateway City Parks Program grant, which the city received on Jan. 17. He said approximately $300,00 in additional funding for the project would come the city's sewer improvement fund.

Cressotti called the rail trail "an exciting project that is important to the city, of which aspects will benefit residents, businesses and the community,"

In addition to the appropriations regarding land at Shaker Farms Country Club, Ward Two City Councilor James Brown, Ward Three City Councilor Peter Miller, Ward Five City Councilor Richard Onofrey Jr and At Large City Councilor Agma Maria Sweeney submitted a resolution in support of Transportation Enhancements, Recreational Trails and Safe Routes to Schools, a program that funds projects such as the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail administered by the federal government.

"All we are asking is for the federal government to try to fund something we are funding ourselves," Onofrey said, referring to the rail trail

Following the City Council meeting, Jeffrey LaValley, chairman of the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail, said he was very excited by the council's interest and support of the rail trail project.

"We're blazing a path forward for Westfield and that is very exciting," he said.

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