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Town considers purchase of Gazebo Park

Date: 5/9/2011

May 9, 2011

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

WILBRAHAM — Voters at the May 16 town meeting will be asked to approve the purchase of Gazebo Park from the United Congregational Church at 500 Main St., with money for the land acquisition from Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds.

"That is the proposal at this time," John Pearsall, director of Planning and Community Preservation, told Reminder Publications.

Attorney Michael Haslett, Wilbraham's town counsel, has looked over the proposed land purchase and has told the town that CPA funds can be used toward the land if it is purchased with the intent of maintaining it as open space, Pearsall explained.

CPA monies are specifically raised by the town through tax for the purpose of funding projects that normally would not be included in the fiscal budget. Once the money is raised, the Conservation Commission solicits proposals for projects, reviews those proposals and appropriates funds to those it deems most appropriate.

Ten percent of the funding must go to preserving open space, another 10 percent must be appropriated to historical preservation projects and another 10 percent must go toward affordable housing.

The state offers a partial match of the funds raised by the town. That percentage is projected to be 28 percent in fiscal year 2012 (FY12), according to Pearsall.

"When the town passed this, the idea was to create a dedicated revenue stream for projects that normally there wasn't the money to do and otherwise would require an override [of Proposition 2 1/2]," Pearsall said.

Because of the specificity of the purposes for this money, it cannot be transferred for use in other funds or budgets, such as public safety or the school budget, he added.

The Board of Selectmen agreed to purchase the land in February after the church came to the town with the proposal.

"Originally, the church had surplus property and told us they would prefer that the town use it," Pearsall said. "If the town didn't want it, they would have put it on the market as what could have been two residential lots, based on the zoning there. The town agreed it would prefer to have the park remain open green space in the center of town as opposed to having two new residential buildings."

Pearsall said the town plans to leave the space relatively unchanged and have it available for community events.

"I think people want to keep it being used the way it is now," he said. "It's a place where people can gather for events or just go to relax and read a book. It can also be a very good spot for a farmers' market."

Some changes to the property will occur if the town is able to secure grant money through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help control flooding issues that have occurred at the location, however.

"This is a situation that has changed a lot since the beginning of the project. After the town decided to purchase the land, we got more input from our Engineering Department in town and they told us there is a significant flooding issue on the back end of that land. There is a stream channel and a small amount of wetlands there," Pearsall said.

That project would most likely involve some piping and drainage and a detention basin, he added. After that work is done the park will be re-graded and landscaped.

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