Published in the March 24, 2017 edition.


LYNNFIELD — Some Lynnfield residents are more than ready to take the next step in creating a miles-long recreational area that would begin across the street from the Galvin Middle School in Wakefield.

A citizens’ petition offered by the Friends of the Lynnfield Rail Trail will seek to have Town Meeting authorize the Lynnfield Board of Selectmen to enter into a lease of up to 99 years with the MBTA on behalf of the town.

The petition will appear as Article 24 on the annual Town Meeting warrant. This meeting will be held Monday, April 24 at 7:30 p.m. at Lynnfield Middle School, 505 Main St. A total of 29 articles have been approved for inclusion on the warrant, which was closed by the selectmen March 20.

Patrick Curley, 26 Locksley Rd., Lynnfield, who is a volunteer with the Friends of the Lynnfield Rail Trail, made the presentation at the board’s March 13 meeting. Prior to the presentation, Selectman Chris Barrett recused himself from the board and sat in the audience after explaining that his sister lives within 300 feet of the proposed rail trail. Although she is not a direct abutter, Barrett said he checked with the state Ethics Commission and was advised to recuse himself from this matter to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.

Citizens’ petitions are automatically included on the warrant provided they are turned in by the deadline with the required number of certified signatures by the Town Clerk and the signature page includes the full text of the petition to verify that each person endorsing it is fully aware of what is being signed.

Curley, who is a Wakefield elder affairs attorney, requested the endorsement of the remaining two selectmen, Chairman Phil Crawford and Dick Dalton. “Your endorsement will signal to town voters that the rail trail is good for Lynnfield and (provide) evidence to MassDOT that Lynnfield is ready to take the next step toward design completion and construction of the rail trail,” Curley said.

Crawford said the board does not endorse warrant articles at this stage. The board’s recommendations on all 29 warrant articles will be made at its Monday, April 10 meeting. Any recommendations not made during that meeting would be made during the board’s meeting that is held an hour prior to Town Meeting on April 24.

Article 24 seeks to have the town authorize the selectmen, in the name and behalf of the town, execute this lease with the MBTA “for all or any portion of the land, premises, easements, rights-of-way and other rights in Lynnfield comprising the former Newburyport Branch railroad right-of-way acquired by the MBTA by Order of Taking dated Feb. 16, 1977.”

The purpose of this lease would be for “establishing, constructing, operating and maintaining a multi-use rail trail, with related facilities and improvements, for non-motorized transportation, open space and recreation purposes including walking, running, road and mountain bicycling, wheelchairs, accessible cycling equipment, inline skating, scooters, tricycles, rolling backpacks, strollers, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and other forms of active and passive recreation and for all other purposes for which rail trails are now or hereafter may be used in the commonwealth.”

According to Curley, there are “no downsides” to passing this article at Town Meeting because doing so “does not bind the selectmen to sign a lease, does not bind the town to build the rail trail and does not appropriate any town funds.”

However, the benefits to approving this article at this stage are many, Curley stated, because doing so would provide “evidence that Lynnfield is serious about pursuing a rail trail, which improves Lynnfield’s potential to receive state or other funding for final design costs.”

Approval would also “advance the design of the rail trail without needless delays (and) improve Lynnfield’s ‘readiness factor,’ which allows for construction funding from MassDOT to be made available earlier than FY 2020. Lynnfield is on MassDOT’s STIP list for $7.1M to cover all construction costs.”

Curley listed six benefits to the town for endorsing the rail trail, which he said is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

“The Lynnfield Rail Trail will improve safety, especially for our town’s children; provide year-round access and recreation for all ages and abilities; boost home values; improve health and wellness; build social connections in town; and increase town pride,” he said.

Crawford said his “biggest concern” regarding this article was whether it meant “we’re committing to anything and of course, we’re not.”

Crawford’s other concern was “the insurance policy that is required when you do get a lease. Of course, I have no intention of signing a lease or to buy insurance until we know this rail trail project is going to move forward within this town. The Board of Selectmen doesn’t necessarily endorse the rail trail project at this time. We may say this article is fine, because it is noncommittal, but there are a lot of questions still to be answered on the rail trail project itself.”

Crawford added that the place for this discussion on those questions to occur would be the informational meeting being hosted by the Friends of the Lynnfield Rail Trail on Thursday, March 30 at 7 p.m. at the Lynnfield Middle School. A Q&A session will follow the group’s presentation at this meeting.

“As far as this article goes, it’s a citizens’ petition and we do have to put it on (the warrant). The Board of Selectmen does its recommendations after the close of the warrant in April,” Crawford said.

The proposed rail trail project is 4.4 miles long beginning on an abandoned rail bed across the street from the Galvin Middle School on Main Street in Wakefield. It traverses through Lynnfield for 2.5 miles, including about a half-mile through Reedy Meadow, and ends at the Peabody line.