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Snafu Stops Work at City Meadow

Town encroaches on private property


By Wiley Wood

Construction on the City Meadow project was going according to plan. It was the first week of September, and a crew from SumCo Eco-Contracting, under contract from the town, was building a gravel path down the hillside below Haystack Pizza. The riprap imported by them extended as far as the Royal Arcanum Building, when Richard Coker, owner of 24 Greenwoods Road West, an abutting property, came onto the site to tell SumCo they were trespassing on his land.

Work stopped, and Town Hall was consulted. Coker was right. As Sue Dyer reported at a selectmen’s meeting on Sept. 5, the plans SumCo was using were incorrect. The gravel path, intended to skirt the wetland at the bottom of City Meadow, encroached on the land of three private individuals with property along Route 44: David Torrey, owner of the Haystack Pizza building; Coker, whose yellow structure is often referred to as the “antique store”; and Robert Pallone, owner of the Royal Arcanum. A retaining wall that separates the floor of City Meadow from street grade figured as the property line on the construction plans. In fact, the town’s land started 35 feet out from the retaining wall.

A flurry of consultations with the land owners followed. Torrey and Pallone quickly gave the town assurances that they would sign a construction easement for work to proceed on their land and even give the town a permanent easement so that the path could stay on its original course. But Coker, who lives in New Marlboro, Mass., was angry, and he had plans of his own for the lower portion of his property.

At a special meeting of the Inland Wetlands Commission on Sept. 7, Chairman Hartley Mead listened to reports from a representative of SumCo and a member of the City Meadow Committee before saying: “There is nothing in our blue book to tell us what to do when there’s a classic screw-up such as this.”

The commission decided that a new survey was needed immediately, which SumCo agreed to arrange. It also charged First Selectman Sue Dyer with obtaining written permission from the landowners either to remediate their land or to use it as part of City Meadow. In the meantime, construction on that portion of the site would be suspended.

At a public meeting on Sept. 21, the situation was reported to be largely unchanged. Torrey and Pallone had given their written permission to the town to proceed, according to Molly Ackerley, a City Meadow Committee member. Coker had orally agreed that the town could remediate his land by returning it to grade, covering it with 12 to 14 inches of topsoil and seeding it with conservation mix, but he had not yet provided written permission for the town to do so. The construction plans, drawn up by Trinkaus Engineering, had been corrected to show the actual property lines. And thanks to Torrey’s generous permission to the town to run the gravel path across his land, the concept of a circular boardwalk with an exit at the park behind Haystack Pizza would be preserved, although with a somewhat shortened circuit.

Contacted by this paper on Sept. 22 and asked about the town’s mix-up, Coker said, “It’s not a big deal. We had a small problem, and they’re alleviating it.”

Photo by Wiley Wood.

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