The Haggetts Pond Trail (Dave Copeland/Andover News)

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Andover will hold a special town meeting next month to the tune of about $48,000 to resolve a dispute centered on how the Town uses a $500,000 state grant.

A group of residents opposing the Town’s plan to pave the Haggetts Pond Trail forced a special town meeting by petitioning the select board. Each of the three articles on the March 11 warrant is aimed at changing local laws to make the paving illegal. The Town says the project would improve accessibility and prevent the trail from being washed away in heavy rainstorms.

With an election following just a few weeks later, we asked the four candidates running for two open select board seats on March 26 where they stood on the issue.

Full Statements From Candidates (In Alphabetical Order)

Kevin Coffey

The divisive impasse regarding development of Haggetts Pond trail might well have been avoided with more proactive, inclusive, and transparent communications from Town officials and committees. Both access for those with disabilities and protection of watershed resources are hugely important to most everyone in Andover, including very rational people on both sides of the current debate. It should not have been difficult at the start to anticipate the range of reactions such a development proposal would stimulate, and early would have been the time to convene a small, focused working group with diverse views to frame the many factors and range of choices we have for achieving both goals. Allowing some modest amount of state grant or other government windfall money to drive our decisions is the tail wagging the dog. I wish we could hit “pause,” identify and consider acting on some elements agreeable to almost everyone, and create the opportunity missed earlier to better define and build broader support for a whole plan.

Now that we are on a legally-required path to a Special Town Meeting to decide this, our Andover Commission on Disability, Conservation Commission, and Planning Board, as well as the STM Warrant Article petitioners, should provide their fact-based analyses and summary recommendations in a format and appropriate level of detail appropriate for citizens to consider (a two or three page narrative each), well before the March 11 STM. In parallel, I hope there might still be discussions to surface agreeable compromises.

Ellen Keller

Andover is fortunate to have so much open space. Smart planning and generous benefactors have provided today’s’ residents with an abundance of natural trails, woodlands and wetlands and we are happier and healthier for it. Fundamentally, I do support the town’s overriding objective of making the natural environment accessible to people of all abilities. It really saddens me that we have fellow residents that are unable to enjoy our natural environment because of physical limitations, especially since we have so much to offer.

I firmly believe that the proposal to make a portion of the Haggetts Pond Rail Trail accessible was well-intentioned. No one set out to create problems or anger residents. The goal was simply to share our natural bounty with more residents and comply with State Law regarding the accessibility of open spaces. The land is already public…but sadly it cannot be enjoyed by the full public without some modification.

I also understand that the dispute over this project is well-intended. Residents love the area and fear that this work will spoil it. People are concerned and confused by the many different interpretations of the standards and codes. And, as is typical with a project of this scope, as it moves through the design and approval phases, changes are made. The designs are adjusted and altered to meet whatever standards or regulations are in effect. But this only further confuses residents, seemingly proving to them that the original concept was fundamentally flawed. This is not the case, but it is what people have come to believe.

Clearly there is a major failure in communication. The original project concept was not vetted sufficiently with those that consider themselves resident stakeholders. Their concerns are serious, and they feel they have been ignored. It really upsets me that residents felt they had no choice but to force a special town meeting in an attempt to address this disconnect. It will cost the town tens of thousands of dollars to hold this meeting, and we will have only “winners” and “losers” when we should have a collective project of which we can all be proud.

Moreover, the articles drafted for consideration at this Special Town Meeting are fundamentally flawed. A zoning article is not the way to address this particular problem and, as drafted, if approved, the unintended consequences of the articles will negatively affect huge tracts of both public and private land throughout town. The petitioners did not intend that to be the case, but sadly it is. Once again, we will waste time and money debating articles that solve nothing.

Is an 8’ strip of asphalt really worth this awful battle? It has been suggested by some that the project may not absolutely require asphalt paving, as long as the finished surface is “firm, stable, and slip resistant.” Asphalt paving may be the preference of official accessibility organizations, and some may believe that it is easier to maintain, but this must be balanced against the impact the installation of paving has on the environment and our sanity. The design could be modified to choose a compromise that meets most of our collective objectives. Concessions will be necessary on both sides, but this negotiation is critical. Therefore, I believe the project should be paused to seriously reconsider the concerns of all parties.

George Thorlin

I believe that most differences can be remediated through effective communications and good faith open dialogue. I believe that in this case both the Town and the petitioners could have arrived at a mutually agreeable solution probably some months ago or certainly prior to, or at, the Joint Meeting held last night.  These opportunities seem to have been wasted, and now we are embarking on a path where nobody really wins. 

Governing is not dictating, and that is what I saw last night from the Andover Select Board.  First, the Board complained bitterly about being put in a position to hold a Special Town Meeting… the inconvenience with Annual Town Meeting on the horizon, the expense, the short time to prepare, and of course, the three flawed Articles under consideration.  It was only because of Mass law that they were forced to hold a Special Town Meeting they said.

Then it was the turn of the Petitioners to explain their articles.  Yes, they admitted perhaps they were incorrectly worded and overreaching, but they seemed open to town legal guidance and making amendments as appropriate.  In the end, the Petitioner of Article 1 directly stated that his article was only meant to change the pathway from asphalt to crushed stone or some other similar substrate. He would also be open to shortening the asphalt pathway so as not to run the entire 1.6 mile length.

Rather than embrace the moment, and indicating some willingness to negotiate their differences, the Select Board said it was impossible to amend the articles at this late date, and needed to push forward on a vote that night by the six or so boards and committees in attendance…  a veritable Army high on the stage.

In the end, all boards and committees voted to disapprove all three articles.  I counted roughly 34 people that voted… that would be 102 to 0 votes to disapprove.  Not one person on that stage rose to Seize the Night and Govern… only dictate.

Ellen Townson

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