What began as a plan to create an accessible community resource turned into a point of contention as around 20 residents of Schweitzer Crescent in Wellesley came to theSept. 7 Wellesley Township Council meeting to express their dissatisfaction with the possible placement of a new trail, which was in the development stages by the Wellesley Trail Association. After a petition was presented at the Council meeting and a public meeting held the following evening, the WTA has decided to rework their plan for the route of the Bast bush trail.
According to the members of the Schweitzer Crescent Homeowners Alliance who approached council Tuesday, homeowners were told upon purchase of their property that the space behind their homes was to be used for township maintenance of stormwater drainage systems, not a publicly accessible trail. Many of the homeowners say they have paid substantial premiums (they estimate the figure to be anywhere between $20,000 and $100,000) to allow them to keep the land behind their home as green space. Then they heard from sources that the WTA is going ahead with plans to build a trail within that space without first consulting the homeowners as to their opinion.
“When I asked, they said there was to be a green belt and an access road behind the home, and now we are being invited to a meeting to discuss surfacing for a new trail,” said Schweitzer Cres. resident John Cassano, who alongside other residents came to the meeting to clarify conflicting messages they have been receiving about just how far along the trail is in the development stages. “To discuss surfacing, you probably have an idea of length and width [of the trail] already, which has red flags going off in my mind.”
According to Murray Bremner, Chairman of the WTA, as well as Wellesley Township’s Chief Administrative Officer Susan Duke, the WTA began planning the Bast Bush trail in 2004, before the current homeowners had bought their properties. A notice from the WTA outlines that trail access was included in the Grandview Homes subdivision plan which was available for homeowners to see.
“They don’t want people to have public access on the walkways behind their house, they just want privacy,” said Duke at Tuesday’s meeting. “And you can appreciate that, but it might be too little too late. It’s not a new concept; it’s something that has been in the municipality for a long time.”
The delegation of residents continued to present an outline of their concerns, including, but not limited to the potential increase in dog traffic and consequently more environmental degradation, the lack of privacy that a trail in their backyards would create, the possibility of increased vandalism, graffiti and litter and the possibility of increased criminal activity in the area.
“Nature trails have a place, but that place is not immediately off of homeowner property,” said Cessano. “And we won’t pay tax dollars for something we do not want.”
Bremner said he hoped that local residents would come to the public meeting the following evening with an open mind and a willingness to negotiate.
“You might be able to stop the trail going across Schweitzer, but all the negative things that are happening now are not going to stop simply because there is not a trail there. And you might even be the people who benefit most from the trail, living so close to it. ”
Ultimately, council decided to defer the decision as to the fate of the trail until further inspection of the petition by township staff was completed and the two groups were able to meet publicly the following evening.
“The reason for deferring is so that we can take a closer look at the questions and situations that need clarification for us and for the delegates,” explained Wellesley Mayor Ross Kelterborn. “The intent of doing something in principle is to do exactly what is happening tonight. The council agrees with the possibility of having trails, however, we want to find out from those affected as to their feelings about the idea, then we consider both sides of the situation.”
At the public meeting the following evening, the same concerns were presented to members of the WTA and due to the amount of opposition the tentative plan to run a segment of the trail along Schweitzer Cres between the two flood ponds was withdrawn. At this time, the tentative plan for the trail includes an extension of Molesworth St, heading north on the township’s land across Campbell drain and into Bast bush.
“The WTA will be meeting again soon to go over the concerns presented and decide what our next step will be in continuing with the Bast bush trail,” said Bremner Thursday. “Our goal is to come up with a viable trail option, while soliciting input from the wider population, and present it to council so we will keep working on that.”