AYER -- A group of residents is sending a petition to Boston this week in the hope of resolving the dilemma at the Ayer Commuter Rail Station, thrust into the spotlight on Election Day after a private landowner erected a fence around his property.
The fence around Depot Square appeared to be the result of a dispute over negotiating an appropriate path to the commuter rail from the Ayer Rail Trail parking lot, which is planned for an expansion.
The fence directed people to walk along the edges of landowner Phil Berry's property, passing near the tracks before reaching the commuter platform. Berry has since taken down a portion of the fence, allowing the public to cut more directly through his property.
MART claims that Berry's deed to the land requires him to provide a passenger building with a waiting room, ticket office and bathrooms.
Now, more than 300 people have signed a petition demanding that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority "take prompt action" and enforce the deed requirements. The petition is addressed to Massachusetts Department of Transportation Secretary Richard Davey, along with MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott.
"Ayer is an environmental justice community that works hard to improve its downtown and has in fact weathered the economic downturn quite well," the petition reads, "yet Ayer Commuter Station and access routes are inadequate, substandard and at times a risk to user safety.
The petition claims that the property owner has violated the deed's public access requirement, at times providing unreliable or restricted access.
In addition to an indoor ticket office and public restrooms, the petition also asks for public access for cars and emergency vehicles that pick up passengers right next to the platform.
"We resolve that MBTA ensure the property owners immediately comply with their deed requirements associated with public access via Depot Square and that the MBTA work with the property owner to design and construct improved access to the commuter rail platform for perpetuity," the petition states.
Berry could not be reached for comment.
Jeremy Callahan, a member of the Ayer Rail Station Advocates group that created the petition, said the group received signatures at the commuter rail stop and the transfer station.
"People waiting for the trains were eager to sign if they thought it might help get things solved," he said. The group collected the signatures within a week.
Former selectman Carolyn McCreary said the goal of the petition is to have the whole project "finally move forward."
The town received $3.2 million in federal funds for the expansion of the commuter rail parking lot in 2012, money that can't be used until there is an appropriate pedestrian path from the parking to the station.
McCreary said the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority came up with the design for the project.
"They've been working with the federal government, and it all got hung up with finding a route to the station across Berry's property," she said.
MassDOT spokesman Kelly Smith said in an email that the MBTA is working with the property owner to resolve the issues raised.
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