AYER — Selectmen Chairman Jim Fay introduced former selectman Murray Clark at Tuesday night’s selectmen’s meeting as “my good friend and next-door neighbor. Like E.F. Hutton, when he speaks, everyone should listen.”
Clark and former Planning Board member Tom Gibbons pitched the selectmen on what they loosely call “Plan B.” State Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Mullan has repeatedly knocked the selectmen’s attempts to build a $4 million parking lot atop the “Rail Trail” bike path parking lot. MassDOT has faulted the location as being several hundred feet away, and across busy Main Street, from the Depot Square train stop, which is not handicapped accessible.
So, on a parallel track, Clark and Gibbons recommended selectmen have a backup plan that would locate a train station and parking facility on West Main Street. Mullan assured selectmen on Feb. 28 that in any event, the longstanding Depot Square stop is not slated to be shut down.
Clark said the priority concern is “we do not want to lose the $3.2 million earmark” set aside by former congressman Martin Meehan for Ayer’s commuter-rail parking needs. But the money is not location specific, meaning a parking project could slide west of the Ayer’s center on the Fitchburg rail line tracks.
Gibbons enumerated a six-item to-do list to get the Plan B engine in motion, including a request of MassDOT to study available privately owned West Main parcels targeted before in 2007. Gibbons getting the Shirley selectmen and Devens MassDevelopment officials on board to “solve this regional issue.”
Gibbons suggested communication with the MBTA for a handicapped-accessible train platform. “I think you ought to push for the T to pay for it. To leave that as it is would be an injustice.”
In February, Mullan told the selectmen to refile their $800,000 state funding request to show clearly how the board’s proposal benefits commuters only. Mullan warned that transportation dollars are not to be purposed to fuel an economic renaissance downtown.
Gibbons also suggested a one-stop file of all documents related to the project, something that he said is very catch what catch can presently.
Gibbons asked that the selectmen’s agenda contain a followup discussion on their proposal in 30 days. “At this time it’s the first time I’ve laid eyes on it,” responded Fay. “It’s a very good document. With your indulgence, we’ll take it under advisement.”
Fay suggested the board will have news to report on their parking efforts in any event at their April 5 meeting. “Thank you for the time and effort on what I’ll say the reapproach.”
Clark pushed for a commitment to be heard again in 30 days, “Were not talking about action. We’re talking about an update.”
Fay answered, “On April 5, I think it will be addressed in everybody’s mind. I’d want to have at least a decision. Let’s read it and formulate an approach, whatever it may be.”
Fay said two-three approaches may be a good thing. “Now we have the one poker in the fire. Let’s put another in the fire.”
Gibbons pushed for at least letters to go out to Shirley, MassDevelopment, MassDOT, and the regional transit authority MART. “That doesn’t take a lot of effort to get a letter out…We hope you take some action certainly within the next two weeks.”
“As soon as the board is ready, we can get back to you as soon as possible,” said Fay.
“Did you intend action tonight,” asked Selectman Gary Luca. “That would have been the best result,” laughed Clark.
As far as compiling all related documents together in one location regarding the decadelong Ayer parking needs study, Selectman Carolyn McCreary said “I can contribute to that. I have lots of material from the charettees, the Cecil and McMahon reports before that….I’ve been following it very closely for at least the last four-five years. Whatever I have I’ll contribute to that.”
Fay closed by saying, “I resisted knocking on Murray’s door to hear what he had to say and I appreciate you going through channels. This issue is the number 1 issue for this board.”
“See you on the fifth, then,” said Gibbons.
In the meantime, McCreary said George Kahale of the Montachusett Regional Planning Council is preparing cost estimates for building a train station on West Main Street.
Ironically, a question from the audience was whether or not the “Plan B” was on file anywhere for citizens to review the counter proposal. “You talking about the reading copy we suggested?” said Gibbons, who took the question as an opportunity to drill home his point. “And that’s the reason…. so everyone has one location to go in.”