Waltham Voices: End inappropriate use of park land
Part of the mission of the Waltham Land Trust is to ensure that our natural resources are permanently safeguarded, even after they have been acquired and set aside as protected open space. Currently, there is a serious threat to the protected status of part of Prospect Hill Park.
Waltham News Tribune
By the Waltham Land Trust Board of Directors
Posted Apr. 14, 2015 at 10:00 AM
Part of the mission of the Waltham Land Trust is to ensure that our natural resources are permanently safeguarded, even after they have been acquired and set aside as protected open space. Currently, there is a serious threat to the protected status of part of Prospect Hill Park. This column aims to make the public more aware of this threat, and to ask our elected officials to remove it.
There is a large communications tower on the side of Prospect Hill, just outside of Prospect Hill Park. The owner has begun the permit process to build a new tower on the site because the existing one is allegedly in deteriorating condition. The Waltham Land Trust firmly opposes this new construction due to the severe impacts on Prospect Hill Park.
Aside from the visual blight caused by a structure situated so close to park property, the most severe impact on the park concerns the access road. The tower sits in the corner of a five-acre parcel of land that contains a very steep cliff. The bottom of the cliff is accessible by city roads, but vehicles can only reach the tower site at the top of the cliff by driving through Prospect Hill Park. Therefore, all construction and maintenance vehicles have been and will continue to drive through the park. This represents a serious safety concern for park visitors, in addition to detracting from the enjoyment of all that the park has to offer.
According to documents filed with the Zoning Board of Appeals, this use of the park as a service access for the tower began in 1962, as the result of an informal arrangement between the owner of the tower and then-mayor Austin Rhodes. Based on this arrangement, the owner of the tower then proceeded to build a driveway on park land. The only purpose of this driveway (now identified as the Whitney Trail on park maps) is to access the privately owned tower site. The specific terms of this informal agreement were never written down, never signed, and never discussed or voted on in the City Council. This is in sharp contrast to Polaroid’s contemporaneous acquisition of an easement to use parkland for its private purposes. The Polaroid easement was granted using the proper process – action by the City Council, approval of the state legislature, filing with the registry.
The original purpose of the access road for the communications tower can be inferred from the 1962 building permit for the tower. This permit was issued for the construction of a 75-foot tower for “personal use for radio communications.” Therefore, the driveway was to be used only by the owner of the tower for personal use. In the intervening years, however, the tower has been enlarged twice to its present height of 293 feet, and the use has been converted from personal use by an individual to commercial use by numerous antenna owners who rent space on the tower from the owner.
This conversion has taken place without building permits, without approval by any city departments, and without approval by the City Council.
With this change in use, Prospect Hill Park is now being used as a driveway for commercial customers of the tower. If the construction of a new replacement tower is allowed, there will be even more commercial customers and therefore even more commercial traffic in the park.
Prospect Hill Park was established over 120 years ago by the citizens and taxpayers of the time. It was their vision that the park would always be protected from external encroachments and would be available for the enjoyment of future generations. If the city of Waltham continues to allow this dangerous and illegitimate use of park land for the private financial gain of one property owner, it will be dishonoring the memory of those forward-thinking citizens of past generations who bequeathed this spectacular park property to us. We have an obligation to ensure that the park is available in as unspoiled condition as possible for the enjoyment by future generations of Waltham residents and visitors.
The Waltham Land Trust calls on the city’s elected and appointed officials to put an end to this inappropriate use of park land. The property owner has had over 50 years to profit from this tower, partly through the abuse of our city’s park. Enough is enough. The owner should be informed that access to this commercial site through Prospect Hill Park will no longer be tolerated. The existing driveway should be converted to a hiking trail that is accessible to all park visitors.
The Waltham Land Trust is a nonprofit group creating a legacy of land conservation in Waltham by promoting, protecting, restoring and acquiring open space. Board members George Darcy III and Stephen Rourke, who are also members of the City Council, did not participate in the Waltham Land Trust discussion and vote on this matter.