BY JENNIFER SOLIS
---- — WEST NEWBURY — A proposal to construct a new boat launch and fishing pier near the Rocks Village Bridge hit a snag when members of the local garden club objected because it would mean altering a spot they view as a gateway into West Newbury.
The Open Space Committee recently voted to place a plan for redevelopment of the Ferry Lane triangle on a warrant for a Special Town Meeting next month, chairman Steve Greason told selectmen last week. The town-owned triangle is located between Church and Bridge streets near the Merrimack River.
But at the same meeting two representatives of the garden club spoke against the plan as it is currently configured because it calls for moving an existing “Welcome to West Newbury” sign and surrounding prized peony bushes located on the tip of the triangle in order to make room for a paved parking lot to accommodate the new boating facilities.
Greason stressed that preserving and enhancing access to the Merrimack River for public use is a stated goal of the town’s Open Space and Recreation Plan. So his committee was pleased to learn the state has targeted revenues raised from a new saltwater fishing license program toward the same goal.
With the existing boat launch and surrounding area in poor condition, West Newbury is primed to tap some of these funds and transform the area into a beautiful park, the chairman said, noting that the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game has identified the OSC’s new “Ferry Landing Park” as a “high priority” project.
After meeting with Jack Sheppard of Fish and Game, the OSC developed plans to construct the new boating and fishing facilities on a half-acre of state-owned shoreline along Church Street. Included in the redevelopment plan would be the permanent closure of a portion of Church Street and the rerouting of traffic to Bridge Street using Ferry Lane. The closed portion of Church Street — along with the tip of the town-owned triangle — would be turned into parking for the vehicles and trailers of boaters and fishermen.
If the town would donate its land for parking, the state would pay for the entire project, with West Newbury only asked to cover future maintenance costs, an amount that Greason believed to be “minimal.”
He noted that several large shade trees on the triangle would remain, creating a nice spot for picnicking. “The garden club could add landscaping, and the fishing pier, perhaps, could feature planters with an irrigation system. The Historical Commission could add a kiosk featuring photographs from long ago with a plaque honoring the late Sue Follansbee,” said Greason. Follansbee, a long-time resident and local historian, passed away last month.
The OSC chairman noted that both harbormaster Jim Riley and director Gary Bill of the Department of Public Works were supportive of the plan, which, if approved, would take two to three years to properly permit and complete.
“If it’s done right, it could be that postcard image that people have of West Newbury,” Greason said.
But the women from the garden club disagreed, arguing that having a paved parking lot as the first image greeting cars coming over the Rocks Village Bridge into West Newbury did not create the kind of beautiful, pastoral view of the town that their club works so hard to preserve.
The peonies are original to the town — hybridized and grown here, the women explained. They worried that the plants would die because well-established plants typically don’t transplant well.
“We’ve spent a lot of money … we’ve spent a lot of effort,” they told selectmen.
Greason said that, unfortunately, given regulations governing handicap accessibility and the need to accommodate for all types of boats, the variety of ways the parking lot can be oriented is limited.
Selectmen Chairman Bert Knowles Jr. recalled that “a number of years ago” the town rejected another plan for boating improvements in that area. He recommended garnering more public consensus for the project over the winter first and then bringing a plan to Town Meeting for a vote next spring.
But given the high priority the state has rated this project, Greason was hesitant to hold off too long. “We are competing with other towns to get this money,” he reminded selectmen. He felt it was important to give voters a chance to weigh in before the opportunity is lost.
Greason had made plans to attend a garden club meeting and agreed to revisit the issue of parking lot orientation with Sheppard.
The topic will likely be discussed again at the OSC’s next meeting Wednesday. The committee meets on the third Wednesday of the each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Second Floor Hearing Room of the 1910 Town Office Building, 381 Main St.