norton rail trail

The Norton rail trail bike path.

NORTON — Residents at Monday’s fall annual town meeting supported several money requests, including one for a long-planned rail-trail recreation project.

Ninety-four residents turned out to the meeting in the high school auditorium.

They approved $700,000 for land and easements for the rail-trail through Norton and Mansfield, though a few homeowners vehemently opposed it.

In Norton, the trail would be near North Washington, Cobb, Briggs and Crane streets as well as Arrowhead and Johnson drives.

Some residents on North Washington Street urged voters to reject the funding request.

Katherine Conway said she would lose the first 11 feet of her front yard from the road by eminent domain, which equals /3,000 square feet. The taking would be needed to eliminate a curve near her home.

Conway lives in a house dating to 1795 that is one of the few remaining 18th century homes in town. North Washington Street was named after George Washington around the time he was president. She also was concerned she could lose old trees and other plantings.

“We shouldn’t be interfering with historic properties,” Conway said.

She advocated for engineers to redesign the section of the trail to keep it in the rail bed and off of North Washington.

Another resident of the street, Fred Briggs, also criticized the planning.

“They’re taking half of my front yard away,” Briggs said, mentioning his septic system is on that 25 feet of property.

Briggs noted eminent domain allows civil suits.

“It’s going to cost the town a lot more,” he warned, mentioning reduced property values will also yield less taxes.

Sandy Ollerhead, chair of the town’s alternative transportation committee, which has been working on the project, told residents planning has been ongoing since 2013, with several public hearings and letters to abutters.

One intention is to keep bikes off busy North Washington, which has a lot of truck traffic.

“This is a well-known, well-thought out plan,” Ollerhead said.

Most residents sided with proponents, who said the designers have been meeting with concerned residents to alleviate their concerns.

Town Manager Michael Yunits said the $5 million mostly state and federally-funded project is 75 percent designed, and if a deadline to complete the design isn’t met, funding could be in jeopardy.

“We owe it to ourselves and our children and future generations,” Chris Keyes said, adding that the trail on the historic rail path would bring health benefits to users and boost the local economy.

Residents at an October 2019 town meeting supported the trail.

The other town meeting issue that led to somewhat lengthy debate was a petition article from William Francis of Plain Street, who persuaded voters to amend a bylaw to extend from five to seven years the time nine homes have to hook up to a sewer line.

Francis said homes on one side of the street don’t have access to the line but he and eight other homes face an “outrageous” $100 a day fine if they don’t pay thousands of dollars to connect.

“I think it’s only fair,” Francis said. “We need two years more to recover from this devastating pandemic.”

Water and sewer commissioners opposed a change, and commissioner Steve Bishop said five years was longer than similar communities, but the petitioner’s request passed by a 37-28 vote.

In other business, the budget for the fiscal year that started July 1 was increased by about $765,000. The schools received $458,000 for transportation, the police department $52,000 for overtime and new hires, and the fire department $75,000 for overtime.

A total of $383,952 for building and equipment items was supported, including for a minibus for school athletics, school technology displays, two highway department trucks, and two police cruisers.

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