At a meeting next Wednesday, Quincy’s Conservation Commission will revisit an 10-year-old dispute over public access near the Neponset River.
Residents hope the meeting will result in waterfront facilities that they believe were promised to them years ago.
The dispute started with the development of a 280-unit apartment complex at 2 Hancock St. in 1999, a project that residents as well as the Neponset River Watershed Association felt would undermine the waterfront and public access to it.
In exchange for the complex, the developer and parties reached a settlement in 2005, requiring the developer to pay for an 8- to 10-foot-wide walkway that would stretch 1,540 feet along the river.
The settlement also called for a canoe- and kayak-launching ramp, benches, lighting, and an easement to allow public access to the site.
The Neponset Landing apartment complex opened in 2007, but to this day, the “walkway” is only a dirt path, overgrown with weeds.
Residents contend that the Conservation Commission never posted plans to discuss the walkway at a 2006 meeting, and they were excluded from the conversation.
As such, the picturesque benches, light-dotted river view, and canoe-launching ramp envisioned for the area dissolved into the four-foot-wide unpaved walkway, the residents say.
“They had a very confused meeting…and did not approve all of the provisions,” said the residents’ attorney, Bryan Stevens. “I don’t know why they did it. But they were not, in my recollection, thinking of Chapter 91 [which requires public access to a site like this], they were thinking only of the wetlands, and there was a view at that time that if it’s a wetlands area, the public shouldn’t be there.”
The commission also said that a boat launch would require a significant amount of dredging and deemed the project unfeasible.
After the meeting, the NRWA decided to exercise an option under the initial agreement to claim $100,000 in exchange for dropping the canoe launch plan. The association determined that a launch would not be feasible at that site, and now is seeking an alternative site.
“We expect that what should happen in Quincy is what happened in Milton landing, which was 71 units…but in Milton landing they negotiated with the town, they did improvements on their property and adjacent parcels,” Stevens said. ““Its not impossible.”
According to Stevens, public access is a larger concern for all of the city’s residents, as it provides one of the only areas of public access for majority of the city, he said.
Last August, a Norfolk Superior Court judge ruled that the Conservation Commission had violate the state's Open Meeting Law when it considered the matter in 2006. The commission was ordered to hold a new hearing, which will take place next Wednesday.
Residents are planning on going through with the conservation meeting in hopes of getting some of the things they initially agreed on, though Stevens isn’t sure if the developer, who sold the property in 2007, will go through with that discussion.
At a meeting last week, city councilors also discussed a desire to reassess the $100,000 that the NRWA received for a contractual obligation that councilors felt wasn’t truly impossible to complete.
“Our purpose it to say you’ve got this money, which is supposed to benefit the city of Quincy. What we want to see if how are you spending this money, and what are the benefits to the city of Quincy?” said Ward 5 Councilor Doug Gutro.
According to Janet Petkun, the Assistant City Solicitor, a resolution will most likely take more than one meeting, as the parties can't even agree on what to discuss.
Although the Conservation Commission only truly has jurisdiction over the wetlands aspect of the project, the open meeting will serve as a discussion table for all aspects of the project, Stevens said.
Despite this, the court ruling from 2006 specifies that the conservation only must discuss the latest project proposal, which only includes the 4-foot walkway.
The hearing will take place at 7 p.m. parks department conference room at 1 Merrymount Parkway in Quincy.