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Sunday, December 8 News

Broad support for Weston town green, despite historic district concerns

WESTON — Members of the Historic District Commission got an earful Wednesday night from some emotional residents eager to see a new Town Hall Green created.

Around 50 people attended the HDC’s monthly meeting, which had only two members in attendance and two present by phone.

They heard a presentation and shared input on a project that would redesign the south lawn of Town Hall with new benches, sidewalks and lampposts, and would include moving the memorial veteran markers over from the library.

The project — the brainchild of local architect Nancy Thiel, co-chair of the town’s Beautification Committee — has already received Board of Selectmen approval. It would be largely funded by private donations for an undisclosed amount, with requisite sidewalk work and lampposts absorbed by town grant money and some budgeted dollars, respectively.

“I think that we need this,” said resident Gavin Guerra. “It gives a structure to our town center that is strongly lacking.”

“I can’t believe we’re having an argument, if this can be counted as an argument,” he said.

Frustrations were evident as some residents called out while one woman who spoke against the project, laughing and interrupting her.

“The fact that the town considers spending money before they fix the roads is unconscionable,” she said, noting there were other projects under consideration.

“I know in my heart of hearts it’s going to end up costing the taxpayers money,” she told Thiel. “You know it and I know it.”

Commissioner Lynne Langlois, who expressed concerns about the project, was likewise put on the defensive, at one point having to explain to the crowd the purpose of the commission itself and where her objections were founded.

“I am just concerned that (this project) is going to change this (historic district) forever and I think in ways that are not consistent with the principles of a historic district,” said Langlois, who has served on the HDC for 30 years.

Along with questioning the use of some materials, including plastic-based resins, the amount of demolition involved with the sidewalk work, and permanently cementing benches onto the green, Langlois said moving the veteran monument markers when they’re not in jeopardy in their current location is not best practice in a historic district.

She noted the 18-acre Norfield Historic District was the town’s first, created in 1965. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

The district itself includes 25 buildings including the Norfield Congregational Church, originally built in 1830. Said to represent a 19th-century rural town center, the district’s architecture encompasses Federal and Greek Revival, as well as Colonial Revival from the early 20th century.

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“It seems to me the objective can be achieved must less expensively, much more appropriately, and much more quickly,” Langlois said of the project plan.

“I am certainly not opposed to creating a gather place,” she said. “In fact the library has been trying to do this for about a decade.”

Still, broad support was expressed for this plan, which centers on an egg-shaped walkway spotted with benches, as well as new landscaping.

“It looks pretty good to me,” said Commissioner Roland Poirier, who was on speakerphone. “I could see going forward.”

“I think we can definitely use something like this in our town,” he said, noting he still wanted to talk about the suggested design of the benches.

“There is a risk of letting it languish,” resident Jacqueline Austin said of the historic area at large. “I do think it would be a nice opportunity for people who come to the town center.”

“To have a cleaned-up area right in front of Town Hall, visually, is a sense of pride for our town,” Austin said.

“We have to imagine that the future holds as much importance as history does,” said resident Kathy Miller.

“I think the fact that this is being fundraised is not to be underrated,” she added, noting the value of the civic involvement. “That alone is a signal that people love this place and they want to see it grow.”

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