A Middlesex superior court judge ruled late last month that the town of Newton may not renovate two large recreational parks using funds from the Community Preservation Act (CPA) because the parklands were not acquired with CPA funds.
Issued on Sept. 24, the decision marks the first legal test for the Community Preservation Act, which is seven years old. The case may have implications for the Veira Park ball field project in Oak Bluffs. The town community preservation committee and Oak Bluffs voters have authorized the use of $200,000 in CPA funds for the project, which has drawn considerable fire from neighbors who fear it is too big for the neighborhood. The project is currently under review by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission as a development of regional impact.
But unlike Veira Park, which calls for building a new ball field on existing park land as well as renovating an existing ball field, the Newton project is all renovation and on a large scale. The project calls for renovating two large existing parks; Stearns Park includes game tables, a basketball court, a baseball diamond, a swing set, two tennis courts and something called a tot-lot, while Pelligrini Park includes soccer and softball fields, tennis courts, outdoor basketball, indoor volleyball and children’s play equipment. In February of 2006 the Newton community preservation committee recommended the use of $756,825 in CPA funds to the board of aldermen for the parks renovation project. The aldermen approved. The decision was challenged by a group of 10 taxpayers.
The Middlesex court interpretation hinges on the word “created.” Among other things, the Community Preservation Act allows the expenditure of funds “. . .for the acquisition, creation and preservation of land for recreational use . . . and for the rehabilitation or restoration of open space . . . .”
In the Newton decision, the Hon. Bruce R. Henry, an associate justice of the superior court, wrote: “There is no dispute that the parks were neither created nor acquired with CPA funds. The city argues that the projects will create new uses for the parks and open the parks to new users. While that may be true, and laudable, I do not adopt the interpretation which the city seeks to place on the word ‘creation.’ ”
The six-page decision is short on narrative, with the first four pages mostly devoted to recitations of the law.
But in the end Judge Henry concluded that the use of CPA funds for the Newton parks project is not allowed and that the recommendation of the town community preservation committee and the subsequent approval by the Newton aldermen violated the state act.
Plaintiffs in the case were granted summary judgment.
Oak Bluffs town administrator Michael Dutton said yesterday that he had not read the decision, but that the selectmen plan to ask town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport for his interpretation. “It may have some impact on the issue of funds for Veira Park — but that project is at the commission level now and their review is not dependent on the court decision,” Mr. Dutton said, adding: “So we’ve got a little bit of time to really digest what this means.” He said the selectmen will invite Mr. Rappaport to attend their next meeting.
Other projects on the Vineyard slated for the use of CPA money include the Mill Pond dredging project in West Tisbury.