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Waltham: Lexington/Waltham land: City begs out
Daily News Tribune Wednesday, August 4, 2004
By Joshua Myerov / Tribune Staff Writer

Mayor Jeannette McCarthy is not interested in buying a seven-acre state-owned portion of the former Middlesex County Hospital, McCarthy told the City Council Monday night. The land, which straddles the Lexington-Waltham border, will be sold at absolute auction next week by J.J. Manning Auctioneers.

“I have a lot on my plate and this was not a priority,” McCarthy said yesterday, citing the city’s ongoing negotiations to acquire two other Trapelo Road properties, a 47-acre parcel from the Boston Archdiocese and the seven-acre former Gaebler Children’s Center.

Waltham officials likely would have wanted to acquire the 1 2/3 acres on Waltham’s side. But at an informational meeting two weeks ago, the state’s Division of Capital Asset Management said it would not allow the land to be split.

The Lexington portion is zoned for residential development and also includes a working cell phone tower, both of which augment its worth. Because of Lexington’s tight zoning laws, McCarthy said, only low-impact single family homes will be built there. McCarthy said the Waltham side is zoned as conservation/recreation, which should preclude housing.

The city’s hope to re-route 35 acres of watershed from the Prospect Hill Executive Office Park into the Cambridge Reservoir is still alive, Mayor McCarthy told council Monday night.

A MassHighway official told the News Tribune last month that the state had flat-out rejected Waltham’s plan even though it had the blessing of Cambridge and has the potential to relieve flooding across a wide swath of the city.

But McCarthy said in a memo to council that “(Transportation Director Franklin) Ching has advised me that the re-routing to Cambridge Reservoir is not moot and he is still discussing with the state the possibility.”

If the Cambridge Reservoir option doesn’t pan out, McCarthy said, she will consider taking a portion of the office park by eminent domain to build one or more detention ponds, which could also alleviate flooding along the West Chester Brook.

“That’s a great Plan B,” said City Councilor Kenneth B. Doucette, who has spearheaded efforts to improve the city’s drainage system. The city is under deadline to do the drainage work in the Totten Pond Road area because of a decade-old legal settlement. That project is expected to cost about $775,000. For sale: Oil-laden swamp behind high school?

The city is in the market to buy wetlands behind Waltham High School that was contaminated by a 12,000-gallon oil spill six years ago. Mayor McCarthy on Monday night asked council to authorize spending $122,000 to acquire a parcel of undisclosed size, which McCarthy said has “been cleaned.”

On July 2, 1998, No. 2 diesel from fuel oil tanks behind the high school was released into the soil and the surrounding marshland. By the following week, clean-up was ongoing, 6,500 gallons of oil had been recovered, and the two tanks were drained.

Council discussed the possible purchase in a closed executive session. McCarthy would not disclose other details about the deal.

Transportation chief takes over independent Engineering Department

Some of the earliest changes of the mayor’s government reorganization went into effect yesterday. Department of Public Works Director/City Engineer John Bradley is now only the former. Council Monday night approved the creation of an independent city Engineering Department and transferred money from the Department of Parks & Recreation, where McCarthy had originally proposed to put engineering, to the new department.

McCarthy appointed Transportation Director Ching to temporarily take on the responsibilities of city engineer until a permanent hire is made. The application deadline is Sept. 15, McCarthy said. Capital improvement budget OK’d

Council Monday night approved $6.5 million worth of capital improvements for this fiscal year. Among the projects that will get immediate attention are: $1 million for improvements to about two dozen streets and sidewalks; $1.3 million for sewer and drainage upgrades and replacements, including for the Prospect Hill Executive Office Park; $850,000 for water meter improvements; $700,000 for improving the city’s water system, including developing an advanced flushing system; $342,000 for water main rehab or replacements on four Waltham streets; and $1.1 million for building a gazebo and installing memorial plaques on Waltham Common.

Councilor Doucette, chairman of the Long-Term Debt Committee, commended Mayor McCarthy on her first CIP budget. Unlike past years, McCarthy brought the capital budget simultaneously with the city’s operating budget.

Doucette also said that while the CIP budget has in theory always been a long-term plan, until now it’s never been broken out yearly beyond the first year.

“This is truly now a five-year plan,” Doucette said. “That was the goal.” McCarthy said she will continue to request yearly appropriations of $1 million “to get the city’s streets and sidewalks done.”

McCarthy said yesterday she was “very happy” with the CIP budget and thanked the members of Long-Term Debt.

( Joshua Myerov can be reached at 781-398-8004 or [email protected] )

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