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Schlichtman admendment: Limit turf moratorium to 1 year

Paul Schlichtman, a Precinct 9 Town Meeting member, submitted this letter.

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I attended last Tuesday’s Town Hall meeting on artificial turf, and it felt like I was being dragged into a proxy war between the Conservation Commission and Parks and Recreation.

We have two administrative bodies, in the executive branch of our town government, sharply divided over the prospects of a moratorium on turf fields. The narratives are also sharply different; one narrative focuses on protecting us from hazardous chemicals, the other focuses on a prospective project and land swap at Poets Corner.

Town Meeting, as the legislative branch of government, is being asked to make decisions beyond the scope of the warrant article that defines the limits of our actions. Specifically, we are told that a turf moratorium is a vote to kill a potential project at Poets Corner, a project that requires a separate vote that is not before the 2023 annual Town Meeting.

The Poets Corner project, as discussed in the community, requires a separate Town Meeting vote to authorize a land transfer. An article to authorize a land swap is not before Town Meeting. Town Meeting has not been presented with any details pertaining to a Poets Corner project, though we are told one is on the horizon.

With limited information, and limited ability to act during this Town Meeting session, it seems the majority of Town Meeting members will fall within the following parameters:

  • Lush, well-maintained natural grass is a good thing, and absent any other considerations it is the preferred playing surface.

  • The playing fields in Arlington lack well-maintained natural grass. The line of accountability for the fields leads back to Town Meeting, as Town Meeting is the appropriating authority that approves the budgets that support field maintenance.

  • Arlington doesn’t have enough fields to meet the needs of our community. This problem is exasperated when rainy weather prompts the town to take fields offline.

  • There are places where natural turf is important, if not essential. We only need to look to the athletic fields behind Arlington High School, where the artificial turf is a barrier and part of the cap over a site that was contaminated with hexavalent chromium and manufactured gas products. According to The Boston Globe (Feb. 29, 2004),  “The toxic materials polluted Cutters Pond, which was filled in in 1932 to create the high school's football field and migrated underground to other parts of the immediate area.” Ms. Melofchik’s substitute motion recognizes this reality, as it exempted the Arlington High School project from her proposed moratorium.

  • The proposed deal involving the Archdiocese of Boston and Belmont Hill School could be a very good thing. Then again, it might not be a good deal for Arlington. That decision must be made when they submit a warrant article and present a plan at a future Town Meeting.

  • Some artificial turf is better than others. After considering the evidence derived from a study, Town Meeting may choose to set standards for artificial turf. For example, Town Meeting may choose to ban crumb rubber but permit organic turf infill.

In any case, there are decisions we are not prepared to make, and decisions we are prohibited from making right now because they are beyond the scope of any article before the 2023 annual Town Meeting.

This is why I am offering an amendment to Ms. Melofchik’s substitute motion that will limit the moratorium to one year and require the committee formed under this article to present its findings at the 2024 annual Town Meeting. Under my amendment, the study committee and the moratorium will expire with the dissolution of the 2024 annual Town Meeting, which will give everyone the chance to submit warrant articles and offer sufficient data that will enable us to make informed decisions. This will allow Town Meeting to consider the Poets Corner project under a separate warrant article, independent of any article regulating artificial turf. This will also allow Town Meeting to vote a budget that is aligned with the funding required to maintain viable natural turf.

If the proponents of Poets Corner want to present their proposal to a Special Town Meeting in the fall, they can present it with a companion article that carves out an exemption from the one-year moratorium, describing the design of the artificial turf they plan to install.

My sense is that Town Meeting would like more time, and more information, before it votes to regulate artificial turf. I don’t believe a majority of Town Meeting want to ban artificial turf, and I don’t believe a majority wants to walk away and allow artificial turf to be unregulated. My amendment to Ms. Melofchik's substitute motion gives us a gift of time, a short time frame, where we can consider the standards we want to set for our playing surfaces without obstructing any potential proposals for playing fields at Poets Corner.

This letter was published Monday, May 8, 2023.

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