Neighbors Fight Massachusetts Park Expansion
Abutters of the largest campground in Newton, Mass., say the facility has gotten large enough and they will head to court in an attempt to stop Whispering Pines Campground from expanding.
This spring, town officials agreed to let the campground add another 38 sites. That would increase the total number of sites on the 27-acre campground to 117, according to the Eagle Tribune, North Andover, Mass.
Campground owner Ron Pica of Sara Realty has been trying to get permission for the expansion since 2005, when the case was first heard by the town planning poard. Since then, the case has gone back and forth among town officials, who couldn't agree on whether the expansion was legal until the board of appeals gave Pica the OK this spring.
Now, neighbors hope a final effort – a Superior Court case against the town scheduled for July – will stop the expansion once and for all.
Resident Rob Peterson said about a dozen neighbors have contributed money to pay a lawyer to represent them in court. The group claims the expansion is in a residential area and doesn't meet the town's zoning regulations.
Residents also believe having more campers in the same amount of space would negatively impact their quality of life, encroach on their homes and further deteriorate the condition of the pond, Peterson said.
"The campground when I moved in 1983 was part of the neighborhood, but it was a small part of the neighborhood," he said. "It was a well-run, quiet place."
Peterson claims when the campground was sold to Sara Realty in 1999, the trees between the campground and his neighborhood came down and the fences went up.
Pica could not be reached for comment.
The nearby pond hasn't been swimmable since 2003, Peterson said, just after the last campground expansion. Since then, the pond has had cyanobacteria, or algae blooms, that can sicken swimmers if they ingest or have contact with the bacteria for an extended period of time.
Peterson said the Conservation Commission even told town officials the campground should not expand for the health of the pond, but the board of appeals sided with the campground owners.
"Why would any board allow this?" Peterson said. "Typically, you hear the opposite. Anything that's a conservation threat raises a red flag. I don't want to attack the board of appeals – I respect them for what they do – but the impact on the decision is tremendous on the neighborhood and the lake."
Thomas McElroy, board of appeals chairman, argues otherwise.
He said there was no concrete evidence that the campground expansion has led to the deterioration of water quality in the pond. There were no studies done by the Department of Environmental Services, McElroy said.
"I find it hard to believe it's due to the campground," he said. "They've updated all their septic systems. Everything has been done to protect any sort of water supply. Mr. Pica has gone out of his way to meet all of the state's requirements."
That includes waiting five years before he asked the town for this current expansion.
In 2000, the campground got permission to more than double the number of sites, bringing the total from 38 to 79. That expansion came with the condition that Whispering Pines wouldn't expand again for at least five years. The current expansion request was made in 2005.
McElroy said he's trying to look at the case objectively and Pica has always met the town's zoning regulations.
"There's five criteria (for expansion in a residential area) and everything passed," he said. "They have every right to expand because it's on their same piece of property they already own."
Because the appeal is scheduled to be heard in court this summer, the expansion has been delayed by at least a year. Peterson said residents are confident they will block the expansion.
"We are expecting the court will see our way," he said. "We feel pretty strongly about it."
While McElroy said his board made the best judgment call, he isn't surprised the argument is headed to court.
"I wish everything was much simpler. But, unfortunately, in this day and age, this is how things tend to end up," McElroy said. "Everybody sues everybody."