Mayor Richard Alcombright speaks with residents of Chenaille Terrace. City Councilor Robert M. Moulton Jr. also attended.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Residents of the Chenaille Terrace cul-de-sac remain unconvinced that changes on the proposed bike path would ensure their privacy and security.
More than a dozen neighbors walked the roughly outlined pathway that skirts their back yards on Thursday with city and state officials.
"This is a dead end street, there's nobody on and off our street except for residents," said Hewitt Rand. "We have no problems in our neighborhood, we all get along, we have no fences ... it's totally ridiculous."
The secluded street of wide, green lawns and well-maintained homes has been a quiet retreat, they said. Coming home from work, they wanted to relax in their back yards or use their pools without strangers pedaling or walking by, dropping trash, or making noise.
"You're giving the public access to the backs of our homes," said one frustrated resident.
Bike path supporters have for years been working with the state Department of Transportation and Berkshire Regional Planning Commission to begin the North Adams sections of what is envisioned to become a multi-use recreational trail spanning from Connecticut through Vermont.
It's been nearly 15 years since the first two legs — the 10-mile Ashuwillticook Rail Trail — connected Lanesborough and Adams, with another section to Lime Street opening just this spring. A third run north toward Hodges Cross Road is in initial planning stages and the northernmost section, from Syndicate Road through the Spruces in Williamstown is a couple years away.
Mayor Richard Alcombright is hoping the city can jump on the Williamstown project and tap into soon-to-expire scenic byway money to start a North Adams leg from the border to the Harriman & West Airport.
This one-mile section is eyed to cross over city-owned property on the west side of Chenaille Terrace and loop east toward the airport on city-owned property. Despite the years of discussion over the path, most residents had no knowledge their area was being considered until they began to receive notices.
"Right now, I just want people to understand what the path is looking like and go from there," the mayor told the neighbors in explaining why he couldn't speak to Route 2 traffic or wildlife impacts. "We don't know that. ... Everything we do know, we've communicated with you."
Based on initial drawings, residents were worried about how close the path came to their back doors, and one woman was alarmed by its proximity her bedroom window at the end of the street.
But City Councilor Joshua Moran and project engineer Matt Kearney of Greenman-Pederson Inc., had tramped the area earlier in the afternoon and were able to make some significant changes and consider some alternatives.
"Now that I'm out here I see how close it is to the house and it gave me a better idea of what that really could mean," Kearney told the woman, standing just yards from her windows. "I'm going to go back and look at some alternatives see what we can do here to push it farther back ... to create a landing up here so people can stop and see the view and provide the privacy you guys are looking for."
The elevation on the southern end of the street requires a long slope to meet the 4.5 percent grade to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act. Kearney said it may be possible to shift the path even farther to the south to get it behind the existing berm, and closer to the runway, which would reduce both visibility and noise.
On the western side, they were able to shift the 16-foot needed strip closer to the delineated wetlands on the town line. For years, however, the homeowners on the west side of Chenaille had deepened their yards by mowing onto city the property, clearing a swath now eyed for the bike path.
"I've been there for 30 years, and I know it wasn't our property, but we've taken care of it, mowed it," one resident said. "There's a lot of people who are good people and there are some that aren't, and it feels like an invitation to come in behind our property."
The mayor said plantings, fencing or both could be installed to minimize intrusion and provide security. He was also cognizant of how the property owners had used the land and said something could be worked out by deed or easement to allow the continued use of the area not needed for the path.
"Clearly what we're standing on is not the property of the homeowner," he said. "The city, working with the design team will do our very best to make certain that from the edge of the path, you folks can still control land ... we're going to respect the fact that you folks have been keeping this up and considered this part of your yard."
Several asked why the path was sited for their neighborhood and not to the north of Route 2, as well as the possibility of bridging the Hoosic River or the wetlands. Many of the same questions had been asked at discussions over the putting the path through a Greylock neighborhood a few years ago.
Officials and engineers have stated repeatedly that constrictions on the north side — the railroad, river, roads, wetlands, private property and slope — make a bike path along that route impractical and unaffordable.
Kearney said just putting in a boardwalk over the wetlands of Chenaille would be "a very expensive product." His team had done one in another town because there was no other option.
"The design fee was huge, it cost a lot and the contractor had a very hard time of it," he said.
Moran said proposing a bridge or boardwalk probably wouldn't fly with the state.
"MassDOT is going to say move it out of the wetlands," he said. "You can't just push a boardwalk across ... any agency protecting wetlands and wildlife is going to say no, move it."
Moran is hoping that reinforcing the benefits of a recreational path will sway residents. He noted a survey done three years ago with Ashuwillticook abutters that was positive. Those responding were generally satisfied with the trail and thought it had improved their neighborhoods.
"No one wants to produce a product where you're going to have the entire neighborhood say this is terrible," Moran said. "It doesn't look good for MassDOT, it doesn't look good for us."
Alcombright anticipated further meetings with the neighbors to continue to address the pathway along with other concerns.
"One of the things I heard encouraging today was they were happily impressed how far west it was," he said. "I think many people had the idea it was going to be on their back step and I think we've shown them that it isn't and we're making every effort to push it farther way and to mitigate those sight lines after the fact."
But many of the residents continued to grumble amongst themselves before breaking up to go home.
"It feels like they're forcing it down our throats," Rand said.
Clarification: The property in question is owned by Fusco Corp. and is being donated to the city. We were in error believing that had already occurred.
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