A Gloucester city councilor is pushing for a new level of conservation protection for the Babson Watershed and Babson Bird Sanctuary, even as some Rockport residents have renewed talk about seeking a study for a connector road that would run alongside or through those properties.
Councilor-at-large and former four-term mayor Bruce Tobey filed an order with the City Council to seek a state conservation easement for the watershed around the Babson Reservoir.
That protection would mean that any development of the land — for building or infrastructure — would require a two-thirds “super majority” vote of both the state’s House and Senate to unlock it.
“We’re going to take the (original deed) and double down by adding article 97 of the State Constitution protection,” Tobey said. “We shouldn’t have to do it, but folks just won’t let it go.”
The area, he said, serves as the watershed for the Babson Reservoir and is ecologically fragile.
Tobey said the state protection shouldn’t be necessary; two deeds held by the city has to land in the Babson Reservoir watershed, he said, have conservation restrictions on them already. But, he said he’s pursuing the state conservation restrictions because people keep proposing a connector road.
“Every few years, someone renews the drumbeat,” Tobey said.
Rockport resident James Lane has started the latest push for a connector road.
At the start of the month, Lane launched a survey through the Times with an eye toward assessing public interest and support about a roadway that would essentially connect Rockport’s Nugent Stretch of Route 127 with the Route 128 Extension in Gloucester near Blackburn Industrial Park by bypassing Eastern Avenue via the so-called Old Rockport Road.
With readers answering Lane’s survey through the Times, 64 people responded, 48 from Rockport and 16 from Gloucester. And 44 of the 48 Rockport voters supported the idea, while 11 of the 16 Gloucester participants opposed it.
Others, however, have called for a state feasibility study for such a road, while others still have suggested the city, town and state look into perhaps and alternate route, steering it away from Olde Rockport Road and toward Pond Road, again on the Gloucester side of the town line.
In a May 25 letter to the Times, Lane said the so-called Olde Rockport Road sat at the boundary of the Babson land, but not in it.
Tobey, however, said Friday that his order incorporates all 231 acres of the Babson grant, which includes the winding Olde Rockport Road path.
The city holds two deeds to the watershed area, one from Roger Babson, who owned the land back in the 1930s, and one from Varian Semiconductor Associates for land near Dory Road at the Blackburn Industrial Park.
Babson gave the city that land as a natural park and bird sanctuary, to be used, Tobey said, for foot traffic only. If the city violates that agreement — say, by building a road through it, Tobey added — the land could revert to Babson’s heirs.
“(He) very clearly wanted it protected, … and very clearly used on foot only,” Tobey said.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.