SJC: Westfield park protected under state constitution

cross street playground westfield_711450

BOSTON (WWLP) – The state’s highest court has delivered a victory to some Westfield residents, who years ago sued the City to stop the construction of a new elementary school on public parkland.

The Supreme Judicial Court issued their ruling Monday in the case, dealing with the ongoing controversy over the fate of the John A. Sullivan Memorial Playground, commonly known as the Cross Street Playground. The City of Westfield cleared trees and dismantled a baseball diamond on the site, but some nearby residents filed suit back in 2012, getting work halted on the project.

The plaintiffs had argued that the park was protected under Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution, which holds that park or conservation land cannot be used for other purposes, unless such a project is approved by a 2/3 majority in both houses of the Legislature.

The City had won an earlier court victory in the case, when a judge found that there was no “recorded instrument” outlining that the land in question was protected under Article 97, however the plaintiffs appealed, and the high court ultimately agreed with them.

The court opinion states that the City of Westfield accepted federal money back in 1979 to improve parks in the city, including the Cross Street Playground. This alone was proof that the City had no right to convert the playground without additional approval.

“Because the general public has an interest in parkland owned by a city or town, ultimate authority over a public park rests with the Legislature, and not with the municipality,” the opinion states.

The ruling returns the case to superior court, where they are recommending that the temporary injunction on construction at the park be converted into a permanent injunction.

In its plans for the school, the City of Westfield had acquired land on Ponder’s Hollow Road to offset the loss of open space on Cross Street. The plaintiffs have filed a separate lawsuit relating to that matter.

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