WESTFIELD — Oft-contested plans to retrofit the athletic fields behind Westfield’s Edison Intermediate School with synthetic turf could still be put to a public vote, town officials said Tuesday.
Earlier this week, a group of concerned residents, many of whom have publicly spoken out against various aspects of the project over the course of the past two years, submitted a formal petition to the town clerk’s office to demand a new approach to the project and its designated funding stream.
The petition, circulated by the members of a local opposition group known as Citizens For Responsible Athletic Field Development (CRAFD), cites environmental concerns related to synthetic turf and microplastics as well as the project’s anticipated total cost as major points of contention.
If the 2,822 collected signatures are found to be legitimate, the town will be required to either repeal a recently-adopted, $11.8-million bond ordinance intended to fund the project or put it to a general vote in a public referendum.
“There was overwhelming support for the petition in all four wards. Residents simply want a voice in how their town is being developed and how their tax dollars are being spent,” said CRAFD member Jennifer Crawford via a recent press release, the entirety of which can be found on page 5 of this week’s Westfield Leader.
As per state law, the petition was presented within 20 days of the publication of the bond ordinance, which was officially adopted by the council on May 9. At least 1,984 of the collected signatures will need to be verified as those of Westfield residents who voted in the most recent general election at which members of the General Assembly were elected.
On Tuesday, during a regular meeting of the Westfield mayor and council, Town Attorney Tom Jardim said that the clerk’s office will have 10 days from the receipt of the petition to verify the signatures.
“We stand by the creative shared-services agreement between the town and the school board undertaken to improve for our youth and residents generally a heavily-used recreational facility,” Mr. Jardim said. “There are very specific procedures laid out by state law for referenda challenging municipal bond ordinances. We are currently evaluating the petition and whether it complies with applicable law.”
If the petition is fully certified, Mr. Jardim continued, the town will either need to hold a special election specifically to address the bond ordinance referendum or wait to address the issue until the next general election in November.
In other business, the council voted to introduce a public-safety ordinance on Tuesday which, if approved for final adoption, would create a four-way stop at the intersection of Prospect Street and Cowperthwaite Place.
Councilman Mike Dardia called the move an “essential” one for the community.
“This change is long overdue,” he said. “We’ve had requests coming in about this intersection for years, and I think getting this done will make a huge difference, especially during the school year.”
The next meeting of the governing body will be held at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 27, at the Town Hall on East Broad Street.