CLAREMONT — The Claremont City Council denied permission to create a Claremont-based parking area for the Up on the Hill Conservation Area in a unanimous vote Wednesday night, pointing to the project’s lack of support from abutting neighbors and lingering concerns about monitoring and maintaining the area.
The Upper Valley Land Trust, which stewards the land, hoped to add a second trail-access parking lot in Up on the Hill, a 1,100 acreage of forestland previously owned by longtime Charlestown residents Harvey and Christina Hill. The Hills donated the land in 1987 to the Upper Valley Land Trust, a nonprofit conservancy based in Hanover, in a shared vision to expand public access to nature and educational opportunities.
But the project also began on auspicious footing, as logging and construction began without acquiring permits from the city or notifying either city officials or residents what was happening.
Jack Yazinsky, a district judge who lives on Bible Hill Road, said he initially assumed when logging began around mid-May that the trustees and contractor had acquired the proper permits. Upon inquiry, however, he discovered that no applications had been filed and city officials were completely unaware of the project.
“One [issue] was not knowing, and [second], having done lots of work on properties over the years and always asking about the permits, to find out that hadn’t occurred was a concern,” Yazinsky told the council.
Albert St. Pierre, owner of the Charlestown construction company St. Pierre Inc. who was contracted to create the parking lot, said he was unaware that he required permits from Claremont. St. Pierre said that his company has managed projects, including maintenance of the Class VI road, within the conservation area for years without permits being an issue. Additionally, as most of the conservation area is located in Charlestown, St. Pierre said this was his first time accessing the land from the Claremont side.
In addition to building without a permit, the construction project violated at least two city ordinances. First, the Claremont City Council passed an ordinance in 1998 to reclassify that portion of Bible Hill Road from a Class VI road to a trail. Vehicles are not permitted to drive on it, which includes commercial vehicles. Second, the section of Bible Hill Road that leads up to the trail is unpaved and, due to the muddy conditions from the winter thaw, the road is closed to all vehicles but its residents until May 23. The project began prior to that date.
Yazinski said that the impact of traffic on the road is another concern of the Bible Hill Road residents. The road is too muddy for travel during much of spring, kicks up dust during the dry stretches of summer and is so narrow that during the winter it reverts to a single lane.
“[The project] just doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Yazinski said. “And that’s very hard to say because each and every one of us are grateful to Harvey and Chris Hill for the donation of this land and we also support the mission of the Upper Valley Land Trust. We just don’t think this idea is appropriate.”
The council also noted other concerns shared by the abutters about a secluded parking lot inviting unwanted behaviors like illegal dumping and unruly congregating.
Jason Berard of the Upper Valley Land Trust told the council that a member of the trust would visit the area weekly to monitor cleanliness. While dumping and littering can be problems, Berard said that making an area look utilized rather than abandoned often helps to discourage littering. The conservation area does not have trash receptacles, as they are difficult to empty regularly and often accumulate litter around them as a result, Berard said. Instead, the conservation area requires guests to carry out their own trash.
Berard also said that the parking lot would not be open during the winter months, as the road would be difficult to plow, or when Bible Hill Road is closed during the spring thaw.
But city councilors said they were not assured there would be enough monitoring of the area, pointing to problems in other rural recreational areas in the city.
Claremont Police Chief Mark Chase said that while his department would be responsible to monitor the area, just as it does recreational locales like Cat Hole, the department’s attentional priorities to the downtown ultimately limit how regularly officers can supervise the municipality’s rural outreaches.
After the meeting, Berard told the Eagle Times that he was disappointed by the outcome, though the trust will respect the wishes of the council and the neighboring residents. While Claremonters can still access the trail parking lot in Charlestown, Berard said he believes more members of the community would visit the area if they had a closer access point.
“So I feel this is necessary for Claremont residents to benefit,” Berard said. “But we will respect their wishes and we’ll just keep with the parking lot entrance we have.”