By SCOTT JACKSON
Neighborhood residents and golfers alike suggested dozens of ideas they want to see incorporated into plans for improvements to Furnace Brook Golf Course and Forbes Hill Park during a community workshop.
More than 60 people attended the two-hour workshop held on June 28 inside the clubhouse at the course on Reservoir Road. David Murphy, Quincy’s commissioner of natural resources, said the city was taking a step back from its initial plans for the site, which were presented at a previous community meeting.
“This isn’t like our first meeting. Many of you – I recognize your faces – were here in February when we presented a plan and got reaction on a plan. We’re actually taking a step back from that based on a lot of the community feedback that we received,” Murphy said at the outset of the June 28 meeting. “Our goal tonight is to have a workshop, a values workshop, about what the community wants to see from the golf course, from the park, from the relationship, and how it impacts the community at large.
“That’s the goal tonight. I’m not here to present a sketch of a building or a park or anything else like that. We want to hear about the values that should inform the design process. We’ve actually put our process on pause to get more feedback based on the type of feedback that we were getting.”
“Originally, our goal was to go before the council and seek an appropriation in the early half of this year, but we said we better take a time out, we better take a pause, we need more community feedback on this, we’re not where we need to be,” Murphy added. “Working with many folks in the community, we’ve taken a deep breath, we’ve taken a step back, and here we are this evening.”
The feedback gathered at the meeting will help inform the design of the improvements for the course and park, Murphy explained. As part of that plan, the city is seeking to find common ground among the various stakeholders involved in the process.
“From this meeting, we go back to the design process. We take a look at the park, we take a look at the clubhouse, we take a look at the relationship with the two and the community, and then we come back here at some point with the presentation with actual plans and get further reaction. That won’t be the last meeting either. There is a process in place that is going to allow everybody to have a seat at the table,” Murphy said.
“Now I don’t think everybody here is here for the same reason. I think there are some people here tonight that are mad we haven’t started construction. I think there are some people here tonight that want us to do no construction. We’ve got to find those places in between as a community and those values that are shared that we can use to inform whatever process we do going forward.”
After Murphy’s remarks, those in attendance were sorted into six groups at random to ensure that each group included a mix of viewpoints and were asked to share values and principles they want to see included in plans for the course and park. Staff from the engineering consulting firm Fuss & O’Neill led the discussions at each table.
The table moderated by Arnold Robinson, the firm’s regional director of planning, featured several area residents, members of the Friends of Forbes Hill Park, as well as a 40-year member of the golf club.
Group members said they wanted Forbes Hill Park to be maintained as a place where children can play, another said the site should be a gathering place for the neighborhood “in the widest sense,” the club member said it would be important to keep a functional golf course on site, and a second person added that it should be made accessible to all. Group members also said the upkeep of both the park and golf course need to be improved.
Ideas for a new clubhouse were discussed by group members. The new clubhouse, one person said, should serve as a shared amenity for both the park and golf course, while others said it could be used to host community events. Those at the table agreed that the new clubhouse should not be used to host functions like weddings.
Other suggestions for the new clubhouse included constructing it within the same footprint of the existing clubhouse but taller to maximize views, providing space for a golf simulator that can provide a new revenue stream during winter months, building a new outdoor firepit and deck space, and raising the height of the building so golf carts and concessions could be located at ground level under the clubhouse.
Group members also discussed the future of the golf course itself. Several said it should be made more accessible to the public, which could mean making more tee times available to non-members and providing club rentals on site. Youth golf programs were also identified as a priority. One person also suggested a tow rope should be run during the winter to make it easier for skiers and sledders to get to the top of the hill – one was formerly located on site.
As to the adjoining Forbes Hill Park, group members said the tennis and basketball courts should be replaced with new ones, said that the lighting on site should be improved, and suggested a walking path could be created around the perimeter. Group members also said they liked that the park is not used for organized sports, like Little League, which keeps noise levels down in the surrounding neighborhood.
There were several suggestions made relative to the trees on site. Members of the group said it was important to keep tree cover at both the park and golf course, called for a tree survey to be conducted, said tired and old trees should be replaced, and suggested invasive plants should be removed.
As for the project itself, group members said the city needs to be transparent about the plans and suggested a third party be brought in to review items like planned drainage improvements. One person also suggested a model should be created showing the plans and that they be staked out within the park to make it easier for community members to understand them.
Following the break-out session, which lasted about 45 minutes, the moderators from each table presented their tables’ values and principles to the larger group. Many of those values and principles were similar to the ones discussed at Robinson’s table. There were also different values and principles discussed at those tables.
At least two of the groups said financial transparency was important, in terms of the proposed improvements to the park and golf course, as well as the annual expenses and revenues associated with the golf course.
Dogs were another point of discussion among several of the groups, with some people suggesting there should be a space for dogs at the park – either on- or off-leash – while others said they should not be allowed at all.
Other suggestions raised by the groups included limiting what type of alcohol is served on site to discourage drunk driving, limiting the operating hours for the restaurant on site and the golf course, building a parking garage under the first floor of the new clubhouse, creating a new pollinator garden or community garden, adding new bocce courts on site, opening up the tower on site as an observation deck, and bringing in goats to eat poison ivy.
Following the workshop, Ryan and Sarah Edwards of the Friends of Forbes Hill Park, described the session as positive and said it revealed common ground between the various stakeholders.
“It was positive,” Ryan Edwards said. “I think it actually probably revealed much common ground…more shared values in design than many of us probably thought coming into it.”
“I would agree with that,” Sarah Edwards added. “There were surprising comments from others that said, ‘actually we do have a lot in common,’ so that is very positive.
“There are still contentious issues that need to be resolved, so there is a big dot, dot, dot at the end of this evening, which is really up to the decision makers themselves – how do they take this information and actually translate it and communicate with us in a way they haven’t been able to do yet.”
Moving forward, Sarah Edwards said she would like to see different options put forward for the community to consider.
“I hope we see a range of scenarios that are possible, and I hope we get many more meetings like this that can be facilitated so that we move forward,” she said. “This is the easy part. Now we have to start to help make decisions and really prioritize our values and for that I really hope they continue to engage with the community.”
Jenn McDonough, a resident of nearby Wollaston Hill, said transparency would help the process as it advances.
“I think it was productive,” she said of the workshop. “Of course, you have people that are really very passionate for either side. I don’t think there has to be division.
“I think…if there is respectfully transparency for everything that is going on, I think it’s good, so every one can be happy with preserving the little oasis on the hill.”