The DeFazio Park parking lot is dusty and dangerous. Why can’t the town just pave it?

To pave or not to pave, that is the question on the minds of residents who navigate the parking lot at DeFazio. Cars driving on the gravel surface kick up huge dust clouds that are inhaled by those who use the track or the athletic fields and drift toward the nearby tot playground.

Regi, a Needham resident of 38 years, brings her medically compromised husband to the track regularly to walk. “Dust is a big problem, especially in the summer when it’s so dry,” she said.

“It’s awful,” said Sara, who drives through the lot multiple times a week to drop her sons off for baseball practice. In addition to the dust, Sara said the gravel surface also creates deep craters that drivers can’t avoid. She said she braces herself each time she drives to DeFazio. “Why is it like this?” she complained. “We should have a paved lot with lines.”

Residents on the Needham, MA Facebook page also wonder about the potholes, and why the town can’t seem to fix them. Jenn said, “After two weeks of track and field this summer, my toddler has learned not to take sips from her yogurt smoothie when we enter the parking lot. Despite how slow I drive, the holes are so deep she spills it everywhere!”

Safety is also an issue. Some parents decry the lack of a real traffic plan. The area lacks crossings for children to get from the lot to the fields. During the summer, The Needham Youth Track Club draws hundreds of families to DeFazio, some of whom travel from nearby towns. Latasha from West Roxbury said, “It’s confusing because there are no clear lines.” A Newton dad said, “It’s kind of a mess.” Residents and nonresidents alike express wonder that a town like Needham can’t do better. 

So why hasn’t the DeFazio lot been paved? Needham’s Director of Conservation Debbie Anderson said paving creates stormwater runoff, which, left untreated, carries gas, oil and other substances to nearby protected wetlands. She said it might be possible to create an infiltration basin that would filter the runoff water, treat it and allow it to go into the groundwater. “There are a lot of moving parts to this. It would take design studies, lots of money and permitting,” she said. “But it’s not a no go.”

Department of Public Works Director Carys Lustig said the DPW put in a proposal for paving the lot seven or eight years ago, but it never moved forward. And it’s not a current priority. Meanwhile, she said, although the potholes are inconvenient they are no worse than speed bumps. And while workers regularly level the fractured stone, it doesn’t take long for the pesky divots to form again. Lustig said getting people to drive more slowly and be more aware of their surroundings would help.

Stacey Mulroy, director of park and recreation, said the town has been doing what it can to keep people safe in the parking lot. She sends out maps to user groups, telling them where and how they should park. But even though the orange barriers help form lines and there’s supposed to be one-way traffic, Mulroy said you can’t fix people’s habits. The bottom line, she said, is that the lot was never designed for the number of cars that use it. She thinks the town is trying to think out of the box on these issues. That might include putting up more signage or creating a kids crossing zone.

The bottom line is that a lot of public support and money could improve the situation, but fixing a parking lot isn’t exactly a sexy topic. Nevertheless, Sara believes the current parking lot situation should be a high priority. “We shouldn’t wait for an accident to happen before we fix this.” 

Needham resident Linda Polach is an award-winning broadcast producer and content creator. 

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