In a decision of interest to municipalities, conservation groups, and land use experts, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) recently decided that a public playground in the City of Westfield is parkland protected by Article 97 of the Amendments of the Massachusetts Constitution. Art. 97 provides, in part, that property “taken or acquired” for conservation purposes “shall not be used for other purposes” without approval by a two-thirds vote of each branch of the state legislature. In Smith v. City of Westfield, the SJC expanded the reach of Art. 97 by concluding that municipal parkland may be protected even without a recorded restriction, provided the land has been dedicated as a public park.
The case concerned the Cross Street Playground in Westfield, a 5.3 acre parcel that is home to two baseball fields and a playground. It has been a public playground for more than 60 years. In 1979, Westfield received a grant from the federal government under the Land and Water