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Martin wants some flexibility in Greenfield ordinances

GREENFIELD — Mayor William Martin says ordinances that are too strict, so that they don’t allow town boards even a little flexibility in their decision making, will hurt all types of development throughout town, including backyard projects.

“There are at least a couple of proposed ordinances being considered by the Town Council that I believe could be detrimental to the town,” said Martin. “The wetlands ordinance and Native American burial ground ordinance are the ones that could have the most effect on development.”

Martin said that he believes the Conservation Commission’s recent rewrite of the town’s current wetlands law is a good one.

“There’s enough flexibility, but the town still has the protection it needs,” said Martin. “It’s not smart thinking to remove all options within an ordinance, like some have proposed.”

Unfortunately, he said, the council seems to also be considering suggestions by Albert Norman, the Greenfield anti-big box development consultant who calls himself a “sprawl-buster” and currently represents seven abutters who are suing the town over a big box project it approved for French King Highway, which he believes would tie the hands of the commission when making just about any decision.

Martin said, for instance, taking out the waiver that is currently in the town’s wetlands law would be a mistake — a suggestion of Norman and others.

He said the waiver, which has rarely been used since it was voted into local law in 2008, was not used in the commission’s decision to approve the big box retail project for French King Highway and should remain intact.

Norman presented his markup of the commission’s rewrite, in which he struck the waiver, saying it is too broad and allows too much leeway for any project, big or small, that might come before the commission. He also suggested that the town not allow replication of a wetland, a technique allowed in state law to fit a development into a site without losing wetlands overall.

In the town’s current ordinance, replication is allowed only as a last resort, but the waiver allows the commission to approve a replication, if it sees fit.

In the commission’s rewrite, it allows replication under certain circumstances.

Norman said he would prefer to see the current wording concerning replication remain, but if he were to also get his way and have the waiver removed, it would be almost impossible for the town to allow it.

“Everything is about ‘no replication’ and ‘no reburial,’” said Martin. “No replication is foolish, because Greenfield is surrounded by four rivers and is covered in marshes and swamps. There were also many Native Americans through here early in history. We wouldn’t be able to do anything. There has to be some leeway.”

For instance, Martin said, “What if the state mandates that the town needs to build another tank at its wastewater treatment plant and someone finds a bone or a fossil?”

“What would it mean if the town couldn’t exhume and remove it for reburial?” he said.

Martin said town boards need to have options.

“We can’t completely tie their hands in ordinances that are so narrow that they aren’t smart,” said Martin.

The mayor said he believes the proposed ordinances are meant to prevent development, but will end up affecting the clearing out of a brook or the building of something the entire town may want someday.

“We have federal, state and local laws in place,” said Martin. “We need options and flexibility to add a little common sense to each decision about each individual project.”

Several commission members have echoed Martin’s concerns.

John Blasiak, Timothy Mosher and Thomas DeHoyos have all said that they are concerned about the “unintended consequences” of a local wetlands law that is too strict.

“There could end up being a whole lot of unintended consequences that aren’t good for the town,” said Blasiak at a recent public hearing.

Commission Chairman Alex Haro has said he believes the commission’s rewrite of the current wetlands ordinances is a good and stronger one, offering more clarity and better definitions.

Town Council’s Appointments and Ordinances Committee is currently reviewing the commission’s rewrite. It will meet next on April 14 at 6:30 p.m. in 114 Main St. It is not yet clear whether the wetlands ordinance rewrite will be on the agenda.

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