Editorial: Waiver idea all wet

You have to hand it to the Greenfield Town Council’s Appointments and Ordinances Committee for taking a thinking-outside-of-the-box approach to a portion of the wetlands revisions.

Concerned about the Conservation Commission having the ability in its set of tools to set aside some of the town’s wetlands regulations for projects — under special circumstances — the committee balked and decided that it wants to reserve to itself the right to be the arbiter for such a decision.

If we understand the publicly expressed thinking behind this proposal, it’s that the council would have its fingers on the pulse of public sentiment in Greenfield and be in a better position to represent the interests of the community.

It is a simple and direct solution to a problem (which we don’t agree exists) how to keep an apolitical commission made of citizens chosen for their expertise from acting independently.

This is a unique approach, one that the other 350 cities and towns in Massachusetts don’t seem to have considered ... and, we think, would reject.

Giving Greenfield’s legislative body power over what has previously been the purview of the Conservation Commission would, we argue, have negative consequences.

First, it sends a message to the commission members that all of their understanding of wetlands and of town and state regulations pertaining to conservation — as well as the ability to grasp whether a waiver is appropriate for a particular proposal — takes a backseat to the stamp that any particular set of town councilors wants to put on Greenfield.

Put more simply, it would mean that the council doesn’t trust the commission to mirror councilors’ thinking, especially if the project happens to be one along the lines of the proposed retail development on the French King Highway.

Such potential development and the politics that color so much of that controversy in Greenfield are never far beneath the surface, including what municipal body should be in control of any future waivers.

This idea of giving the council final say on a waiver thrusts the entire issue into the political sphere. No longer would such a decision be based upon training and firsthand involvement in the process — or a determined effort on the part of Conservation Commission members to rule on the pure merits of a situation. Instead, a final decision would be much more subjective, based upon a set of individuals’ opinions of a particular project and whether it meshes with their vision of Greenfield.

As Mayor William Martin said in reaction to the proposal, “a change like this will not bode well in Greenfield.”

That is an understatement.

If this comes before the full council, it should recognize this is not what Greenfield wants or needs and vote the measure down.

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