Allen rejected by council
GREENFIELD — Greenfield’s “new,” more “progressive” Town Council just bumped an outspoken defender of a big box department store planned for French King Highway from a board he has served on for the past nine years.
“I knew it was coming, but I didn’t think it would be quite as one-sided as it was,” said James Allen on Thursday.
Many of the 10 councilors who vetoed the mayor’s reappointment of Allen to the Planning Board Wednesday said they wanted to change the makeup of the board to “create more diversity” on the board that may likely be asked to revisit the shopping center permit it granted on May 5, 2011.
Many of those councilors — and the many residents who spoke against Allen’s reappointment — were outspoken opponents of the planned shopping center and a woodburning “biomass” power plant that town planners, including Allen, have approved.
Even so, many of the councilors who voted against Allen’s reppointment said their vote had nothing to do with the way Allen voted on big box or biomass.
Instead, they said it was how he treated the review of those projects, especially the big box, as well as those who disagreed with him during the big box review.
“Nearly everyone on the board said it had nothing to do with (big box),” said Allen. “I honestly feel it had to do with Walmart.”
Town Council voted 10-1 to reject the mayor’s reappointment of Allen, who voted to approve the shopping center at 135,000 square feet, and had said during the board’s review that he would have approved it at its original size of 160,000 square feet.
The mayor said he wanted to reappoint Allen, because he didn’t want to change the makeup of the board in case the project goes back to it. A judge is currently deciding whether it will be the court or the board that will hear the project from scratch. Abutters filed an appeal after the board made its decision two years ago.
Council President David Singer did not vote, because he didn’t have to. Singer only votes when he has to break a tie. The council needed nine votes to reject Allen’s reappointment.
Precinct 1 Councilor Marian Kelner did not attend the meeting, and Precinct 3 Councilor Brickett Allis was the only councilor to vote to approve Mayor William Martin’s nomination.
While almost all of the councilors who voted Allen off the board said it was because of “process” not “a specific project or vote,” many of them, even before they had been appointed or elected to the council, had spoken against one or more aspects of the project during the Planning Board public hearing concerning the project.
Also, while many during the review, and even now, wouldn’t say they didn’t want any type of big box project, they did each express concerns about the project as it was presented.
And so, it became a clash of ideologies for about an hour at Wednesday’s council meeting, while those for and against Allen’s reappointment explained their reasons why.
Singer, Precinct 2 Councilor Keith Zaltzberg, Precinct 4 Councilor Steven Ronhave, Precinct 9 Councilor Norman Hirschfeld, and At-large Councilor Mark Wisnewski all spoke during the Planning Board hearings, and Hirschfeld, Zaltzberg, Ronhave, Kelner, and Precinct 6 Councilor Hillary Hoffman, signed a petition, which was signed by 1,200 people, including some of the most outspoken opponents of the project, asking the Planning Board to have a peer review and community impact assessment done to see if the store proposed was appropriately sized to complement existing retail and existing capacity of municipal services.
Many who opposed the size said they wanted to see a store less than 100,000 square feet.
Some of them, at the time of the hearing, spoke about the impact the store would have on traffic, downtown businesses, the environment, abutters, and many other issues.
On Wednesday night, before the council took its vote on Allen, Singer allowed residents to speak, and then councilors voiced their opinions and talked about why they were going to vote against the reappointment.
Sandy Thomas, an outspoken opponent of the project as proposed and approved, asked councilors not to reappoint Allen.
“He asked no significant questions,” she said. “He didn’t do his research and he didn’t do any analysis of the data. He showed a lack of interest in public comment.”
Thomas said the town should look at how the mayor goes about making appointments and reappointments and see if others can help him find residents to serve on boards who “match our needs.”
Thomas also said every volunteer board member should have a performance evaluation done before being reappointed, but she didn’t suggest who would do the evaluation.
Albert Norman, the local man who has spent the last 20 years fighting big box development in Greenfield and beyond, also asked the council not to reappoint Allen, but said it was “not about Walmart” for him.
“It’s about the process,” said Norman. “Are folks sitting on these boards accountable? And, to whom?”
After Norman said it was not about Walmart, he went on to talk about the size of the proposed shopping center, Allen’s votes on the developer coming up with money for road repair, overnight hours, sustainable design, and other issues concerning that project.
Planning Board Chairwoman Roxann Wedegartner told councilors they needed to look at the facts, as well as all of the votes Allen has taken over the years.
“I hope you do the right thing,” she said.
Later, when she asked if she could speak again, Singer denied her request, saying he would have to let everyone speak again.
About 60 attended the meeting and about a dozen spoke.
Sandra Boston, who has expressed her concerns about the project publicly, said Allen disregarded testimony. She said the board needs someone who takes the needs of citizens, especially abutters, into consideration when making such an important decision.
Allen spoke on his own behalf, saying he believes he has done a good job and is proud of his record. He said he voted for both the big box project and biomass and would do so again.
At-large Councilor Patrick Devlin, who was particularly outspoken about biomass, said his vote against Allen was not about being for or against Walmart, but that he was not sensitive to abutters.
Wisnewski said he was concerned that Allen would not follow the town’s new sustainable master plan when it is finished.
At-large Councilor Mark Maloni said he needed to vote the way constituents wanted him to. Precinct 8 Councilor Karen Shapiro Miller agreed, as did Hirschfeld.
“A large number of people felt they weren’t heard,” said Maloni.
Hoffman said she would vote “no” to Allen’s reappointment to help bring the voices of others to the table. She said it was not about “stopping Walmart.”
Precinct 7 Councilor Karen “Rudy” Renaud said her decision was not political. She said she believes the town needs a discount department store.
Martin said he will begin looking for Allen’s replacement.
The mayor had originally planned to appoint two people, Wilson Roberts and George Touloumtzis, as alternates of the seven-member Planning Board — there are five members and two alternates — but he withdrew those appointments before the meeting on Wednesday, when he realized the council most likely would not reappoint Allen.
Martin said he did not want to throw off the balance of the board, so he said he will wait until he has someone sitting in Allen’s seat before he appoints alternates. He said Roberts and Touloumtzis may end up on the board eventually.
Roberts voiced concerns a couple of times during the Planning Board hearing on the big box project. He also signed the petition.
Touloumtzis spoke briefly about the project, expressing concerns about what such a large store would do to Greenfield’s downtown.
Councilors voted to approve the mayor’s appointment of Roberts and Touloumtzis, even though he had withdrawn their names, some saying they believed he couldn’t legally withdraw them.
Councilors said they will investigate to see if the appointments have to be honored.
When asked whether he thought the issue could end up in court, Martin said he didn’t think it would get that far.
The council also voted to reject the mayor’s reappointment of Thomas DeHoyos, who has served on the Conservation Commission for six years.
Many said they didn’t believe DeHoyos is an “advocate” for the environment and said there are people who are “better qualified” to serve on the commission.
DeHoyos, like Allen, voted to approve the shopping center when it was reviewed by the commission, before it went to the Planning Board.
Allis was the only councilor to vote “yes” to reappoint DeHoyos. Maloni abstained, saying he didn’t believe DeHoyos fulfilled the “advocacy” requirement many feel a commissioner should possess.