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Singer responds to outcry over Norman’s role

Says he wishes he’d been more upfront about bringing in anti-big box activist to offer revision of wetlands rules

GREENFIELD — Precinct 5 Town Councilor David Singer says he never meant to disrespect anyone when he asked a Greenfield man who has led opposition to big box development for more than 20 years to sit at the table and discuss the town’s rewrite of its wetlands ordinance before a public hearing was scheduled.

“I promise this was not underhanded; it was not a misuse of power, and I didn’t mean any disrespect,” said Singer, who is chairman of the council’s Appointments and Ordinances Committee.

The former council president, known for his role as a mediator, has been criticized for allowing Albert Norman, known nationally as a “sprawl-buster,” to present his version of a recently rewritten wetlands ordinance proposed by the town’s Conservation Commission.

Norman was invited by Singer to attend his committee meeting on Feb. 10, where the conservation commission’s chairman presented the rewrite that took his five-member board 2 1/ 2 years to write.

Then, Norman presented his own rewrite, which tightens up the commission’s language, removes a controversial waiver that allows the commission some flexibility in its decisions and restricts the replication of wetlands.

Both commission Chairman Alex Haro and Norman discussed their changes that night and Haro was questioned by the council committee about his thoughts on Norman’s proposed changes. Haro has declined to comment on the controversy, saying he does not want to comment at this time on the commission’s rewrite or what happened at the meeting.

Some town leaders and Greenfield residents have expressed dismay, saying they are concerned that a town committee would give such a polarizing figure as Norman “preferential treatment” by allowing him to comment on and make changes to a proposed ordinance before a public hearing is held. Norman currently represents the abutters who are suing the town over its big box decision for French King Highway. That project involved wetlands and had to comply with the town’s wetlands rules. How those rules are changed could conceivably alter the fate of the French King land if the appeals court sends the case back to square one with town regulators, or if that project is defeated and another were to be proposed in the future.

Singer said Monday he did not intend to create controversy, but rather wanted to allow Norman to speak early so that others would be able to comment on his ideas, as well as the commission’s, before or during a public hearing that will be held in March or April.

“I failed miserably at what I was trying to do,” said Singer. “I take full responsibility.”

Singer said the committee will present the commission’s rewritten ordinance when it holds its public hearing.

“We can make Al’s available, too, if that’s what people want, but we will present the commission’s draft,” said Singer. “The reason I wanted Al involved is because he deals with this all the time and knows the weaknesses of our ordinance. I thought his input would be helpful.”

Impacts on wetlands and traffic are common concerns raised by foes of large-scale development like Norman, who raised wetlands concerns when the Home Depot was proposed in Greenfield.

Singer said his intention, after reading Norman’s changes, was to include him in discussions because “Al has been a force regarding major development in this town, and whether you agree or disagree with him, he is both effective and learned in development issues.”

Singer said Norman has, with a certain degree of success, managed to slow down or stymie development throughout the years using loopholes or weaknesses in the town’s local ordinances.

“I thought it would be a good idea for someone like that to point out where the weaknesses are,” said Singer, who said if he had it to do over again he would have given commission members and the public more notice about Norman being invited to the recent meeting to present his changes.

“A letter was sent to the commission on Feb. 6, but it never reached the members,” said Singer. “I’m very sorry that Alex didn’t get the invitation or Al’s rewrite until the day of the meeting. It was not supposed to be that way.

“Appointments and Ordinances will make sure the entire community has ample notice of the upcoming public hearing and that everyone has a chance to comment, if they’d like,” said Singer. “We all want a lot of public input and will listen to everyone’s ideas.”

Singer said he will go before the Conservation Commission on Feb. 25 to explain what happened. It is not yet clear whether other committee members will attend with Singer. That meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in 114 Main St.

Singer said he has heard that a couple of commission members may attend the council’s monthly meeting on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. in the studio in Greenfield Community Television, 393 Main St. It is not yet clear whether they will and, if they do, whether they plan to speak.

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