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Rose property subject of dueling meetings

Conway selectmen, Planning Board plan similar, separate hearings

CONWAY — The Planning Board will hold a meeting of town boards to discuss proposed uses for the former Rose property on Jan. 10 at the Town Hall. However, the selectmen have scheduled their own similar meeting for Jan. 14.

Town Administrator Ed MacDonald “said, ‘Oh no,they’re not coming.’ They’re officially not coming,” Planning Board Chairwoman Diane Poland informed the other board members Thursday night.

The competing meeting dates frustrated Planning Board members, who believed more communication and partnership would follow the Dec. 10 meeting in which 25 town officials and community members squeezed into the small selectmen’s office to find out about the selectmen’s proposal to set up a municipal multiplex on the Rose property.

“I want to work with them. I thought a meeting like this would help,” said Planning Board member, Michael Kurkulonis.

“Up until hearing they don’t want to come, I thought it (Dec. 10) was a productive meeting. Hopefully, they’ll reconsider,” said Joe Strezgowski, a Planning Board member and former 24-year selectmen. “It’d be nice to know what motivated them. What brought them to the conclusion to consolidate” (town facilities).

Earlier in the week on Monday, the selectmen set a date of Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. for its committees meeting.

When asked if the selectmen would attend the Planning Board’s Jan. 10 committees meeting, Selectboard Chairman John O’Rourke confirmed in an email Friday that “the meeting with all committees is on Jan 14 in the Town Hall.”

Since the town exchanged a house near the Grammar School for the 11-acre riverfront field off Shelburne Falls Road in 2006, the town has been debating what to do with the property. The Rose property has taken center stage in recent town discussions.

Which board should take the lead in determining the best use for the property has become a sticking point between the selectmen and Planning Board. Earlier this month, the selectmen surprised the Planning Board and other committees with a proposal to place a multi-use municipal complex on the property.

The proposal appeared well under way with Selectman Rick Bean and Town Administrator MacDonald conducting a site visit with two consultants from Westfield — R. Levesque Associates engineers and architetct Christian Carey — on Nov. 8.

MacDonald recommended Levesque, a firm he worked with in his former job.

A proposed contract obtained by The Recorder reveals talks between the selectmen, town administrator, and engineers began three weeks before MacDonald officially started his job. The three-page proposal by R. Levesque lists a $7,750 price for a feasibilty study. The pact has not been signed.

The cost that Christian Carey, a design architect, proposed to the town remains unknown. At the Dec. 6 Planning Board meeting, Bean referenced a $12,000 engineering cost associated with the feasbility study, according to the meeting minutes. It is unknown whether this figure combined the $7,750 Levesque fee with Carey’s.

The Planning Board believes it is its role to develop a proposed use of the property. “The Planning Board believes it is our pervue to hold an information gathering meeting about landuse,” Poland said.

By state law, the Planning Board takes the lead on land-use issues and makes recommendations to the selectmen.

At the center of the political debate is that the selectmen moved forward without any input from other committees, many of whom had already spent years looking into the property for different uses.

The Housing Committee has explored building affordable housing for the elderly at the Rose property. The Parks and Recreation Committee envisioned two soccer fields. And the Friends of the South River are focused on solving erosion along the South River that threatens four private homes. Part of the solution may be to divert flood water onto a lowered floodplain on the Rose property.

Other ideas include a leeching area for the town’s sewage and a highway garage.

In addition, a private designer, Tom O’Brien, has proposed a design that combines affordable housing, recreational ballfields and town offices.

A question on many town officials’ and residents’ minds is what would have happened had they not shown up at that Dec. 10 selectmen’s meeting. Many suspected the board would have signed a contract with Levesque.

At the conclusion of that meeting, the stakeholders — the Housing Committee, Friends of the South River, the Parks and Recreation Committee, the selectmen and Planning Board — agreed to meet in January to discuss possible uses for the property.

The Planning Board left under the impression it would take the lead organizing the meeting. Poland said she would send an email to relevant committees informing them of the meeting date.

At the Jan. 10 meeting, the board plans to discuss the pros and cons of each proposal. The meeting will likely extend into two to three nights.

The Planning Board agreed to invite the selectmen once more.

“We’ll have a very rich meeting,” Poland said.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
kmckiernan@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

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