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Mayor Martin: Norman shouldn’t get special privileges

Worries wetland law rewrite will block development

GREENFIELD — Mayor William Martin says the decision of a Town Council committee to allow the Greenfield man who has opposed big box development for more than 20 years to present changes to the town’s wetlands ordinance before a public hearing was even scheduled was not only wrong, but sends a message to potential businesses and developers that Greenfield is anti-business.

“It creates a negative platform for enticing and soliciting businesses and for expanding the tax base to increase revenue for the town,” said Martin. “I’ve worked hard to attract businesses here.”

The mayor said he believes it is not a coincidence that the town’s Appointments and Ordinances Committee is currently entertaining two ordinances that could affect development along French King Highway.

Martin said he believes the Appointments and Ordinances Committee allowing Albert Norman — the Greenfield man who bills himself nationally as a “sprawl-buster” and who is currently representing abutters suing the town over its big box decision for French King Highway — to speak on the subject and offer a rewrite of a town wetlands ordinance that affects development has, at the very least, had the appearance of impropriety.

The French King 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, and if that project is defeated and another were to be proposed in the future.

The committee is also currently considering an ordinance that would strengthen Native American burial and reburial ground rules, and that is another issue that has been a point of contention on the French King property.

Equal access

“ All town committees are supposed to give citizens equal access and in this instance, that did not happen,” said Martin. “This sets up a situation where it’s the (Conservation Commission) versus Al. Most people wouldn’t know that they could get a copy of an ordinance and mark it up. They do know that they are allowed to voice their thoughts at a public hearing.”

Martin said because the five appointed members of the town’s Conservation Commission knew nothing about Norman having received a copy of its rewrite last fall, or that he planned to do a rewrite of his own, it was a disrespectful act on the part of the committee and its chairman.

Precinct 5 Councilor David Singer, chairman of Appointments and Ordinances, said Norman received a copy of the public document last fall and did a rewrite of his own, but no one on the council, including himself, intended to sneak that by anyone.

According to Singer, Norman submitted his rewrite to Town Council President Mark Wisnewski, who passed it on to Singer’s committee for review. At the time, former Precinct 2 Councilor Keith Zaltzberg was chairman of Appointments and Ordinances.

“I sent a letter to all commission members on Feb. 6, inviting them, along with Al, to come to our meeting to hear both the commission’s and Al’s drafts,” said Singer.

He said, for some reason, no one received the letter in time.

“I regret that Alex Haro (Conservation Commission chairman) didn’t receive my invitation or Al’s rewrite before the day it was presented,” Singer has said. “I also regret that the rest of the commission didn’t hear about it until the day after it happened.”

Time for review

Martin said Norman should not have been allowed to present his rewrite in public before commission members had a chance to review his changes, or outside of a public hearing.

“I understand that Al’s rewrite was finished in October,” said Martin. “It should have been given to the commission then. Giving it to Alex the day of the meeting put the entire commission at a disadvantage.”

Martin said when the committee started asking Haro during the Feb. 10 meeting what he thought of Norman’s rewrite, it put Haro in a position to have to respond on the fly.

“It didn’t give him enough time to review the document and then respond,” said Martin.

Haro has declined at this time to comment on the controversy, but at least two commission members, Timothy Mosher and Thomas DeHoyos, have said they are irate and incensed. A third member, John Blasiak, has questioned why a resident would be allowed to present a rewrite of town law outside of a public hearing and before any other residents were allowed to.

Martin said he does not have a problem with the commission rewriting the town’s wetlands ordinance to protect wetlands, but does not want a known opponent of big box development writing town laws that affect development he is blatantly against.

Deeper divide

“We want to make Greenfield friendly for economic development,” said Martin. “Not just for big box development, but for all types of development. Al’s rewrite doesn’t show anyone that it is.”

Martin said besides finding ways to protect the environment, the town also has to find ways to expand its tax base and keep Greenfield an affordable place to live. Otherwise, the town will have other problems.

“The committee allowing Al to present his rewrite before the rest of the public had a chance to weigh in did not settle the waters of the divide on this issue, but created a deeper divide,” said Martin. “It has set up an adversarial situation.”

For years, dating at least back to the narrowly defeated Walmart plan for French King Highway in the 1980s, proposals for large stores in Greenfield have seen conflicts between those in town who opposed large-scale projects for a range of reasons including effects on wetlands, important Native American sites, traffic and local stores, and those who see such projects as good for taxpayers, job seekers and consumers. In addition to the original Walmart shopping center and the currently disputed French King Highway department store project, Walgreen’s, Home Depot and BJ’s Wholesale Club were all challenged.

The Conservation Commission worked over the last 2 1 / 2 years to rewrite the town’s wetlands laws that are at the heart of the current controversy.

Norman’s rewrite tightens up the commission’s language, removes a controversial waiver that allows the commission some flexibility when making decisions, and restricts the replication of wetlands, essentially “moving” wetlands, something that developers traditionally have been allowed to do to make room for construction without a net loss of wetland area.

Norman’s rewrite would also prohibit the commission from hiring a consultant that has been used by a developer within the five years previous.

Singer said Monday that he did not intend to create controversy, but instead had hoped to allow Norman to speak early so that others would be able to comment on his, as well as the commission’s, rewrite during a public hearing Appointments and Ordinances plans to hold in March or April.

Singer plans to attend the commission’s meeting on Tuesday to discuss the controversy. That meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in 114 Main St.

The council will hold a meeting tonight at 7 in the studio in Greenfield Community Television, 393 Main St. It is believed that some members of the commission plan to attend, although that could not be confirmed at this writing. There is a public forum held shortly after the beginning of each meeting. Anyone from the public may speak briefly during the forum on any issue.

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