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Waiver sticking point as Town Council committee reviews local wetlands law

GREENFIELD — It appears the town is headed toward restoring more rigid protections against any type of development near wetlands, possibly by removing a waiver provision that was added to the local wetlands rules about six years ago.

How soon that will happen, though, is still unknown.

Town Council’s Appointments and Ordinances Committee will hold a public hearing tonight at 6:30 p.m. in 114 Main St. to discuss with residents and town leaders the Conservation Commission’s recent rewrite of the town’s wetlands ordinance. The commission’s chairman has characterized his board’s rewrite as an attempt to be “clearer and offer better definitions and understanding” of the current local law.

The committee may begin discussing the rewrite after the public hearing tonight or may decide to wait to discuss it at a future meeting.

The committee might eventually make its own changes to the rewrite. If that happens, it will most likely send those changes to the Conservation Commission for review. The proposed ordinance will eventually go to the full council for approval.

It seems that the most controversial section in the current wetlands ordinance, which was left in by the commission during its rewrite, is a waiver that was added in 2008 to relax local wetland rules as the commission sees fit.

The waiver was added in the middle of the commission’s review of the big box project planned for French King Highway, when in 2008, former Mayor Christine Forgey and Marlene Morrocco, her economic development director, asked that the waiver be adopted and Town Council complied.

The waiver allows the commission to waive “specifically identified and requested procedures, design specifications, performance standards or other requirements set forth in its regulations ...”

According to Eric Twarog, the town’s director of planning and development, the waiver was not used when the commission approved the big box project on French King Highway.

In its review of the rewrite, Appointments and Ordinances — consisting of Precinct 5 Councilor David Singer (chairman), Town Council Vice President Hillary Hoffman, Precinct 1 Councilor Marian Kelner, Precinct 8 Councilor Karen Shapiro Miller, and At-large Councilor Alfred Siano — has expressed some discomfort with the waiver, and Town Council President Mark Wisnewski has said he is concerned about its vagueness.

During an Appointments and Ordinances meeting on Feb. 10, Albert Norman, the Greenfield anti-big box development consultant who calls himself a “sprawl-buster” and currently represents seven abutters who are suing the town over a big box project it approved for French King Highway, presented his markup of the commission’s rewrite, in which he struck the waiver, saying it is too broad and allows too much leeway for any project, big or small, that might come before the commission.

Some councilors agreed with Norman that night and asked Conservation Commission Chairman Alex Haro, who was in attendance, how he would feel about removing the waiver.

Haro said he would not have a problem with the waiver staying or going, but it is not yet clear how the rest of the commission feels. All five commission members have been invited to tonight’s public hearing.

“We want to hear from everyone,” said Singer. “This is an important law and we want to make sure we have all of the information we need to make an informed decision. We’re not going to rush this.”

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