Wedegartner/My Turn: Debunking our myths

Town Council President Mark Wisnewski’s viewpoint on mayoral appointments follows a strongly held, but false opinion that he shares with Albert Norman about appointments to the Greenfield Planning Board. It goes: Members of the Planning Board are only there to ensure the approval of large-scale retail development, most notably the French King project.

You could call that an urban myth, a uniquely Greenfield urban myth. But you could not call it a fact.

Mark and Albert would have us all believe that the “pro-big box litmus test” for appointments fitting this mold began with Mayor Christine Forgey. I know for a fact that current and past Planning Board members and alternates appointed by Mayor Christine Forgey and reappointed by Mayor William Martin were never asked a single specific question about their support for big box development. Those members would be James Allen, Linda Smith, Tracey Sutphin, Mary Newton and Clayton Sibley. I was appointed by the Board of Selectmen and reappointed by both mayors. The subject never came up for me either.

While I suspect that Mayor Martin’s withdrawal of the appointments of George Touloumtzis and Wilson Roberts were largely due to the unfair way in which James Allen was being targeted during discussions leading up to his reappointment by some members of the Town Council and a handful of citizens, I know for a fact that Mayor Martin had a very legitimate reason for wanting James Allen to stay on the Planning Board and for stating so. That reason is definitely related to the ongoing appeal of the French King project, but it was not because Jim’s support for the project was vital. State law regarding zoning appeals holds that any project that comes back to a special permit granting board for further review on appeal must be reviewed by the same members of the board who granted the permit. There is something of a “workaround” to that law for any new members who may come on a board, but it is not clear as to whether or how this particular aspect of Massachusetts law may or may not affect the ultimate outcome of the project, should it have to come back to the board.

Another particularly offensive and destructive urban myth put forth by Mark and Albert is that Planning Board members are “dismissive and derisive of public input and fail to provide balanced proceedings.” That is plainly untrue.

Yet it is often stated as fact by people and councilors who rarely attend any Planning Board proceedings. More than 40-plus hours of available GCTV tapes on the French King project public hearing can debunk this myth. The ruling of Judge Fein late last year that the Planning Board essentially conducted a proper public hearing, giving every opportunity for input and discussion from all parties is further evidence of the board’s professionalism during its proceedings. I might further add that a decision by the Greenfield Planning Board of my tenure has never been overturned on appeal to date.

A final and also destructive urban myth often told is that the Planning Board is “affiliated” with various projects in some way, including the “biomass plant.” To be affiliated implies a “membership, employment or financial” relationship in projects before us. This is also plainly untrue. For the record, and perhaps for the thousandth time, the Greenfield board that granted the special permit for the biomass plant was the Zoning Board of Appeals, not the Planning Board. Any positive or negative recommendations from the Planning Board to go forward with the review of that project does not affect whether or not the ZBA hears the permit. The ZBA hearing of the permit was a foregone conclusion under our zoning ordinances.

To use a single issue, as the council has done, to obstruct the executive office and a Greenfield board that conducts vital business on behalf of the city with numerous individuals interested in doing business here does not seem like a prelude to compromise, particularly when our charter does not suggest or require a compromise. It is time for all concerned to simply allow responsible citizens who wish to give time to their town the opportunity to do so.

Roxann Wedegartner is chairwoman of the Greenfield Planning Board.

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