$1M for recreational fields, modified pot bylaw approved at Deerfield Special Town Meeting

  • Deerfield voters approved all seven articles on Thursday’s Special Town Meeting warrant. The meeting took place on the football field at Frontier Regional School. Staff photo/MARY BYRNE

  • Deerfield voters approved all seven articles on Thursday’s Special Town Meeting warrant. The meeting took place on the football field at Frontier Regional School. Staff photo/MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer
Published: 10/23/2020 3:03:08 PM
Modified: 10/23/2020 3:02:57 PM

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Voters approved all seven articles on the warrant for Thursday night’s Special Town Meeting, including changes to the marijuana zoning bylaw and the authorization of an additional $1 million in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding for the purpose of developing recreational fields.

The meeting took place on the football field at Frontier Regional School.

Article 4, which generated the most discussion, sought approval from voters to authorize an additional $1 million in CPA funds for the construction of recreational fields, foot and bicycle paths, and parking, just north of Frontier on North Main Street. The parcel of land purchased by the town was one of two parcels put before voters at Annual Town Meeting in June, which approved the appropriation of $1.2 million for the project. The purchase of the second parcel of land, however, was rejected by voters.

After the acquisition and further evaluation of the land, it became evident the town would require more funding for the project. The town also became aware of an opportunity to receive a Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities (PARC) grant, in the amount of up to $400,000; however, to qualify, the town needed more specific language in its application.

Speaking in support of the article, Bruce St. Peters said the town has, for years, passed over opportunities to increase recreational space in Deerfield.

“We do not have recreation (space) in this town,” he said. “We do have an opportunity here … that’s not going to affect the tax base because this is being done with CPA funds.”

Some residents, including John Pereski, had questions about why some of the money in the CPA account, specifically the roughly $846,000 in the “undesignated fund balance” wasn’t being put toward improving the South County Senior Center.

“I think we should be ashamed at what the seniors have to go to for a senior center,” Pereski said. “I think we should be spending this money for the senior center.”

Tim Hilchey, who serves as Community Preservation Commission chair, explained to voters that while money could be used to improve the exterior of the building, it could not be used to rebuild it.

“There are four areas in which CPA money can be used: for recreation, open space, historic preservation and affordable (senior) housing,” Hilchey clarified, noting that the South County Senior Center is considered a historic building. “We could fix the exterior of the building if a proposal was brought forward, which I think would be a good use of the funds, but we couldn’t build the senior center.”

Town Moderator Daniel Graves redirected the conversation to the article on the warrant, which pertained to CPA funds for the purpose of developing recreational fields.

Judith Rathbone, who owns the parcel that the town rejected the purchase of in June, spoke not as a voter, but as an abutter to the proposed project. She expressed concerns for safety given traffic volumes and potential speeding on North Main Street, but also for the process by which the town was seeking approval for money before consulting on plans with the community. Another community member, Amanda Butler, agreed.

“You want us to give you the money, but you’re not even going to have a meeting to discuss the safety issue that gentlemen brought up with the crosswalk,” Butler said, referencing Zoning Board of Appeals member Robert Decker’s comments that a crosswalk on North Main Street would be necessary. “We’re just supposed to trust that this money’s going to be used to create a space that’s safe, that’s accessible, that serves the purpose of a town park, which is what everyday wanted.”

Ultimately, the article passed, but not with unanimous support. The Selectboard said the first remote informational meeting on the park is scheduled for Nov. 18.

Two articles on the warrant sought approval for changes to existing zoning bylaws — the Flood Plain District and the Marijuana Overlay District. Changes to the Flood Plain District were primarily needed to update the existing bylaws to meet state and federal standards.

“One of the major things ... is that right now (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) requires that towns must have flood plain bylaws that meet the minimum standards to continue to qualify for federal insurance and subsidized federal assistance, which makes flood insurance affordable for residents,” said Planning Board Chair John Waite. “The existing flood plain zoning is outdated.”

As for the marijuana bylaw, the changes proposed would pull marijuana cultivation out of the Residential-Agricultural district, and create a new map that includes three Marijuana Overlay districts — one for cultivation, manufacturing and retail; one for just retail; and one for cultivation and manufacturing.

Aside from a few clarifying questions, the bylaw changes passed with little discussion.

In other business, the town approved authorizing the Selectboard to apply for and select grants; exempting three police officers from retirement age to continue service; a consent article with a handful of financial items; and accepting Merrigan Way as a town road.

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne

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