Study: Deerfield St. plans should include flood risks

  • The floods in March of 1936 left large portions of Franklin County in disarray, including this portion of Deerfield Street in Greenfield. Recorder File—

  • Looking south on Deerfield Street. December 13, 2018 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz

  • Looking north on Deerfield Street. December 13, 2018 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz

  • Deerfield Street at Washington Street in Greenfield. December 13, 2018 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz

  • The southern gateway to Greenfield on Deerfield Street. December 13, 2018 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz

  • Brookie sculpture at pocket park on Deerfield Street. December 13, 2018 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 12/14/2018 6:32:28 AM

GREENFIELD — Even with political will flowing and potential avenues for government funding, the redevelopment of the Deerfield Street corridor might run into a natural obstacle.

A good portion of the Deerfield Street area is in a floodplain, which was made abundantly clear during the flood of 1936, when the Green River submerged much of the street.

Any plans to invest in the area some city officials are calling the “southern gateway” to Greenfield will likely need to take into account sustainability of new development in the face of possible future flooding, according to research analysis from a group of graduate students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The research, which included a handful of recommendations on how to remodel the area for more affordable housing while bringing in more businesses and increasing the walkability of the area, was unveiled at a joint public meeting with the Sustainable Greenfield Implementation Committee Wednesday evening at the John Zon Community Center.

The research, while focusing primarily on the potential to make Deerfield Street more attractive and livable, was based in part on groups like Sustainable Greenfield that attended an earlier hearing but not on a canvass of Deerfield Street residents themselves.

They recommended Greenfield consider flood-proofing its infrastructure and design flood-safe buildings.

The five students, associated with the UMass Landscaping Architecture and Regional Planning Department, provided the report to Greenfield’s Community Development Coordinator MJ Adams. They also suggested not trying to rehab the buildings in the event of a major flood, but instead to leave the area for less intensive uses like parks, while more intensive uses like homes move to higher ground. The area north of Washington and Hope streets could be rezoned for higher density use.

In 1936, a great flood washed its way across good portions of not only Franklin County, but across New England. In a week’s time, an initial estimate of $3 million of damages were reported, destroying bridges. One of the worst Greenfield locations for flooding that was documented was the Deerfield Street corridor. The flooding led to creation of a flood wall along the street the early 1940s, which has been left substantially intact since.

The question lingered through the presentation of whether it was smart to spend money investing in the Deerfield Street corridor without proper flood preparation, a point a few residents stood up to say was their biggest takeaways of the night.

Other recommendations

The students — August Williams-Eynon, Grace McCabe, ToriellenSwistak, Alexander Wade, Sarah Crowley — explained the great need for affordable, especially low-income, housing in the area based on a handful of statistics, like median income and college degrees.

Residents who took part in a prior meeting with the researchers said they were most interested in mixed-use buildings, which can include a restaurant on the ground level and an apartment above.

People also want to see the area become more walkable and bike friendly, both as a practical matter, but also from a beautification viewpoint.

A recommendation to adopt an overlay district that would allow for high-density partly residential areas was well-received. A former Greenfield Planning Board member pointed out she recalls the board working on this type of district, but it hasn’t been adopted yet.

The goal is to also make current vacant homes more livable, which at times could require government money, but is seen as viable.

State highway

City Councilor Otis Wheeler urged “Let’s turn it back into a neighborhood … Right now it’s a highway.”

The councilor, who said he has lived on Deerfield Street for the last five years, was responding to another Deerfield Street resident.

“I think this is a beautiful presentation, but I don’t know where you’re going with it,” said Edward Peramba, who said he has lived on Deerfield Street since 1957.

He expressed his frustration with the sudden desire to redesign his neighborhood.

“We’re the area that nobody wants to see,” Peramba said about Deerfield Street. “Now, there’s a big scurry of people who want to do something. Is that really what we want to see? Are we going to be forced to go somewhere we don’t want to be?”

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

413-772-0261, ext. 264


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