Council votes for new library

  • Ed Berlin, head of the movement for a new Greenfield Public Library, left, hugs Karen Larabee, co-chair of the Friends of the Greenfield Public Library, after the Greenfield City Council voted to approve a new library and zoning changes Wednesday night at Greenfield High School. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Ed Berlin, head of the movement for a new Greenfield Public Library, speaks before the Greenfield City Council votes on a new library and zoning changes Wednesday night at Greenfield High School. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Supporters of a new public library celebrate after the Greenfield City Council voted in favor of the library Wednesday night at Greenfield High School. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • The Greenfield High School cafeteria filled its 200-person capacity leaving some residents to look on from outside at the Greenfield City Council vote on a new library and zoning changes Wednesday night at Greenfield High School. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • The Greenfield City Councilor voted to approve a deal for a new library and commercial zoning changes Wednesday night at Greenfield High School. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Christine Forgey, first mayor of Greenfield, speaks before the Greenfield City Council votes on a new library and zoning changes Wednesday night at Greenfield High School. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Supporters of a new public library celebrate after the Greenfield City Council voted in favor of the library Wednesday night at Greenfield High School. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Supporters of a new public library celebrate after the Greenfield City Council voted in favor of the library Wednesday night at Greenfield High School. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • The Greenfield High School cafeteria filled its 200-person capacity leaving some residents to overflow to the auditorium and outside spaces during the Greenfield City Council vote on a new library and zoning changes Wednesday night at Greenfield High School. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • The Greenfield High School cafeteria filled its 200-person capacity leaving some residents to overflow to the auditorium and outside spaces during the Greenfield City Council vote on a new library and zoning changes Wednesday night at Greenfield High School. Staff Photo/Dan Little

Staff Writer
Published: 3/20/2019 11:20:18 PM

GREENFIELD — Greenfield will get a new library, because most of its city councilors want to invest in and attract investment to their community.

The City Council late last night voted 9-3-1 to authorize borrowing for a new $19.5 million library – ending weeks of wrangling that culminated by swapping relaxed commercial development rules for library votes.

It was a close call, as library opponent Verne Sund was the deciding “yes” vote on the French King Highway zoning changes that were needed to make the library deal work. So, though Sund argued taxpayers on fixed incomes couldn’t afford a new library, his vote for more commercial development on French King held the deal together when it came time to vote on the library.

While the library, to be built near the current one, will cost $19.5 million to build, the state has promised to grant $9.4 million and it’s hoped as much as $2 million more will come from donations.

Cheers erupted from the standing-room-only high school cafeteria crowd and smiles broke out among councilors when the final vote climaxed three hours of deliberations, first about the economic development proposals and then about the library.

Those who voted to allow more commercial development on French King Highway and to relax major development review criteria across the city couched their support in terms of drawing more investment to Greenfield, which in turn could help support the cost of a new library. And those who backed the library also saw it as an investment in the city’s future and something that would attract new people and businesses to the city. There was enough overlap of the two groups to win the day.

“I’m now working with people who we were definitely enemies in the past,” Vice President Penny Ricketts said earlier in the meeting. “That’s my vision. We don’t have to have all the divisiveness.”

The meeting was filled to capacity. The Greenfield Fire Chief had to find overflow space for people trying to come in at 7 p.m.

The library was approved on a count of 9-3-1, with Sund among the “no” votes. The French King rezoning was approved with the necessary 10 votes. The relaxation of rules for major development review passed 12-1, with At-Large Councilor Ashli Stempel voting against.

The relaxed commercial development rules for library compromise was developed and championed by Council President Karen “Rudy” Renaud, who favored the library, and At-Large Councilor Isaac Mass, who wanted the zoning changes. “President Reagan, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, was right,” said Renaud, piggybacking on a speech from Mass earlier. “I think the compromise we made tonight … is one that makes sense.”

The commercial growth restrictions along French King were set in place in 1993 after a failed attempt to build a Walmart in that area. It barred fast food, drive-throughs, drive-ins and gas stations, business it was felt might follow development of a big box store there.

Public Comment

Many of the residents who came to speak over the hour of public comment called for compromise, signaling this as a chance to end old wounds caused by those favoring and opposing commercial development in town, especially retail development.

The first mayor of Greenfield, Christine Forgey, made a rare public speaking appearance. She signaled her strong support for a new public library, “a guardian of access to knowledge.” And then spoke to the zoning changes.

“The overlay district was born in controversy,” Forgey said. “You have a chance to put it to rest in compromise, which is a very healing process. It’s not often done in government.”

Former local state representative and library backer Bill Benson said, “This has been one of the most well organized efforts. Actually, it’s a movement. We started a movement that goes well beyond the library, and it goes well into our future.”

Former Greenfield Town Council Chairman David Singer said, “Most important, you have the opportunity to bring about peace in Greenfield and put the past to rest.”

Former Greenfield elected official Wilson Roberts said, “A willingness to compromise is essential to our democracy.”

The Nolumbeka Project, which represents the Friends of the Wissatinnewag and the native land along the French King Highway corridor, originally raised cautioned about the deal, but later flipped to express its support. The leader of the group, David Brule, said this week he felt blackmailed into supporting the deal to ensure the protection of the group’s historic burial grounds.

Ed Berlin, the lead of the library grassroots campaign, spoke last.

“Tonight is a historic night,” Berlin said. “Each of you can be making the most important political decision of your entire political career. The decisions you make tonight will be shaping many generations of Greenfield to come.”

The current library that’s in a 1797 historic building has been Greenfield’s library since 1908.

Precinct 3 Councilor Brickett Allis, who is running for mayor, warned residents the library would overburden the town’s ability to pay its debts.

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264




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