Planners won’t rush zone changes despite library support

  • The Greenfield Town Hall Recorder File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 3/18/2019 11:25:06 PM

GREENFIELD — A majority of the city Planning Board firmly pushed against zoning changes that they feel have been greatly rushed, while also rallying their support for a new public library Monday.

These zoning changes have been directly linked to a City Council plan to trade relaxed zoning laws for a new public library, both of which will be voted on tomorrow.

Member George Touloumtzis said the Planning Board should “not submit to the politics and emotions of the moment.”

“We’re planners, not politicians,” Touloumtzis said. “As such, we’re obliged to take the long view.”

The Greenfield Planning Board provided negative recommendations for the two zoning changes linked to the library deal — removing a majority of the French King corridor commercial development restrictions and relaxing citywide major development review guidelines.

The board met Monday night in the John Zon Community Center.

The negative recommendation does not prevent the council from voting for the zoning changes, however.

By the end of the meeting, all five planning board members expressed their support for a proposed $19.5 million public library that the zone changes were intended to facilitate.

“It’s hard for me to understand not voting ‘yes’ for the library,” Planning Board Chairwoman Linda Smith said. “It’s been very hard in these few weeks of being honest about these amendments and trying to not factor in how I feel about having that library.”

The library, which has a $9.4 million state grant tied to it to reduce the taxpayer cost to $10.1 million, must be voted on by the council before April 30 — and with the upcoming vacation schedule of some councilors, it is commonly believed among city officials Wednesday’s meeting will be the last chance to vote.

“I’m hoping the City Council realizes that zoning is something that can be flexible, adaptable over time,” Vice Chairman Charles Roberts said. “The library — this is our shot at it.”

The planners, before a room of nearly 50 people including staunch library supporters like Ed Berlin while also including opposition to the deal like big box foe Al Norman, methodically went through their views on the three zoning amendments, two of which are tied to the library deal.

Most of the members signaled it takes time to draft thoughtful zoning laws as a reason for their vote.

The lone member in favor of the zoning changes tied to the library was Virginia Desorgher, whose three-year term is up this summer. She cited the need to build for the whole community, particularly the aging senior population and those who have disabilities, which means building new stores that, unlike the downtown, would less likely trip people up.

“Limiting types of zoning makes inequality worse,” Desorgher said. “Twenty years without commercial development in a commercial zone, we must be making it a wee bit too difficult. Perhaps that was the intent.”

Most of the members lambasted the major development review proposal, which At-Large Councilor Isaac Mass, one of the two stewards of this deal, has said was the more important piece to him.

“It comes across as punitive and arbitrary and is insulting to this board,” Roberts said about the proposal that strips oversight from the board.

Touloumtzis likened the process to the art of sculpting.

“You’re throwing away the chisel and you’re just using a hammer,” he said. “It just seems so blunt and so crude to do the work that takes time.”

The Planning Board also gave a negative recommendation for the plan to rezone French King to industrial use, which At-Large Councilor Ashli Stempel proposed as a last-minute variation to the library for development deal.

“After the dust settles on this a bit,” Smith said, she hopes the board can tackle industrial questions. She encouraged a joint committee of Planning Board members and city councilors for study.

“It’s time to move beyond the stalemate that’s gripped our positions for far too long,” Smith said.


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