Greenfield looks to progressive future as a city

  • Pedestrian passes Greenfield Public Library, which city officials hope to replace in the near future. Recorder file photo

Recorder Staff
Sunday, December 31, 2017

GREENFIELD — As Greenfield moves into the new year, residents can expect to see a number of changes and improvements — including a new community center, parking garage and, after 10 years, a decision about whether to allow a big box store on the French King Highway.

Meanwhile, Greenfield is entering its first year as an official city, shortly after becoming the only one in the county. After 14 years as “The City known as the Town of Greenfield,” the City Council voted Dec. 20 to update Greenfield’s charter.

Mayor William Martin said the newly designated city has several infrastructure projects in the works, and will continue to accommodate new development. And with four new City Councilors taking their seats Jan. 1, the legislative body’s center of gravity is expected to shift to the progressive side.

In 2018, the city will see further efforts to revitalize the long vacant First National Bank building on Bank Row, as well as plans to regionalize emergency dispatch and construct a new downtown Public Safety Complex, making room for a new library where the fire station currently sits.

“Our future looks really bright, and I’m excited about what can really boost us into an outstanding venue by virtue of some of the other things we’re doing,” Martin said.

The mayor said in the coming year, the city will be looking to sell the transfer station.

“We want to get out of the trash business,” Martin said, noting regulations make the city-run service expensive. “The impact is there would be no loss of jobs. The employees involved in that process would be absorbed by the Department of Public Works.”

Martin said a request for proposals will go out in January, and will include trash removal, recycling and composting. The change would save an estimated $400,000 to $700,000, according to the mayor.

“Whoever is interested in taking over our spot will have to come up with a plan for how to satisfy our needs,” he said.

On the infrastructure side, Greenfield is expected to see several new buildings in 2018, with plans for a number of others in the works.

The new John Zon Community Center is expected to open on the site of the former Davis Street School in February.

“That’s nearly finished. It looks great,” Martin said.

The building will include a community room capable of live streaming, which Martin said can be used for meetings and live performances. He said an ad-hoc group will be created to design a policy for reserving space in the community center.

On Olive Street, a parking garage is expected to be completed by October.

Work will be put on pause for the winter beginning Thursday, and will resume in March or April, depending on the weather. Martin said all of the work that’s been done so far has been underground. Olive Street will remain open and the site will be fenced off until construction resumes.

The city is also moving forward with plans to construct a downtown Public Safety Complex and become part of a regionalized emergency dispatch.

“The police station was never designed as a police station. It still needs constant fix-up. The fire station was built in 1938. It certainly wasn’t built for the vehicles we have now. It’s not able to house the vehicles we have now,” Martin said. “The preference for public safety or police downtown has always been a high priority since I’ve been here.”

He said the city has been working on a proposal to redevelop a vacant space near Wells and Main streets into a Public Safety Complex, which would house police, fire, ambulance and dispatch services.

“It’s our intention to continue to work on that; we’re very close to coming up with a cost for the space,” Martin said.

He said the police station on High Street was appraised for about $1 million, and the city has at least one interested buyer. In terms of dispatch, Martin said the city is in the midst of a study on becoming part of a regionalized system.

“The plan is to have the state work that themselves, become part of our Public Safety Complex,” Martin said. “What’s known as our dispatch department will be taken over by the state and we won’t have one anymore. We’ll be part of the regionalized effort.”

He noted that if the Fire Department moves into the new building, that will free up space for the construction of a new library on Main Street.

The $20 million structure, sited next to the current library, would be paid for through a combination of local, state and private funds. Greenfield is expected to receive $9.3 million from the state to put toward construction of the building.

Plans to redevelop the long vacant First National Bank building into a downtown cultural center are also in the beginning stages. Martin said engineers have completed an updated study on the structure, and will meet with town officials, the Greenfield Redevelopment Authority and a local nonprofit to solidify plans for the building. After that work is completed, Martin said the group will explore potential funding sources.

The city is also making progress on its effort to bring high-speed, wireless internet to every business and home in Greenfield.

John Lunt, assistant to the mayor for Special Projects, recently told the City Council that Greenfield Community Energy and Technology is expanding about twice as fast as initial estimates projected.

He said the area north of Beacon Street should be entirely lit up by May, as well as the Devens Street area. Between 2,500 and 3,000 new homes will be served by the internet service at that point.

“We feel that we’re ready to move along at a much more accelerated pace,” Lunt said.

Big box decision

And, more than 10 years after the Connecticut developer first filed plans with the town, Greenfield should finally have a decision about whether a big box store will be allowed on the French King Highway.

Seven neighbors are in the process of appealing a decision by the town’s Planning Board to grant a special permit for the construction of the 135,000-square-foot store on the French King Highway. The project would be built by Ceruzzi Inc. and has long been rumored to be a Wal-Mart.

Greenfield resident Al Norman, known internationally as a “sprawlbuster” consultant against Wal-Mart and other big box corporations, said he expects the case to go to trial before a single judge in May or June. Then, he said the decision could take another several months.

“It is very possible that we could know by maybe the end of the summer whether this project is going to proceed or be altered,” Norman said.

He noted, however, that Wal-Mart has cut back dramatically on the number of stores it intends to build due to online competition from Amazon.

“I don’t know what’s coming on the French King, except I am questioning whether Wal-Mart will actually ever build on the French King at this point, given their dramatic model change,” Norman said.