Council panel backs library-development deal

  • At-Large City Councilor Isaac Mass comments on proposed zoning changes, which he helped draft, during a public hearing before the Greenfield Planning Board and the Economic Development Committee of the Greenfield City Council on Tuesday night in the auditorium at Greenfield High School.  Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • The Greenfield Planning Board and the Economic Development Committee of the Greenfield City Council listen to public comment on proposed zoning changes Tuesday night in the auditorium at Greenfield High School.  Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Ed Berlin, a leading figure in support of a new public library, listens to comments on proposed zoning changes during a public hearing before the Greenfield Planning Board and the Economic Development Committee of the Greenfield City Council on Tuesday night in the auditorium at Greenfield High School.  Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Ed Berlin, a leading figure in support of a new public library, comments on proposed zoning changes during a public hearing before the Greenfield Planning Board and the Economic Development Committee of the Greenfield City Council on Tuesday night in the auditorium at Greenfield High School.  Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • At-Large City Councilor Isaac Mass comments on proposed zoning changes, which he helped draft, during a public hearing before the Greenfield Planning Board and the Economic Development Committee of the Greenfield City Council on Tuesday night in the auditorium at Greenfield High School.  Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Precinct 1 City Councilor Verne Sund comments on proposed zoning changes during a public hearing before the Greenfield Planning Board and the Economic Development Committee of the Greenfield City Council on Tuesday night in the auditorium at Greenfield High School.  Staff Photo/Dan Little

Staff Writer
Published: 3/12/2019 11:15:55 PM

GREENFIELD — The horse-trade of relaxed commercial zoning for a new public library is coming to a head and Tuesday night the deal moved along without much opposition. 

The brief hearing Tuesday marked the public’s first formal, outward chance to weigh in on the current zoning proposals — some of which have been discussed for nearly three decades, and could allow fast food and gas stations on the French King Highway corridor. 

The proposal is officially one step away from being approved, which could occur at next week’s March 20 Greenfield City Council meeting. 

The Planning Board, because of a technicality, did not deliberate on the zoning proposals, but the City Council’s Economic Development Committee recommended the two key zoning changes, citing their connection to approval of a new library. City councilors in favor of a $19.5 million library and relaxed development rules have linked the two proposals.

The Planning Board will give its recommendations Monday at 7 p.m. in the John Zon Community Center, and the City Council will likely make the final decisions later this month.

Two general sentiments surfaced at the highly anticipated hearing that lasted about an hour and drew a crowd of just over 50 people into the Greenfield High School auditorium with a thousand-person capacity. 

“Is this coercion or compromise?” Greenfield resident CelineNader asked. 

Some residents decried the process, while others heralded this deal brokered between City Council President Karen “Rudy” Renaud and At-Large Councilor Isaac Mass. 

“If there’s no integrity to your process about making zoning,” Greenfield resident Laura Siersema said, “then you’re really disrupting, disturbing, breaking the fabric in which you make decisions.”

Multiple people in their 30s expressed a desire to avoid the potential for big-box style development and also questioned the way this was being handled, while asking for the city councilors to consider the future of this city. 

A childhood friend of Mass, Fern Smith, said they have rarely ever agreed on anything, but when it comes to this plan, they do. 

Smith referenced when Magpie Pizzaria opened on Bank Row and the worries people expressed that the new business could hurt Village Pizza, down the block. People like choices, and they’re now both thriving, she said. 

Chief library proponent Ed Berlin harped on a similar point. 

“For the last 30 years there’s been a portion of our community that’s really wanted to see development\ of the French King Highway and have felt deprived of this opportunity,” Berlin said. 

“In an ideal setting this wouldn’t be the way to consider these zoning changes,” Berlin continued. “Bottom line is we will not get it unless we go forward with this grand compromise.”

The largest property owner along the French King Highway corridor is the Friends of the Wissatinnewag, a Native American group whose land is protected from development by state and federal laws. David Brule, president of the related Nolumbeka Project, said in February he wasn’t necessarily in favor of this deal.

On Tuesday, Brule, a longtime educator, said his view has shifted because of his passion for a new public library. 

“It’s undeniable that we feel coerced, but we will not challenge the plan,” Brule said. 

Precinct 1 Councilor Verne Sund spoke during the public comment section stating he has not yet made up his mind on how he will vote for the deal. 

“I’d like to see Greenfield, Main Street like it was, let’s see, 65 years ago when I could go downtown and get anything possible,” Sund said. “I’d also like to see our taxes go down.”

Mass lobbied for his compromise during public comment. 

“I’ve heard some comments about this is not the right way for the planning process to take place,” Mass said. “The conversations about development in Greenfield have been going on for 30 years.” 

Mass, and later Renaud, pointed to the city’s master plan that calls for a discount department store and a diversity in shopping options. 

At the start of the public hearing Planning Board Chairwoman Linda Smith explained she had learned the day before that because of a technicality the board could not deliberate on what they heard at the public hearing that night. It wasn’t properly enumerated on the agenda, according to the Clerk’s Office, she said. 

Smith also took the time to express her passion for public hearings.

“A public hearing is the most important part of our political process,” Smith said. “My personal hope is that in addition to being respectful of each other, we will truly listen to each other.” 

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264




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