Crucial meetings about Greenfield library on tap

  • Greenfield Public Library STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 3/16/2019 5:16:46 AM

GREENFIELD — Before a nearly empty auditorium, just past 8 p.m., At-Large City Councilor Ashli Stempel said she was very surprised.

“I was expecting to be here until midnight,” she said at a hearing about easing development restrictions in Greenfield — zoning changes that could win needed votes for a new public library.

What the unexpected low turnout for such a controversial proposal portends is unclear as the city heads into what may be the final week of a monthslong process aimed at building the city a $19.5 million library in exchange for easing restrictions on development on French King Highway and elsewhere.

Stempel, chairwoman of the council’s Economic and Development Committee, met Wednesday night with the Planning Board for a public hearing on the zoning changes.

“I hope that you’ll join us on the 20th for the full discussion” and final decision, she said in closing.

There are actually two final formal proceedings before this chapter is likely to end:

■Monday at 7 p.m. in the John Zon Community Center the Greenfield, the Planning Board will decide on its recommendation to the City Council; 

■Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Greenfield High School cafeteria, the City Council may vote on the library and zoning changes.

Library proponents who have been short of the support they need are hoping the zoning changes will sway at least one more swing vote to the library’s side.

The Planning Board, led by Chairwoman Linda Smith, will deliberate and render a recommendation on zoning changes that include allowing gas stations and fast-food restaurants along French King Highway. A negative recommendation does not prevent the council from changing the zoning to win a library vote.

Greenfield must decide on the library by the end of April, when a $9.4 million state grant offer expires.

Once the planners submit their recommendation, the action moves to the council.

Councilors takes

After the public hearing Wednesday, which drew about 50 people to the high school, the Economic Development Committee debated the merits of the zoning proposals.  

While doing so, some of the councilors began to tip their hands on the library for development deal, developed by pro-library Council President Karen “Rudy” Renaud and pro-development At-Large Councilor Isaac Mass. 

“If we’re talking about a compromise, are we giving away more than we’re offering?” asked Stempel.

She has advocated for industrial zoning along the French King to ensure better paying jobs than retail stores if something has to be built there.

Separate from the conversation over this deal, the Planning Board and the department’s director have been developing new citywide zoning recommendations.

These plans, which have been in the works on-and-off for two years, have taken a backseat to the current proposal, and previously for the crafting of marijuana regulations.

The zoning use table, if approved by the council months down the line, could allow for industrial development in commercial areas, and vice versa — modernizing the regulations with today’s type of business.

Said Precinct 5 Councilor Tim Dolan: “I’m willing to support them in the spirit of compromise because the library is just that important.”

Precinct 4 Councilor Wanda Pyfrom, who has not said if she plans to vote for the library, recalled in 2017 when Mass proposed a similar set of zoning amendments.

“We tried to compromise at that time and it failed,” Pyfrom said. “To me at this point this doesn’t feel comfortable, whether it’s a hostage situation or not.”

She didn’t go as far as saying she will not vote for the deal though, saying she wants to first hear from the rest of her fellow councilors on Wednesday.

Newly appointed Precinct 2 City Councilor Mark Berson said the library is a roughly $20 million asset to the community for which the city will pay about half, which he called a “bargain.”

Vice President Penny Ricketts spoke at length about the decades of in-fighting in town over commercial development.

Ricketts said she doesn’t think much development will go along the French King even if the zoning is relaxed. She said she knows Greenfield has a reputation in the business community of fighting against projects it doesn’t like.

“I just hope for once that we can just get out of our own way,” Ricketts said. “We take a chance, we see what happens.”

After the fact

Precinct 1 Councilor Verne Sund, who spoke at a public hearing last week saying he hasn’t made up his mind yet, had long been viewed as a swing vote.

In December he indicated he was unlikely to vote for a new library. On Thursday, Sund said he wants to make sure people who aren’t in favor of the new library feel comfortable showing up at Wednesday’s council meeting.

He has expressed unease about the costs of a new fire station combined with the costs of a new library. The total should be around $30 million to $32 million, based on early fire station estimates.

Friday, Sund said he is willing to pay for a new fire station, but doesn’t want to spend more than $14 million, grants included, for a new library, which is about $6 million less than currently proposed.

“The library, with all the technology now that my kids get on their phones, in four years maybe they won’t be using the library,” Sund said. “That’s what a lot of people are afraid of. That’s what a lot of people are afraid to come in and say.”

You can reach Joshua Solomon at: jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264




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