Plan in works to sway library votes

  • Former Mackin property, now owned by Ceruzzi Properties, off the French King Highway in Greenfield. February 6, 2019 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ

  • From Clark Street north is the French King overlay district in Greenfield. Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 2/9/2019 12:04:41 AM

GREENFIELD — As Tuesday’s special City Council meeting approaches to consider a potential zoning change that is a part of a deal to gain the necessary votes for a new public library, it’s still unclear how the horse trading will play out.

Those on the council who are not definite “yes” votes for the $19.5 million library have yet to say if this current plan is enough to sway them. 

The proposal calls for relaxing zoning restrictions for development on French King Highway and for large-scale projects, in exchange for support for the library, which has been one or two votes shy of the number needed.

Precinct 1 Councilor Verne Sund said he needs to learn more about the proposed deal; Precinct 9 Councilor Dan Leonovich said at first glance it’s not enough to change his mind, but he still needs to read more about the proposal; and Precinct 4 Councilor Wanda Pyfrom did not return a request for comment by press time Friday.

“As far as the zoning changes, I have no knowledge that this is some form of a compromise,” Leonovich said in an email Thursday evening, where he explained he has no “concrete views” at this time. “I would love to see what that looks like, and I would doubt that anything can be done before the library grant deadline, but I could be wrong about that. We tried this change two years ago and it failed. Had it passed then, and we saw businesses moving into the area, maybe that additional revenue could have changed the numbers, but we are far from that point now.” 

At-Large Councilor Isaac Mass, who along with City Council President Karen “Rudy” Renaud helped to shape the deal, said he still needs to see more substantive changes to the major development review that governs more than just the French King Highway overlay district but the whole city. Yet, Mass remains optimistic a compromise can be reached.

Renaud, who drafted the deal and submitted it to the City Clerk’s Office Wednesday, said Friday “being on the council since 2011 has made me think I’ve seen it all, but I guess I haven’t.” She said she’s received “hurtful and vitriolic messages” from a small group of people that has been “eye-opening.”

“I never knew what it was like to be on the other side of the big box debate because it hasn’t really come up during my tenure, but geez,” Renaud said. “Now I know why people got so hurt and are still holding resentments from the debate over large scale commercial development. Still, I believe we are trying to do something that is right and good and will not be swayed by meanness. But like a good friend just said, ‘sometimes you just gotta pull the trigger and chaos always precedes order.’”

The council president also noted she has received positive feedback and “a lot of people hunger for compromise and that’s who I’m working to be a voice for.”

Al Norman, the self-described “sprawlbuster” who has made it part of his lifework over the past years to champion local downtowns and to lobby against big box stores like Walmart, sent a message to his supporters Friday.

He called for them to rally at the Tuesday meeting, which will be held in the Greenfield Public Library’s downstairs meeting room, and to say, “Library Yes, Gutted Overlay Zone, No!”

The deal proposed by Renaud and partly endorsed by Mass calls for removing nearly the entirety of the French King overlay district, stretching from Smith Street to Route 2. This could allow fast food, drive-through and take-out restaurants to more easily open in this commercial zone. It also would, as written, alleviate some of the restriction on major development in Greenfield.

The $19.5 million library’s price tag would be offset by a $9.4 million state grant and up to $2 million in projected donations, leaving the city to borrow about $10.1 million. The council has to decide by the end of April when the state offer expires.

A vote on the library and the zoning changes could happen at the March 20 City Council meeting.

Concurrently, the court case over a 135,000-square-foot big box store at the Ceruzzi property along the French King Highway will be coming to trial March 25. Norman is closely involved in the court appeal of a 2011 Greenfield Planning Board approval of the project.

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:
jsolomon@recorder.com,
or 413-772-0261, ext. 264




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