Deerfield voters reject new park at Annual Town Meeting

  • At Deerfield’s outdoor Annual Town Meeting on Monday, town officials sat at the front of the field, as they would in an auditorium. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

  • At Deerfield’s outdoor Annual Town Meeting on Monday, voters sat far apart, wore masks and raised pink cards to help the moderator eyeball votes. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

  • At Deerfield’s outdoor Annual Town Meeting on Monday, Frontier Community Access Television workers patrolled the field with microphones attached to long poles. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

Staff Writer
Published: 6/2/2020 1:15:37 PM

DEERFIELD — Monday’s outdoor Annual Town Meeting was drawn out by a major disagreement over the proposed development of a new public park next to Frontier Regional School.

The proposal ultimately failed after the current property owner stated she doesn’t want to sell the 7.45-acre parcel, and many voters disagreed with the prospect of the Selectboard taking the land by eminent domain.

All other articles on the meeting warrant, including a $15.3 million general budget for fiscal year 2021, passed with minimal discussion.

Due to public health concerns surrounding the coronavirus crisis, Town Meeting was held on the Frontier Regional School football field. Most of the nearly 150 voters brought lawn chairs, and most wore masks. Town officials sat at a long table at the front of the field.

Frontier Community Access Television (FCAT) workers in masks patrolled the field with microphones attached to long poles, to be flagged down whenever a voter wanted to make a statement.

To help Town Moderator Dan Graves eyeball the votes from the front of the field, voters held up hot pink cards to vote affirmatively.

Graves was able to call most votes very quickly. Only once did he take time to count individually — on a vote for a new public park.

The new park that whipped up a debate was proposed for a 7.45-acre parcel next to Frontier. It was to include a soccer field and a band shell.

Police Chief John Paciorek Jr., who spoke as the main advocate for the park, explained that Deerfield has long lacked an adequate public park. Although the town does hold concerts on the town common, there are safety concerns because of nearby streets. The park would also double as a much-needed soccer field for the school.

The proposed parcel was owned by Charles Mark, who died earlier this spring. Paciorek said that, although it had been widely known that Mark did not want to sell his land, he approached him anyway because the land was such a good fit for the project.

Much to his surprise, Paciorek said, he was able to reach a verbal agreement with Mark, just weeks before he died, stating he would give at least 2.5 acres of the land to the town for the band shell, if the town named it after him. He had not agreed to the space for the soccer field, though, Paciorek said.

But Paciorek’s account was questioned by Mark’s daughter, Judith Rathbone, who now owns the property, and was at the meeting on Monday.

“He would never have said, ‘Go ahead and put a band shell with my name on it in my backyard,’” she said. “Never in a million years.”

As more residents weighed in, their attention was drawn to the fact that the wording of the article would have allowed the town to take the land by eminent domain — that is, to seize it, rather than to come to some sort of agreement with the owner.

Planning Board Chair John Waite said that his board had only recently reviewed the project, and had not been aware that the family opposed it. He added that the board probably would not support the use of eminent domain, and therefore would not necessarily support the project in its current form.

“You could give me $1 million for it. I don’t want to sell the land,” Rathbone said. “You could give me $2 million, or $5 million. I don’t want to sell my father’s land.”

The article was amended so as to prevent the Selectboard from using eminent domain. But when it was put to a vote, it failed anyway. As several people had pointed out by then, the family is not interested in selling.

Among other articles, a general budget of roughly $15.3 million was approved for fiscal year 2021, which begins July 1.

Slimmed-down capital improvement budgets were approved for both the town and the Frontier Regional School District. Selectboard members explained that several capital improvement projects are being delayed for the time being, reflecting the economic uncertainty of the coronavirus crisis, and will probably be revisited during a Special Town Meeting this fall.

Reach Max Marcus at or 413-930-4231.

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