Creating new model for doing business

  • The Greenfield City Councilor voted in favor to approve a deal for a new library and commercial zoning changes Wednesday night at Greenfield High School. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Greenfield City Council President Karen "Rudy" Renaud, who voted in favor of both a new library and zoning changes, speaks Wednesday night at Greenfield High School. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • At-Large Greenfield City Councilor Isaac Mass, who voted in favor of both a new library and zoning changes speaks Wednesday night at Greenfield High School. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Precinct 1 Greenfield City Councilor Verne Sund, who voted against a new library and in favor of zoning changes, speaks Wednesday night at Greenfield High School. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Greenfield City Council Vice President Penny Ricketts, who voted in favor of both a new library and zoning changes speaks Wednesday night at Greenfield High School. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Precinct 7 Greenfield City Councilor Otis Wheeler who voted in favor of a new library and zoning changes speaks Wednesday night at Greenfield High School. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Precinct 3 Greenfield City Councilor Brickett Allis, who abstained from voting for a new library and against part of the zoning changes speaks Wednesday night at Greenfield High School. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • At-Large Greenfield City Councilor Ashli Stempel, who voted in favor of a new library and against part of the zoning changes, speaks Wednesday night at Greenfield High School. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Precinct 2 Greenfield City Councilor Mark Berson who voted in favor of a new library and zoning changes speaks Wednesday night at Greenfield High School. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Precinct 5 Greenfield City Councilor Tim Dolan, who voted in favor of both a new library and zoning changes speaks Wednesday night at Greenfield High School. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Precinct 4 Greenfield City Councilor Wanda Pyfrom, who voted against a new library and against part of the zoning changes, speaks Wednesday night at Greenfield High School. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Precinct 9 Greenfield City Councilor Dan Leonovich, who voted against a new library and part of the zoning changes, speaks Wednesday night at Greenfield High School. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Precinct 6 Greenfield City Councilor Sheila Gilmour, who voted in favor of both a new library and zoning changes speaks Wednesday night at Greenfield High School. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Precinct 8 Greenfield City Councilor Doug Mayo, who voted in favor of a new library and zoning changes, speaks Wednesday night at Greenfield High School. Staff Photo/Dan Little

Staff Writer
Published: 3/21/2019 11:25:14 PM

GREENFIELD — The deal to bring a new library to the city in exchange for relaxed commercial zoning was advertised as a compromise, and Wednesday night many city councilors rallied around that word as they narrowly approved the deal.

A majority of the councilors said they wanted to move beyond the divisions of the past over how much retail growth Greenfield should encourage. Instead, many of them said, a deal between those who would encourage more commercial growth and those who wanted a new library was a chance to create a new model for how Greenfield’s political leaders do business.

After many weeks of discussion between those who mostly wanted to foster more commercial development by relaxing zoning rules and those who mostly wanted a new library, the City Council voted for a new $19.5 million library, and for easing restrictions on French King Highway and relaxing thresholds for requiring rigorous major development reviews for big projects. 

Those who voted to allow more commercial development on French King Highway and to relax major development review criteria across the city pitched it as drawing more investment to Greenfield, which in turn could help support the cost of a new library. And those who backed the library also saw it as an investment in the city’s future and something that would attract new people and businesses. There was enough overlap of the two groups to win the day.

What happened

Zoning: French King Highway overlay district removed, on a 10-3 vote (10 needed to pass); overhaul of major development review (MDR) guidelines, 12-1 (nine needed to pass); rezoning the French King to industrial failed(1-12).

Library: A $19.5 million public library, with acceptance of a $9.4 million state grant, 9-3-1 (nine needed to pass)

What it meant? 

The library project can move forward. Supporters can continue to fundraise toward their $2 million goal, which would cut into the $10.1 million that needs to be raised locally. What can’t be raised privately or through other grants must come from city property taxes.   

Zoning changes to the majority of the French King Highway overlay district, from Clark Street up to Route 2, will allow for fast food, drive-throughs, drive-ins and gas stations for the first time since 1993. Part of the land has been caught up in court for the last eight years over appeal of city approval for a big box store. Coincidentally, the appeal will be heard in Franklin County Superior Court this coming week. If the big box development wins, a possible discount department store might attract more stores and restaurants to French King.

How councilors voted, whyPrecinct 1 Verne Sund

French King (Yes), MDR (Yes), Library (No) 

 “I’d like to see Greenfield the way it was in the 50s to 70s,” Sund said, “where there was everything in Greenfield — shops, stores. It’d be more welcome because everybody was able to get a job no matter what it was, from delivering papers to working in Millers Falls Tools or working in the store. It was open for everything. I just think it’s about time that we went back and welcomed all business instead of just a few.”

“This library is for everybody, my grandkids as well as some other grandkids,” Sund said. “Like I said, there’s a lot of people that have come forward and donated money, but now it’s up to the rest of the people to come forward and put their money on the table.” 

Precinct 2 Mark Berson

French King (Yes), MDR (Yes), Library (Yes)

“It’s time for us to vote unanimously for this,” Berson said before any votes were cast. “For a lot of reasons. One, it demonstrates that we really are the instrument of the people’s will. It also establishes a predicate for moving forward with a sense of unanimity, purpose and kindness for each other which has been in short supply for a long time.”

Precinct 3 Brickett Allis

French King (No), MDR (Yes), Library (Abstain)

“This (library) vote is probably the most difficult vote that’s come before the council while I’ve been sitting on it,” said Allis, who has served as an elected official for 18 years. “I’ve been called an obstructionist, (that) I’ve said I hate the library and don’t want it. All of that is completely untrue.” 

“Finally, I just want the residents to know that I believe, and only time will tell whether it’s correct or not, that it will cost about $100 a year. Each year your taxes will likely increase $100 going forward,” Allis said about the library financial impact forecasts he calculated himself. “I just think it’s important for people to know that. It’s not something people want to think about it. It’s not something I think anyone is as excited about as I am when it comes to numbers. I do these because I want to know what the true impact is going to be.” 

Precinct 4 Wanda Pyfrom

French King (No), MDR (Yes), Library (No)


“There’s also people in town that really believe in their hearts that, no, now is not the time,” Pyfrom said about the library. “They do not want this. Some people don’t like to hear ‘no.’ But sometimes, ‘no’ is ‘no’.”

“Me, personally, I think it’s great how everybody feels for the library,” Pyfrom said. “That’s great, but I’m just not ready to vote for the library. I’m sorry. No, I’m not sorry. That’s how I feel.” 

Precinct 5 Tim Dolan

French King (Yes), MDR (Yes), Library (Yes)

“This whole compromise promise has been difficult for me,” Dolan said. “I don’t necessarily stand on the zoning or MDR changes on their own merits — but I do believe the library is important enough to merit this compromise.”

Precinct 6 Sheila Gilmour

French King (Yes), MDR (Yes), Library (Yes) 

“My concern is that we can’t grow our economy and help the taxpayers by just cutting our expenses all the time,” Gilmour said. “We’re not going to cut our way into prosperity. By having a library, we’re showing businesses everywhere that we’re going to invest in ourselves and that we’re worth that investment.”

Precinct 7 Otis Wheeler

French King (Yes), MDR (Yes), Library (Yes)

“And hopefully, as some people have said, to achieve some resolution to a dispute that has divided our community for as long as I can remember,” Wheeler said. “For years the debate around French King Highway has been dominated by people on opposite sides of the issue with folks in the middle left out. This compromise is for them.”

Precinct 8 Doug Mayo

French King (Yes), MDR (Yes), Library (Yes)

“Many of us tonight have used the word ‘opportunity,’ and I believe in opportunity, and I believe in history, and I believe in Greenfield’s future for all,” Mayo said.

Precinct 9 Dan Leonovich

French King (No), MDR (Yes), Library (No)

“We as Greenfield are inherently attractive,” Leonovich said. “We have to work on stopping the development from coming here.”

At-Large Ashli Stempel

French King (Yes), MDR (No), Library (Yes) 

Speaking about her economic vision for the city and pushing away from focusing on retail in downtown, Stempel said:  “What we can’t do here,” pointing to her cellphone where people can shop online, “is what all of you are doing here — gather.” 

Vice President Penny Ricketts

French King (Yes), MDR (Yes), Library (Yes)

“I’m now working with people who we were definitely enemies in the past,” Ricketts said. “That’s my vision. We don’t have to have all the divisiveness.” 

“Look at what we’ve done with our high school and even the courthouse and the jail. Things you may not use and I hope you don’t have to, but we’re the county seat,” Ricketts said. “This is the way it’s supposed to be. This is not about just Greenfield. Everything that goes on, and all of our decisions, really impact the county. I have to look at it like that. I know it’s not all the county that’s paying the taxes, but you better believe it’sWilsons and the Garden and the restaurants are all doing well because of that library. 

The Deal Makers: Council President Karen “Rudy” Renaud

French King (Yes), MDR (Yes), Library (Yes) 

“We can do something different now on the councils I served on in the past,” Renaud said. “We can finally break the political gridlock.”

“President Reagan, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, was right,” Renaud said. “I think the compromise we made tonight, if the library passes, is one that makes sense.”

At-Large Isaac Mass

French King (Yes), MDR (Yes), Library (Yes)

“I’m not omniscient. I’m not the emperor of the world. I am not the person who gets to decide where everyone buys their underwear,” Mass said. “I leave it to the marketplace to decide and get out of the way so we can have enough development in this town, based on what the people in this town want so we can pay for our schools, our police officers, our roads, our bridges and our futures.”

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264


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