The vote to settle it all?

  • The Greenfield Town Hall Recorder File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 3/19/2019 11:33:51 PM

GREENFIELD — Eight months after the state awarded Greenfield $9.4 million toward a new public library, the City Council expects to finally decide tonight whether to spend $10.1 million in local property taxes for the project that has struggled to gain necessary support.

The 13-member council will first vote on proposed zoning changes needed to win crucial swing votes for the 26,800-square-foot library.

The council will take up the library-zoning deal tonight at 7  in the cafeteria of the Greenfield High School. 

Background

In February, when library proponents seemed short of votes, Council President Karen “Rudy” Renaud cut a deal with At-Large Councilor Isaac Mass, intended to win over potential swing votes. Library backers would support relaxing development restrictions on French King Highway and elsewhere, in exchange for more library votes from fiscally conservative councilors. The relaxed commercial zoning would allow fast food and gas stations in French King corridor. 

Some councilors feel the city cannot afford a new library and fire station at the same time without raising taxes significantly, despite explanations by the mayor’s financial team and an independent financial advisor.

What’s in the deal?

The total cost of the new library is $19.5 million, and Mayor William Martin is requesting the library supporters raise $2 million toward the project. The council needs to approve the library before April 30, which is when the state $9.4 million grant expires. Today is probably the council’s final chance to do so, because of vacation schedules and other factors.

With the state grant, local taxpayers and donors would pay $10.1 million, although the city would have to borrow the total $19.5 million and get reimbursed by the state and donors.

The new library would be adjacent to its current site, in the historic Leavitt-Hovey House, which was built in 1797 and incorporated as the town’s library in 1908. 

The new library would be fully accessible, which is a constant criticism of the current building. Library proponents have hired architects who estimated it would cost about $7 million to renovate the current library because of various state and federal codes that would be triggered once basic work is begun. 

There are different plans for what to do with that current library, including selling it, which may help to offset the costs. 

To build a new library, the current fire station would move, which has been the plan of the Greenfield Fire Department all along. A new station may cost $10 million to $12 million and is planned for a lot between Beacon and Riddell streets. 

It will take nine votes, a two-thirds majority, to approve the library.

Zoning changes

There are three proposed zoning changes, but only two of them have been tied to library support in the Renaud-Mass deal.

French King Highway: One change calls for removing most of the commercial growth restrictions along French King that have been in place since 1993. This would allow fast food, drive-throughs, drive-ins and gas stations, although Greenfield’s lead planner Eric Twarog has noted there are several factors – like lack of gas, sewer and water lines – that might make it difficult to develop that stretch of road.

The zoning restrictions are significant because the fate of a planned 135,000-square-foot big box store that has been approved for the northern end of French King is about to be settled in a trial this month.  A discount department store of that size could pay for utility extensions and attract many smaller retailers to the area – which is seen as either a good or bad thing depending on your point of view.

Major development review:

Mass hopes to relax citywide large-scale development regulations to encourage more commercial growth, which he says could expand Greenfield’s tax base and ease the burden on homeowners. 

The main changes would allow more traffic and larger stores. 

Recommendations: The Greenfield Planning Board, feeling pressured to make zoning changes too quickly, has recommended against the proposals, even though several planners said they support building a new library.

The council’s Economic and Development Committee recommends  the changes, partly in the spirit of compromise and partly citing the city’s Master Plan that calls for a diversification of shopping experiences.

Votes: It will possibly take 10 votes, a three-quarters majority, to approve the French King overlay zoning changes, if a petition by abutters is submitted before the final vote; and if not, it will take nine votes.

It will take nine votes, a two-thirds majority, to approve the major development review changes.

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264


Jobs



Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.


Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906

 

Copyright © 2019 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy