My Turn: ‘The opposition’

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Published: 1/7/2021 1:52:03 PM
Modified: 1/7/2021 1:51:46 PM

Attending Deerfield Zoning Board of Appeals public hearings regarding the proposal by Liscotti Development to build a 9,300-square-foot store at the corner of Mill Village Road and Greenfield Road in Deerfield has been a deeply frustrating experience. These hearings, held over Zoom due to COVID, insulate both the board and the public from understanding the full range of public sentiment about the proposal. The lawyer for the developer has been given apparently unlimited time to speak, while members of the public — neighbors, Deerfield residents and taxpayers — have had to limit their speaking time to three minutes, barely enough time to make a point, much less counter the misinformation presented at each meeting by the applicant’s attorney.

The last two meetings, after the board chair decided to close public comment, have been most frustrating of all. At their December meeting they refused even to second a motion to re-open the public hearing to allow consideration of a determination on wetlands by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. Town residents also hired experts in flood risk and in wetlands to assess the site; these document that Liscotti’s analysis is incorrect. Board members have consistently refused to discuss these reports, though the special permit bylaw that requires them to consider the environmental impacts of the proposed project

Board members use the Liscotti’s attorney’s language to refer to residents as “the opposition.” Let me be clear: we are tax-paying residents of Deerfield. We include 700 people who signed a petition against the proposal; 35 neighboring property owners; residents who have submitted over 100 letters detailing detrimental impacts of the proposal to the neighborhood and town; the approximately 100 citizens who attended the in-person public hearings on the proposal; people who spoke at public hearings, including residents with expertise in engineering and planning; town residents who used their own money to hire environmental and legal experts. We are not opposed to development, but we have submitted evidence that this development is not appropriate for this location.

We are acting out of deep concern for the future of the town. The same can not be said for Liscotti Development or their agents. To have board members, who are charged with acting in the best interests of the neighborhood and town, dismiss us as “the opposition”, just out to make trouble, is deeply disturbing.

Instead of engaging with the substance of many concerns about traffic safety, environment and flood risks, neighborhood character, or the application of zoning regulations adopted by Town meeting, the Board has been discussing their personal experiences. We’re glad Mr. Sadoski might find things to buy in a Dollar General store, and that Mr. Decker does not worry about Bloody Brook flooding his property. But personal anecdotes are not on the list of Deerfield’s criteria for granting a special permit.

To gain a special permit, applicants must “demonstrate that the benefits of the proposed project outweigh the potential detriments.” Nothing the applicant has offered has demonstrated any benefits that a use allowed by right in the same location would not also provide. They have instead provided misleading and incorrect data. Most of their “benefits” are required by zoning regulations. At best, they may slightly mitigate the damage caused by the project. That is not the same as providing a benefit greater than the potential detriment.

I find it hard to understand why board members accept the applicant’s unsubstantiated statements but dismiss the significant concerns, backed by detailed evidence, raised by Town residents. Why do they seem to be acting in the interests of the developer, rather than in the interests of the neighborhood and town? Are they concerned Liscotti will appeal their decision? Don’t they think town residents will appeal? Do they have undisclosed conflicts of interest? Do they not understand the zoning regulations they should apply?

The opportunity for residents to address the Deerfield Zoning Board of Appeals has closed. We are left with having to make more public appeals. Once again, I ask board members to take up their responsibility to the town and use their authority at the Jan. 14 meeting to deny a special permit for a project that is far outside the boundaries of what special permit rules allow. I ask them to consider the future of Deerfield, and to act in the best interests of all of us.

Amy Gazin-Schwartz is a retired Associate Professor of Anthropology, and has been a resident of Deerfield for nearly 30 years. She worked as administrative assistant for the Deerfield Planning board for a time in the 1990s, and has served on the Town Sewer Committee and Energy Committee.


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