By Chris Maza|
EAST LONGMEADOW Heather Cunningham, who has been working with a group called Friends of the Brown Farm, was once again in front of the Board of Selectmen at its Feb. 5 meeting in an attempt to get things moving on a project that would allow active and passive recreation on the site.
Cunningham first approached the board in October 2012 regarding the use of the farm and has since regularly appeared to discuss the issue. On Dec. 11, 2012, however, expecting to work out a Memorandum of Understanding with the town, she was told the project would have to be put on hold.
Town Counsel James Donahue said at that meeting that any activity would have to be approved and executed by the town, not a separate entity.
"We never came before the board for any controversy," she said as part of the public forum portion of the meeting, stating she was not able to get a formal appointment with the board. "We wanted people to embrace us. We wanted to bring our community together and make out land beautiful.
"I guess I am here because I wanted to hear formally how you go about answering the requests we put in and get some direction," she continued.
Board of Selectmen chair Paul Federici explained that prior to moving forward with any activities relating to the Brown Farm, the project would have to be approved at the Annual Town Meeting in May.
"For the Town Meeting you should put together a warrant item because I know I've harped on this numerous times I want the town to decide what to do with the property," he said. "If you put a warrant item out there and they approve of it, then we can proceed."
Selectman Debra Boronski addressed the project, stating initially that the land was bought for purposes such as the ones the Friends of the Brown Farm wish to get the land ready for.
"The Brown property was purchased in 2009 and it was purchased for open space and recreation. We commissioned the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission to provide us a feasibility study and they provided us with four opportunities for use of the land," she said. "Today, almost four years later, we haven't done anything with it and we have people like yourself [Cunningham] who are coming forward saying they would like to use it."
With that said, Boronski explained she has met with department heads and have discussed the potential of the Brown property and obstacles have presented themselves.
"The fact is, from what I've learned, regardless of what we want to do with that property, whether it be gardens or fields, there are some specific issues that need to be addressed," she said. "The access road has inadequate sightlines to the west; the existing road and parking lot are not adequate for use; there are no sanitation facilities or water on site; the building has not been secured; and while wetlands have been delineated, no actual request for determination has been filed, so the wetland boundaries haven't actually been certified."
Boronski added that safety was one of the primary concerns.
"At a very minimum, regardless, even if we were to say, 'Yeah, put your gardens out there,' there's going to be more people going on there, so driving in and out will not be safe," she said.
Boronski, went on to say, however, that while the issues exist, "these are pretty easy things." She noted that the town has approved $30,000 for work on the Brown property and several members of the group of department heads with which she has spoken have offered to help determine the cost of addressing those concerns.
"It would be my hope that once we take a look at those prices to see what the cost of doing that would be and look at the $30,000 that we have, perhaps the board or a citizen will petition a warrant article to have that work done," she said.
Boronski said she has been "promised" these figures and when she receives them, she would be better prepared to speak in detail about what needs to happen.
"It's my intention to take the information I am provided with in a timely manner and move forward with it," she said.
Federici added that he hoped the process of getting the estimates could be expedited so the board would be able to move forward and determine whether or not some activities such as community gardening could be allowed prior to the Annual Town Meeting in May.
Cunningham said that the Memorandum of Understanding she sought with the town was solely so that the Friends of the Brown Farm could begin working with the town on solutions and expressed satisfaction that they "were all on the same page."
"As long as we are all working toward the same goal, I am more than willing to help," she said.
The Board of Selectmen also agreed to invite management from Pasquale's Ristorante and Club Meadows in for a hearing to discuss recent instances of violence on their respective properties.
Police Chief Douglas Mellis explained to the board that Pasquale's, which was the site of an incident during a holiday party on Dec. 1, 2012, was once again the venue for a fight, this one involving Springfield Fire Lt. James Leger, who allegedly hit the victim in the head with a bar stool on Jan. 25.
Mellis warned Pasquale's owner Michael Torcia, his son Richard and manager Joe Santaniello at a Dec. 11, 2012 meeting to discuss the earlier incident that he didn't want to have to tie up his limited resources "babysitting" the establishment, in hopes that changes would be made to prevent any future incidents.
However, Mellis told the board on Feb. 5, it was not apparent to him or his officers that any progress in that regard was made.
"It was kind of the same. I haven't seen anything change in it," he said.
When asked if management was on site, Mellis said that while his officers didn't see Santaniello, he claimed to have been there and filed a report on what he saw.
Mellis added that he wished to see the board call Pasquale's management back to answer to the problems and suggested that the department may have to station an officer there from 10:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. in an attempt curb some of the problems.
Mellis also discussed two recent incidents at Club Meadows.
The first, he explained, occurred when one woman at a baby shower in the rented lower level of the establishment head-butted another.
"We found out about it later because the woman thought she was in Springfield and had gone to the Springfield Police to report that she was assaulted," Mellis said.
The second took place in the parking lot after a reception following a funeral. In that incident, punches were thrown and the victim was cut with a box cutter from their ear to their eye socket. The assailant later turned himself in and will be prosecuted, Mellis added.
Mellis said that the second, more dangerous, incident, was still different than those at Pasquale's because the problems at Club Meadows involved no alcohol as the patrons brought their own food and bought only soda from the establishment.
"This circumstance is not the same as at Pasquale's," he said. "There was no liquor sold at all, so it wasn't an instance of alcohol fueling a fire. It apparently was some bad feelings between people who were leaving and it took place at 3 p.m."
Boronski said that she felt despite the differences, she was in favor of bringing representatives of both establishments in for a meeting.
"I'm not in agreement with saying it's OK that two incidents took place at The Meadows," she said. "That was a different situation . but it still happened and whether or not a few beers were involved, I take that just as seriously as the incidents that took place at Pasquale's.
"We want [these establishments] to be safe and enjoyable and [we want] people to come to East Longmeadow to enjoy the nice places that we have and this isn't a reputation we want to gain," she added.
Federici concurred that meetings with both would be in the best interest of the town.
"I have no problem inviting both of them in just to go over things and make sure that everyone gets on the right track and we don't have the incidences again because we don't want to perpetuate the incidences and we don't want anybody to get seriously hurt not to downplay what has already happened because I know I wouldn't want to get hit in the head with a barstool," he said.
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