|By Chris Maza|
LONGMEADOW The renovation of the sports facilities at Wolf Swamp Field will have to wait.
Parks and Recreation Commission (Park and Rec.) Vice Chair and Community Preservation Commission (CPC) member Jim Goodhines recently lobbied for approval of the Select Board to have a warrant article regarding the improvement of the Wolf Swamp Field on the Annual Town Meeting warrant, but a motion to put the article back on the warrant was voted down at the March 18 meeting.
While it was included in an earlier draft of the warrant, the Select Board voted to remove the article, which would ask the town to allocate $96,000 toward the improvement of the athletic fields. Goodhines appeared before the board during the public comment segment of the meeting to ask for it to be reinstated.
The fields were heavily damaged during the October 2011 snowstorm and the funding would go toward their repair, as well as the establishment of a guardrail, fencing and netting around its perimeter. It would also call for a redesign of the layout of the fields to make better use of the space. The Department of Public Works (DPW) aided in the creation of the proposal, he said.
"Much time and energy has been put into the process," Goodhines said. "It was a process that was vetted. If you look through the minutes of the CPC and through the minutes of the Park and Rec. Department, you'll see it was identified over the last several years that we felt the need. We got the feedback from the community and now having the opportunity for the first time to make this improvement, the Select Board has decided to take the unprecedented move of removing an article from the CPC from the warrant.
"I don't think that that is serving the best interest of the Community. The CPC is the community's fund ... It is the fund for people to make petitions, have things done, have things preserved [and] to utilize funds for other purposes other than just the general fund being distributed by the Select Board," he added.
He used two softball fields in the area that are now unused due to their condition as a possible safety hazard as an example as to why the improvements were necessary, stating that the town doesn't have the luxury of a large amount of open space with which to run its programs.
"The top priority that has been identified over the last several years for the Park and Rec. Commission was to identify usable space for town sports," Goodhines said. "As we all know, the town of Longmeadow is fairly well built out and [with] the inability for us to accumulated additional property on which to run our sports programs, we have endeavored to find spaces that we currently have and put them to better use."
He added, "These are fields that are used by hundreds of Longmeadow residents and given the constraints we have with public field space, it's an area that is in desperate need."
Goodhines pointed out that the CPC has raised approximately $1.6 million from town tax revenues during the last six years and matched with more than $750,000 in additional state funding and that money has been used for a multitude of projects throughout the town.
"The accumulation of almost $2.6 million that has been allocated has been used in various ways, including the preservation of historic buildings here in town, the Community House, improvements at the Town Hall and things of that nature," he said.
Steve Weiss, chair of the CPC, said, "I would just say that the CPC really did support the project. We were very surprised, and maybe a little bit disappointed, when we learned last week that the Select Board had decided to pull this article from the warrant ... This was the first time at least as far as I know that the Select Board has not put an article on the warrant that was approved by the CPC.
"We think this is a worthy project. To use a legal term, I thought we did our due diligence on the project in getting input from the School Department, the DPW, Park and Rec. [and] anybody else who wanted to have input on it," he added.
Select Board Vice Chair Mark Gold said that his reasoning for voting to remove the article was his feeling that the Planning Commission or the Safety Department should have been involved in the process of building the plan, specifically when it came to fencing and guardrails.
"The basis for my decision and I can't speak for anyone else on the Select Board not to move forward was because I feel that is an important missing link," he said. "I think we've seen in the past some decisions made on a parks system that changed the appearance from the road that were met with non-favorable responses by the people and I think that needed to be addressed. I don't believe that deferring this project until those things get addressed is a fatal flaw."
Selectman Mark Barowsky ultimately made a motion to add the article back to the warrant with an amendment that would require that the Select Board would have to approve any improvements before they were made.
Acting Town Manager Barry Del Castilho said that Barowsky's motion, which would make the Wolf Swamp Field project the Select Board's to oversee, was legal, explaining that the town meeting simply appropriates money and does not mandate the projects to be done.
"If it's with the understanding in the vote of Town Meeting that the Select Board wants to look at the project and approve it before the project moves forward, the Town Meeting can do that," he said.
Gold questioned how that was a better plan than holding off on a vote and Barowsky explained he felt that with money already appropriated, it would gave the town more flexibility to start the project whenever the additional vetting was fulfilled instead of waiting for another Town Meeting.
Gold called the move "putting the cart before the horse" and Chair Paul Santaniello agreed, stating that the work should have been done prior to a warrant article being presented.
The motion failed by a 3-2 vote with Barowsky and Selectman Marie Angelides casting affirmative votes. Santaniello, Gold and Selectman Richard Foster voted against it.
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