| G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – The City Council tackled two controversies at its April 4 meeting: the override of a mayoral veto about residency requirements and moving forward on the plan to straighten out Central Street.
The Central Street improvements would require the taking of three businesses through eminent domain Kevin’s Towing, Impoco’s Poultry Market and a two-family rental property.
Christopher Cignoli, the head of the Department of Public Works, outlined the project at both a City Council subcommittee meeting on April 1 and at the meeting on April 4. He explained the project would rebuild Central Street from intersection of Pine Street and re-route the street so that instead of intersecting with Rifle Street, it would curve onto Hickory Street. The Rifle Street intersection would be improved as well.
That curving onto Hickory Street would mean the demolition of Kevin’s Towing at the intersection of Central and Hancock streets and the re-construction and widening of Hickory Street, which is currently in poor shape and is only one way.
The Hickory Street changes necessitates the taking of the rental property and Impoco’s Poultry Market as well as the taking a small strip of property form Ruth Elizabeth Park.
The funding for the project is coming from Housing and Urban Development disaster recovery grants.
That taking of the park property required the vote by the City Council. Both Cignoli and Patrick Sullivan explained the state must approve the request for using part of the park and approving the city’s plans to replace it.
Cignoli stressed to the council that a positive vote that evening was far from an approval of the project or the takings by eminent domain. He said that by sending the request to the state it would give the city the opportunity to then proceed on the issues of appraising the properties and working on relocation solutions.
Sullivan showed the council a preliminary rendering showing a widened two-way Hickory Street and a landscaped entrance to the park where the poultry market now stands.
During the citizen speak out portion of the meeting, the three businessmen affected by the project expressed their frustration with the process. Wesley James, the owner of the two-family rental property, said for eight to nine month he had heard nothing about the relocation and appraisal process after an initial notice.
“We had no input about this,” he said.
He noted that five businesses – the garage building rents out space to several businesses – and 14 to 18 jobs would be affected.
Anthony Impoco said that he was not necessarily opposed to the plan but had his concerns about the ramifications of the realignment of the street.
The owner of the garage, Kevin Rachmacief, said that no one from the city has spoken to the three owners about relocation.
“There is no place in the city to move us,” he added.
The men gave the council several petitions opposing the realignment project.
“The better good of the city will be served by the project, “ Sullivan said the plan, which will be in conjunction to improvements to Ruth Elizabeth Park.
City Councilor Bud Williams repeated the point he made at a public meeting last month: the neighborhood hasn’t been informed about the project and those you know about it don’t want it.
Although Cignoli argued that both the neighborhood councils for the Maple High Six Corners neighborhood and the Old Hill neighborhood approved the plan in 2014, City Councilor Melvin Edwards contested that statement. The Ward 3 councilor and the long time president of the Maple High Six Corners Neighborhood Council made a successful motion to send any decision to committee until he could convene a meeting on April 12 of the neighborhood group to discuss a recommendation.
When asked after the meeting what would happen to just rebuilding Central Street on its present course if the council ultimately kills the project, Cignoli said it would be at least five years before the city could come up with that funding.
One the matter of the residency requirement, the council made a stand in favor for an enforced residency requirement in the face of the mayor’s veto of its proposal.
Councilor Justin Hurst said, “This is the issue.” He linked residency to greater diversity in city positions by keeping those jobs open to just city residents.
Director of Human Resources and Labor relations William Mahoney called the issue “complicated and emotional.” He noted that more than 97 percent of city employees do not have a residency waiver and that since taking the job he has increased the residency clauses in contract with municipal unions from five to 16.
City Solicitor Edward Pikula said the council’s decision conflicts with the city charter, which is state law. He also said he believes the issue is actually one of power between the council and the mayor, and the solution would be a change in the city’s charter.
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