I Go to City Council Meetings #25

Zoning, Pesticides, and a Zoom Bombing

By Brian Z. Zayatz

On Thursday, April 2nd, the Northampton City Council held its 8th meeting of the year via Zoom. Approximately 15 people were in attendance on Zoom and tuning into Northampton Open Media’s livestream. Councilor Jim Nash returned, having largely recovered from what was likely the coronavirus. Mayor Narkewicz was present as well and said he was waiting on clearance to end his isolation after testing positive for COVID-19. Councilor Karen Foster was absent.

The meeting started with more verbose statements than usual from the Mayor and Councilors, who thanked the essential public servants who are still working, and each other for adapting the City Council to a virtual format. At one point, Council President Gina-Louise Sciarra advised her peers that they need to be extra careful about not diverting resources unnecessarily from city officials responding to the COVID crisis, including time—thus, several city committees and commissions would not be having their regularly scheduled meetings. (There must have been no such officials attending the meeting, as the announcements took over 45 minutes.) Among the more substantial updates came from Councilor Rachel Maiore who shared the Cooley Dickinson COVID hotline (1-888-554-4234), which residents may call with questions about suspected cases of the illness.

The meeting moved fairly quickly through a number of smaller issues, among them approving water and sewer rates for Fiscal Year 2021 (there is no increase), suspending rules to pass in one reading a financial order allowing allocations of direct donations to the city towards emergency measures for coronavirus relief, like the shelter that has been opened at the high school.

During one such smaller matter (whether to accept a donation of an easement to supply power to a memorial fountain at the site of the old state hospital), two attendees who had been previously silent on the Zoom call started shouting racial slurs until Councilor Sciarra was able to ban them. The councilors then spent about eight minutes getting back on track. Councilor Sciarra noted that those users had been lying in wait for a long time (this occurred around 8:30), and Councilor Maiore joked that “maybe they learned something.” Sciarra apologized that everyone had had to hear that, and Councilor Bill Dwight responded it was an open meeting, and it is nobody’s fault except the “vicious” and “pathetic” people who would choose to spend their time planning something like that. Councilor Maiore chimed in that she was “pretty proud” that Northampton is still hosting public comments remotely during the crisis.

Pesticides

Two allocations for funding for invasive species management, at the Lathrop Communities’ North and East campuses and the Beaver Brook Greenway, had their first readings, and were the subject of some discussion. Councilor Jarrett expressed concern that there very well could be children playing in the treated areas, counter to one of the city’s stipulations for pesticide use. Councilor Nash pushed back that the application of the pesticides is limited to a plant-by-plant basis using special equipment. The allocations both passed their first readings, with abstentions by Councilor Jarrett.

Zoning

The Ordinance to Allow Change from One Conforming Use to Another without a Finding, which was discussed at length at the March 19th meeting, came up for its first reading again after being postponed two weeks ago. A number of Councilor Nash’s constituents have been vocally opposed to this ordinance, taking it as a referendum on a particular lot on Dewey Court that neighbors are reluctant to see developed, and Nash, who was absent during the last meeting, gave a statement about why he was choosing to vote in favor of the ordinance. The thrust of the statement was that his duty is to the city of Northampton, not only his constituents, and he didn’t want to hold up an improvement to confusing policy because of one particular situation. Nash’s statement also asks for stricter oversight of applications for special permits from the Planning Board, which would address some of his constituents’ concerns. The ordinance passed its first reading.

When it came to the second reading of a few other zoning ordinances pertaining to specific lots, Nash also spoke up about some concerns regarding the expansion of the central business district to include more lots on Conz Street. He alluded to a proposal for a Signature Sounds venue on the street that he hoped would include plans for on-site parking, since the neighborhood is not equipped to handle potentially over 100 more parked cars on a nightly basis. Nash also said he would reach out to the Zoning Board about the potential of the venue drawing rowdy late night crowds to the area. Overall, he hoped the change in zoning would align the designations more closely to the lots’ actual uses, noting that no one in the city government has been able to locate an ordinance granting permission for the Deuce to have a liquor license.

Councilor Dwight echoed the concerns of Nash’s statement but noted that at this time they are voting on a broader zoning ordinance and not the proposed Signature Sounds venue.

Brian Zayatz is a regular contributor to The Shoestring. Photo courtesy of Facebook.

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