Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fighting for Environmental Justice

Holly, Steve and Chrisoula
On Tuesday, July 19,  The Springfield Institute organized community groups, including Arise, to participate in an Environmental Justice Bike Tour of the North End.  It was a wicked hot day (not as hot as the past few, though!) but enthusiasm was high and everyone wants to do it again.  Thanks, Chrisoula, Steve, Ruben and Holly (also riding for Out Now!), for riding, and Lamont for helping to kick it off.  You can get more details at the Springfield Institute website, and if you want to be involved in another EJ Bike Tour, let us know because more are planned..

City Councilors Zaida Luna & Jose Tosado- Tim Allen also present

I am thrilled that our community is finally waking up to the fact that we have a right to live in a decent city and the right to demand the changes we need.

A few weeks ago, I got a call from a woman in Indian Orchard who has been on our mailing list for a number of years.  She said she'd gotten a notice from the City's Planning Board about a proposed zone change from Residence B to Commercial A in her neighborhood.  The notice read as follows: "Notice is hereby given that the Planning Board will hold a public hearing on Wednesday, July 20, 2011 at 6:00 pm. in Room 220 of City Hall for all those interested in a zone change from residence B to Industrial A at the property known as ES Parker St (09510-1894).  Owner and petitioner: City of Springfield.  By order of the City Planning Board, Katie Stebbins, Chairperson.  Information may be viewed at the Planning/Eco Dev Dept., 70 Tapley St. (413) 787-6020."

Not a lot of info, right?  And you'd have to be pretty pro-active to actually go to the Planning Dept. to see what the proposal is.  On top of that, the zoning change notice was only delivered to households with 300 feet of the proposed zone change.

The woman I  heard from, however, knew exactly what property was being discussed: a piece of Hubbard Park, owned by the city,  would be given over to expand the parking lot of Unifirst Uniforms, right next door.

The "Industrial A" designation caught my eye, because I've been told that the City of Springfield has no say over what is done or developed with "Industrial A"-- which is supposed to be why it was easy for Palmer Renewable Energy to move its proposal for the biomass plant we've been fighting at the existing Palmer Paving site.

I went over to Parker St. to take pictures and see what my contact was talking about.  Apparently Unifirst only wants about 10 feet of land and intends to put up a concrete wall between the parking lot and the remainder of the property.

Back entrance to Barrows Park
 I must say that the baby rabbit I saw hopping around did pull at my heartstrings.  Another neighbor told me that a fox also lives in the area, as well as many other animals.  Tugging at the city's pursestrings, however, is an offer from Unifirst to donate $250,000 in park improvements.  However, it turns out that the park improvements will not be for Hubbard Park, but for Plastics Park on Page Blvd.

I made up a flyer and with some other Arise members, passed it out to a somewhat broader area in Indian Orchard.  I could not attend the Planning Board meeting (we had an important Stop Toxic Incineration meeting the same night)  but was told later that about 20 people attended.  Result?  the Planning Board did not (at this time) allow the zone change, and sent the proponents to an upcoming City Council meeting.

I may have more to say about Unifirst in a later post, but I hope one thing is obvious: if the Planning Board wants real citizen participation in in local decisions, it's going to have to do a better job in informing the community-- better notices, better descriptions of what's really going on-- maybe some photos to accompany the notice? Print Friendly and PDF

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