Easthampton council returning to in-person meetings

  • Among the buildings targeted by the Easthampton Development and Industrial Commission is the former Hurry & Scurry building at 118 Union St. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 3/22/2022 8:15:17 PM
Modified: 3/22/2022 8:14:25 PM

EASTHAMPTON — City councilors will convene in person for their next meeting in April.

Although COVID-19 pandemic guidance from the state authorizes public boards like the council to continue holding remote meetings until Friday, July 15, City Council President Homar Gomez recommended returning to in-person meetings.

“I think it’s time to go back,” said Gomez at the council’s March 16 meeting. “The teachers are back. The students are back. … And I think it’s time for us to go back.”

He did acknowledge the increase in public participation with remote-only meetings and suggested a hybrid model be adopted permanently.

Councilor Daniel Rist echoed Gomez’s position on returning to in-person meetings, adding how important it was to be able to interact with the community, especially with people who don’t have internet access.

Councilor At-Large Owen Zaret also backed the return, saying that the pandemic forced the city to use technology to expand public engagement.

“I think it’s time, it’s safe. If we can be out at bars, restaurants, concerts, schools and gatherings, we can go back to meeting in person,” Zaret said.

Councilor Tom Peake suggested a need to hold “practice” meetings to ensure a smooth transition to a hybrid setup and to continue to encourage an open line of communication with the public.

Councilor At-Large Koni Denham also supported Gomez’s recommendation, but said the council should be mindful of ongoing safety concerns given surges of a new omicron variant in Europe and China.

Gomez added that meeting participants who wanted to continue wearing masks were welcome to do so. “You are free to do what you believe for your safety,” Gomez said.

With council Vice President Salem Derby indicating that no vote would be necessary to return to in-person meetings, Gomez set the council’s next meeting for the council chambers on Wednesday, April 6, at 6 p.m. At least five councilors need to be present in person to have a quorum, and Zoom access will continue to be available.

All other city committees will begin in-person meetings in May to ensure that all technological issues are addressed beforehand, Gomez said.

Hurry Scurry is slated for demolition

The demolition of the former Hurry & Scurry property could start this spring.

The Planning Board approved the site plan for the demolition of the existing Hurry & Scurry building at 118 Union St. as well as the construction of a new 2,025-square-foot mixed-use and retail structure on the footprint in December.

The Hurry & Scurry property is one of 17 vacant commercial and industrial properties the Easthampton Development & Industrial Commission as targeted on Main, Union and Northampton streets downtown as part of its proposed abandoned and vacant storefront ordinance. Under the commission’s original proposal, owners of vacant storefronts would have to register their properties with the city and pay an annual $100 registration fee.

City Planner Jeff Bagg told members of the EDIC at their March 15 meeting that project engineer Terry Reynolds of T Reynolds Engineering in Florence had emailed him that “the project is slated to start in the spring.”

The applicant for the demolition and construction project, Matt Gawle, did not return a request for comment. Assessors records show that Gawle’s father, Bernard Gawle, purchased the building in 1999 for $80,000 from David M. Crae.

“It was a promising sign from the owner’s representative that they plan on moving forward in the spring,” Bagg said.

The redevelopment of the Hurry & Scurry property will include ground floor retail and two two-bedroom market-rate housing units on the second floor.

Doodle-a-thon on the boardwalk

Resilient Community Arts, a nonprofit based in Suite 44 of the Eastworks building, is holding a “Doodle-A-Thon” fundraising event on Saturday, March 26.

The Doodle-A-Thon will feature more than 30 feet of doodling space along the boardwalk of Cottage Street in Easthampton from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event also includes live music and local food, tie-dye and henna tattoo stations, and three mini-workshops led by artists from the nonprofit. There will also be a maker’s market showcasing the work of students from the nonprofit and area artists.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the Art is for Everybody Scholarship Fund, which allows youths from low-income households to attend programs at Resilient Community Arts for free.

Resilient Community Arts provides programming in painting, drawing, printmaking, macramé and fiber arts. The nonprofit also offers custom group programming for all ages and backgrounds.

People interested in donating who cannot attend the event can visit https://linktr.ee/RCAdonations.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.

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