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Editorial: Hadley jeopardizes new library with parking drama

  • The current Hadley Senior Center at the Hooker School Building, which would be demolished to make way for a new library if plans are approved by the Hadley Planning Board. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO



Friday, September 14, 2018

Officials in Hadley are putting plans to build a new senior center and a library in serious jeopardy.

The process has been beleaguered by a controversy involving parking and zoning bylaws, and last week the Hadley Select Board voted for a redesign that will scale back plans for the proposed senior center to be located on a 2.6-acre parcel in the town center behind the Hooker School Building — at an unknown cost to taxpayers.

And any delay in the new senior center plans also delays the library, since the library is going to be built on the site of the current senior center. At stake is a $3.9 million grant that could be revoked if the library doesn’t break ground by January 2020.

That’s half of the funding for the library.

So, Hadley now plans to redesign a new senior center, get Planning Board approval, build and open the new building, demolish the Hooker School Building and then break ground on the new library, all in about 16 ½ months.

Officials haven’t made enough progress in the past 11 months to give much confidence that construction will hit the deadline. The Select Board is counting on a Hail Mary meeting with the Planning Board, the building committees, architects and other parties to resolve the remaining issues next Tuesday. Time is running out.

The project has won support from voters at two Town Meetings and two elections, and the annual Town Meeting rejected petitions to put it off. Furthermore, in November 2017 voters approved $1.8 million in additional funding for the new senior center so that the plans for the 12,050-square-foot building would not have to be downsized. Hadley Select Board’s order goes directly against the will of constituents.

“The general feedback I get is frustration that both projects are not moving forward more quickly,” Molly Keegan, one of the Select Board members, said (“Hadley Select Board reduces size of senior center project,” Sept. 7, 2018).

Members of the Select Board say they are trying to get approval from the Planning Board. Two members of the Planning Board say they won’t approve the current plans out of concerns there won’t be enough parking on the site for both the library and the senior center. As it stands, the senior center meets the requirements in the town’s bylaws for twice as much parking area as the size of the building, but the library plan does not. (The library is slated for 33 parking spots for patrons and two for staff.)

Of course, there is a way out: the Dover Amendment, a state law that allows buildings with educational, religious and agricultural use to be exempt from some zoning laws.

The town has already paid for a legal opinion from Arthur Kreiger, of Anderson & Kreiger LLC in Boston, saying that the library — an institution that is undoubtedly educational in nature — would fall under Dover with no problems. The town’s attorney and a lawyer for the Senior Center Building Committee both agree.

This seems like a pretty common sense solution.

But board member Michael Sarsynski said he sees the library using the Dover Amendment as a “legal sleight of hand” (“Hadley planners delay vote again on $7.1 million senior center,” Aug. 1, 2018).

Meanwhile, the American Legion, which has long used the lot where the new senior center will sit as overflow parking, is asking the Planning Board to also consider its needs. Despite being a private organization that does not own the land and does not have any legal claim to it, the Legion has used any means necessary to stop the projects — including ​​​​​​suing the Town of Hadley.

The Select Board and the Legion recently signed an agreement that will require the town to spend up to $75,000 on work that benefits the Legion, such as removing an underground storage tank and paving and line painting the Legion’s parking lot. Accommodating the Legion is a courtesy, not a legal requirement, since the zoning bylaw in question is about the proposed senior center and library.

“There’s a great silent majority in Hadley that is appalled by what is happening,” Sarsynski said, referring to the current plans.

Well, those people, if they exist, didn’t show up at Town Meeting to vote. Voters said they want the 12,050-square-foot senior center and 11,800-square-foot library built on the 2.6 acre site. The Select Board and Planning Board need to make it happen before time — and $3.9 million in funding — run out.