Hadley officials argue over parking rules for senior center

  • Hadley Planning Board members Joseph Zgrodnik, left, William Dywer, James Maksimoski, John Mieczkowski and Michael Sarsynski listen to Phil Palumbo, speak during a meeting at the Hadley Senior Center, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. Palumbo is a project manager for Colliers International. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Paul Palumbo, right, who is a project manager for Colliers International, listens during a meeting of the Hadley Planning Board, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018 at the Hadley Senior Center. Beside him is Thomas Reidy, an Amherst attorney. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Hadley Select Board member Molly Keegan speaks during a meeting of the Planning Board at the Hadley Senior Center, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. Beside her is Select Board Chairwoman Joyce Chunglo. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Hadley Planning Board Chairman James Maksimoski, center left, speaks beside other board members William Dwyer, from left, John Mieczkowski and Michael Sarsynski during a meeting at the Hadley Senior Center, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/19/2018 10:43:07 AM

HADLEY — A potential Town Meeting warrant article exempting municipal projects from town parking regulations is coming under fire from Planning Board members, who say it may be a means of getting a new senior center and library built on a parcel that has insufficient parking.

Calling it an attempt for a “get-out-of-jail-free card” and a strategy to skirt the bylaw that requires parking be twice the area of the buildings, planner Joseph Zgrodnik told the Select Board Tuesday that it appears officials are trying to delay a hearing on the plans long enough so that the current bylaw would no longer be valid.

“The fact is that they are looking to extend so that the zoning bylaw to reduce (parking) can be out of Town Meeting,” Zgrodnik said at a Planning Board meeting Tuesday that also included town officials and members of the library and senior center building committees.  

“What sort of underhanded deals are you doing?” added Planning Board member John Mieczkowski to the discussion. 

Even though the possible bylaw change isn’t sitting well with town planners, Planning Board Chairman James Maksimoski said that if plans are presented for a new senior center that is about 2,000 square feet smaller, which the Select Board recently ordered to happen, he is confident the project will receive a favorable vote for the needed site plan special permit.

“The reduction in the building would take care of the problem,” Maksimoski said.

Planning Board Clerk William Dwyer said that if the project is compliant with town zoning “there would be no zoning basis for turning it down.”

The proposed $7.1 million senior center, which has been approved at Town Meeting and elections, is slated to be built in a field behind the senior center’s current home inside the former Hooker School Building. Once complete, the Hooker building would be razed and a new $8 million town library would be built on that portion of the property.

Select Board Chairwoman Joyce Chunglo said the meeting was called to learn how to get the project plans approved and satisfy concerns the Planning Board has raised.

“We’re looking for some direction,” Chunglo said, noting that her board voted 3-2 at its Sept. 5 meeting to instruct the Senior Center Building Committee and its architect to reduce the size of the project from 12,050 square feet to 10,350 square feet to meet zoning requirements for parking. 

Maksimoski said if this happens, the board could act on the current plans without a new submission,

Thomas Reidy, an attorney with Bacon, Wilson, PC of Amherst, requested that the site plan hearing be continued to Nov. 20, which would give sufficient time for these plans to be revised.

Phil Palumbo, a project manager with Colliers International and the owner’s project manager, said he began working with the senior center’s architect immediately to reduce the size of the building after the Sept. 5 board vote, but then put this on hold after a motion was made at the Select Board’s Sept. 12 meeting to rescind this order. The board did not vote on that motion.

Select Board member Molly Keegan said she is worried that there is so much misinformation in the community about the size needed for the senior center building and that all options should be on the table, as there is both a cost to doing the work to reduce the size of the building, and a time commitment.

Zgrodnik said the Planning Board has been trying to come to a reasonable conclusion.

“There is some give and take,” Zgrodnik said.

But this is not what has been happening with the plans, Maksimoski said, as none have yet been submitted that comply with the town’s parking requirements.

“They were just adding a few parking spaces, and were still considerably shy of the needed amount,” Maksimoski said.

Planning Board members’ frustrations that efforts are afoot to change the parking bylaw for municipal buildings were evident, with Mieczkowski concerned about “back-door meetings” by the Select Board and Zgrodnik describing deception taking place.

“We are being upfront, you’re not being upfront,” Zgrodnik said to Keegan.

Keegan said the warrant article was an idea floated by several people and the Select Board agreed to have a placeholder on the warrant.

“There’s no such thing as a placeholder for zoning articles,” Maksimoski said.

Mieczkowski said there was no evidence the Select Board took a vote to move such a warrant article forward, and pressed Town Administrator David Nixon as to why it was being considered.

“They didn’t take a vote. Who instructed you to do it?” Mieckzowski said.

Nixon said he has authority to do so following discussions with board members. In fact, those discussions happened at the Select Board’s meetings Aug. 1, Aug. 22 and Sept. 5, according to meeting records. 

The Dover Amendment, a state law that allows projects for educational uses to be exempt from certain zoning regulations, also has been considered as an avenue for the project. Keegan said this option is not currently being pursued.

Planning Board member Michael Sarsynski said he would not look favorably if that route is explored, noting that he is not convinced by the three legal opinions in favor of its use. He added that Michael Pill, an attorney with Green Miles Lipton LP, who represented the American Legion Post 271 in its lawsuit against the town related to construction of the senior center, offered an opinion that library parking doesn’t qualify for such an exemption.

The Planning Board agreed to have another joint meeting Sept. 25 at 7 p.m. at the Senior Center. Dwyer said that session will be a policy coordination meeting that aims to put all town officials and residents on the same page going forward. No votes will be taken that night, he said. 

“We’re not going to be making any decision,” Dwyer said. “It will not be a continuation of the public hearing on the senior center library proposal.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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