City Briefing: Northampton gets financial boost for rail trails, affordable housing

  • Cyclists on the inaugural Spring Tweed Ride travel past the old Northampton train depot on their way to Look Park. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 7/21/2022 10:51:41 AM
Modified: 7/21/2022 10:51:17 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Several initiatives are underway that are designed to boost the city’s “livability,” according to Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra’s office, thanks to state and local funding for bike path improvements and new units of affordable housing.

Sciarra announced this week that nearly $400,00 in state grant money would fund two projects related to the city’s shared-use trails and provided updates on efforts “to help those who are being priced out of the housing market.”

The Department of Conservation and Recreation awarded the city $160,000 to repair a crumbling, century-old retaining wall along the New Haven and Northampton Canal Greenway, located between Veterans Field and the South Street Bridge. According to the MassTrails program’s award announcement, “If it is not repaired, the wall will deteriorate to a point that will force the closure” of the path.

DCR also awarded the city $238,000 for the design of a 1.3-mile bike and walking trail from Damon Road in Northampton to Elm Court in Hatfield.

Carolyn Misch, interim director of planning and sustainability, said it is not yet clear if the new trail section would directly connect to the trail in Hatfield.

“The town of Hatfield hasn’t made a statement one way or the other about whether they want to have a bike path connector,” Misch said, but the city could still build a trail that reaches the town line. “It would still be an amazing recreational resource for the city of Northampton.”

For both projects, the city is responsible for matching a total of $99,504, according to DCR. Misch said that municipal staff labor can be applied to the match, and the city has used Community Preservation Act funds for similar grant matches in the past.

Projects that received MassTrails grants have to be finished by the end of June 2023.

The city also is seeking bids to demolish the former Moose Lodge at 196 Cooke Ave. with the goal of developing up to four units of affordable housing there.

The mayor’s office highlighted sewer line and sidewalk upgrades on Laurel Street, meant to accommodate 20 new units of affordable housing planned by Valley Community Development Corp., and a recent transfer of city-owned surplus land to Habitat for Humanity for the construction of three affordable units. The parcel is on the western edge of the former Northampton State Hospital.

Assault weapons ban

The City Council has advanced a resolution that would show support for a federal ban on assault weapons, like the ban that was in place from 1994 to 2004, and plans to consider it again at the council’s August meeting.

The resolution introduced by Councilors Karen Foster and Marianne LaBarge also calls for restrictions on the capacity of firearm magazines.

“[L]imiting access to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines has a demonstrable impact on reducing mass shootings, with states with limitations experiencing mass shootings at less than half the rate of states without restrictions,” the resolution reads. Such a ban would be a “necessary step, but only a first step, in addressing the public health crisis that gun violence of all types presents in our country.”

At the council’s latest meeting, Foster said that the resolution grew out of discussions with Northampton Democratic City Committee members who supported adding an assault weapons ban as a plank in the party platform.

“More than 300,000 children have been in school during a shooting,” Foster said, citing research on the subject. “It is so far beyond time for Congress to act on this.”

In addition to the lives lost during mass shootings, she said, communities grapple with the physical, emotional and financial impacts on families and survivors.

City Council President James Nash said that the easy availability of assault rifles is “unconscionable” and noted that a person cannot walk into a store and buy “other military devices” like missiles, grenades or cluster bombs.

Vaccines for children

Due to high demand, the Department of Health and Human Services is making more appointments available for babies and young children to receive the Moderna vaccine against COVID-19.

Free vaccine clinics, open to the public from any community, are being held on Mondays at the Elks Club, 17 Spring St., Florence.

Appointments for children can be made from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Walk-ups are not accepted. Children ages six months to 4 years can receive the Pfizer vaccine, while children six months to 5 years can receive the Moderna vaccine.

Anyone 5 and older can walk up or make an appointment from 3 to 6 p.m. or attend the clinic at Pulaski Park on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Homebound individuals can receive an in-home vaccination by appointment.

Anyone who is struggling to find an appointment for multiple children from the same household on the same day can email public health nurse Kate Kelly at kkelly@northamptonma.gov.

“I strongly recommend that all members of the community get up to date with their COVID vaccinations and certainly receive any boosters for which they are eligible,” city health commissioner Merridith O’Leary said in a written statement. “While I recognize that it can be confusing that people who have been vaccinated can still test positive for COVID and have some symptoms, vaccines are preventing countless hospitalizations and deaths right here in Hampshire County.”

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.
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