South Hadley voters will decide on neighborhood revitalization

  • A special Town Meeting will be held at the South Hadley Town Hall auditorium at 6 p.m. on Wednesday. GAZETTE STAFF

Staff Writer
Published: 11/17/2019 10:55:54 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — Voters will weigh issues including a multimillion-dollar plan to revitalize South Hadley Falls, protecting natural resources, providing extra funding for public schools, and the creation of a Commission on Disabilities at a special Town Meeting on Wednesday.

The first of 18 articles on the warrant asks whether the town should endorse an Urban Redevelopment and Renewal Plan intended to improve the South Hadley Falls neighborhood by fostering job growth through new and existing businesses, creating more housing options, and supporting public and natural resources.

The plan involves the acquisition of 28 parcels and assembly of 10 new parcels; construction of 33 residential units under a 40R housing development; construction of nine new commercial, residential, mixed-use and municipal structures; rehabilitation of four structures; and demolition of 11 structures; among other steps.

The project would cost “tens of millions of dollars,” Redevelopment Authority Chair Frank Detoma told the Gazette in October, but would mostly be funded by private developers and the state.

Earth removal bylaw

Article 6 proposes a bylaw that would expand limitations set by zoning bylaws fostering protection of natural resources such as minerals, sand, gravel and groundwater.

Sand and gravel operations with proper licenses and permits would be allow to continue within their existing permit terms, and the bylaw would not bar developers from excavation for building a house or landscaping.

The town has grappled with earth removal requests in the past, such as a proposed expansion of a sand and gravel pit that some residents worried would contaminate the Fire District 2 water supply. The developer ultimately withdrew the application, but later proposed a housing development on the same site.

Communities in southeastern Massachusetts have put forward stricter protections like the ones proposed in the article, Town Administrator Mike Sullivan said, “and I think South Hadley is probably going to be one of the first in western Massachusetts.”

School budget

Article 8 asks whether the town should provide $66,438 to compensate for budget shortfalls in the town’s school budget for fiscal year 2020. 

Last spring, South Hadley Public Schools had a $950,000 budget shortfall, despite a $275,000, or 1.29 percent, increase to the district’s budget, which totals $21.5 million for 2020. The funding gap caused the elimination of several teacher positions; cuts to programs such as art, music, social studies and physical education; and a reduction in hours worked for other positions.

The shortfall was mostly caused by contractually obligated pay raises for school employees and increasing special education and transportation costs, according to Superintendent Nicholas Young, who reported in June that the situation would likely worsen the next year.

Sullivan also said at a special Town Meeting preview meeting Wednesday that the 2021 budget shortfall “may be more dire.”

“The district has already made cuts in areas where the quality of education may be affected,” Sullivan said. The requested $66,438 “is not going to solve all the problems, but it will make a difference, particularly in the special ed area, in a small way.”

The funding would come from taxes.

Other bylaws

Article 2 asks whether the town should form a five-member Commission on Disabilities, which would be established with the acceptance of a state bylaw.

Other bylaws on the warrant concern issues such as street and public works development; unemployment compensation; construction of the town’s senior center and other financial transfers.

The special Town Meeting will be Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the Town Hall auditorium.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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