Special meeting of the Greenfield City Council

  1. I’m at the emergency meeting of the Greenfield City Council, which was called to address the issue of the homeless encampment on the town common.

Live updates to begin shortly…

Call to order, etc.

  • It is a completely full house tonight here at the John Zon Community Center, with people waiting out in the hall for seats and space to open up in the main room.
  • Council President Renaud has called the meeting to order, and public comment is now beginning.

Public Comment

  • First comment is from MJ Adams, speaking in support of Mayor Martin’s request to modify city code to limit use of the town common.
  • I suspect there is going to be some ugly rhetoric here tonight, e.g., the commenter who just used the analogy of why you shouldn’t feed stray cats because “they will just keep coming.”
  • Chair of the Conservation Commission speaking against the proposal to restrict use of the common.
  • President Renaud calling a five-minute recess to have the police remove a particularly negative and vocal attendee (after issuing a warning about jeering, etc.).
  • Meeting now resuming.
  • A theme of a number of the comments thus far is that folks ought not to be forced off the common with a clear and well thought-out plan for where they will go.
  • First comment from one of the folks actually living on the common. “There is no one that will help me.”
  • “The town was fine when we were in the woods.”
  • Commenter proposes owners of vacant buildings in town work with city services to use them as housing, even if only temporary.
  • This is the first time I have ever witnessed a public comment involving singing.
  • “There is not a rug big enough to sweep this under.”
  • Lots of commenters concerned about Wedgewood Gardens as a destination—risk of flooding, lack of bathrooms, hard for service organizations to get to, distant from town services, food, etc. for folks without transportation.
  • Second comment in a row from a Greenfield homeowner requesting an increase in property taxes if it will help to make sure everyone in Greenfield has a safe place to live.
  • Public comments continue to be overwhelmingly opposed to changing the ordinance to limit access to the common.

Public comment is now closed. That was a lot of comments.

Mayor’s Comments

  • Goal #1 – immediate, temporary housing
  • Goal #2 – limited long-term housing
  • The Mayor is expressing the concern that if the population on the common continues to increase, the solutions they have come up with to accomplish those two goals will no longer be feasible; thus, the need to put a deadline in place, i.e., changing ordinance to limit access to the common.
  • The Mayor is also knocking down suggestions of using vacant storefronts, abandoned properties, etc., says the people who can come up with solutions are those that have done it before, not those with no knowledge but “good hearts.”
  • Councilor Gilmour pressing the Mayor on the need to restrict access to the common, doesn’t see how it is relevant. Mayor Martin says the Council can reduce the fine to whatever they think makes sense.
  • Councilor Dolan asking why we have not addressed this issue in the past. Mayor Martin: “We’re not in the housing business.”
  • President Renaud favors Energy Park as a solution, but notes that it is not a town park; it is owned/managed by a non-profit that would need to say yes and be involved. There seems to be some uncertainty about that, however.
  • Councilor Mayo suggests putting out a general call to property owners who might be able to help with solutions.
  • Councilor Sund asks about using Green River School. Mayor says no—there is asbestos removal going on and it is under RFP.
  • Councilor Mass: The communities you cited in your list of best practices are all large cities with more resources than Greenfield. Do you have any best practices for small communities? Mayor Martin: No.
  • That’s the end of the Mayor’s comments.

Motions, etc.

  • Councilor Mass describing his childhood experience of living on campgrounds and in homeless shelters, came to Greenfield for subsidized housing. Says the city has been dealing with homelessness for many years, not just now because people are living on the common.
  • Councilor Mass saying that town common is excepted from public use rules because there were events anticipated on the common that would go late into the night. Says the current issue is an unintended consequence of a change some years ago that eliminated the requirement for getting a permit/license.
  • On a side note, by battery is about to die and I forgot my power cable, so I may not be able to keep updating this particular post.
  • President Renaud makes a motion to lift restrictions on religious organizations housing homeless persons on their property. Seconded.
    • Councilor Gilmour has questions about how far we think this is going to go.
    • Friendly amendment from Councilor Mass that would also change zoning ordinances. Accepted by President Renaud.
    • Councilor Sund volunteers to be the go-between with the churches. President Renaud appoints him as such.
    • Fire Chief is detailing the rather restrictive codes pertaining to sprinkler systems and other fire detection/prevention systems in shelters.
    • Motion carries unanimously.
  • Councilor Gilmour moves that the town put a port-a-potty on the common.
  • Mayor doesn’t think it is a good idea, suggest a spot by the Farmers Market shed. Councilor Gilmour adjusts her motion, seconded by Councilor Mayo.
  • Motion carries. Mayor will get on it tomorrow.
  • Councilor Mass speaking now about his preference for Wedgewood Gardens over Energy Park as a short-term solution. Says there are a bunch of events already planned for the Energy Park and that most of the expressed objections to Wedgewood Gardens aren’t an issue.
  • Councilor Mass makes his motion has written (limiting usage of the town common to prohibit camping), seconded by Councilor Leonovitch.
  • Councilor Gilmour does not support kicking people off the common. Neither does Councilor Stempel.
  • Councilor Dolan suggests that the problem is a lack of options. Okay with helping churches house homeless and opening up Wedgewood. Does not support evicting folks from the common.
  • Councilor Sund is saying… something. Sorry folks, I’m starting to run out of steam here.
  • Councilor Mass returning to his earlier point about protecting the common for the use of everyone.
  • Councilor Sund moves to table the motion. Sustained.
  • President Renaud suggests setting up another special meeting next week, with investigation in the meantime.
  • Councilor Dolan moves to open Wedgewood Gardens to overnight usage, Councilor Mass seconds.
  • President Renaud moves to amend motion to add Energy Park. Motion to amend fails.
  • Main motion carries.
  • Councilor Mass suggests a limitation on how long tents can be kept up. Councilor Gilmour pushes back hard.
  • Meeting adjourned.