What happened with the French King Highway petition

I didn’t make it all the way to the end of this past Wednesday evening’s meeting of the Greenfield City Council. I left around 10:30 PM, at which point the meeting had been going for three and a half hours, and the exasperation level among the Councilors was fairly high as they debated a resolution recommending the impeachment of Donald Trump.

As a result, I missed the discussion later that evening of the petition submitted by Al Norman to put the French King Highway zoning changes on the ballot this November.

Back in the spring, the Council voted to authorize the borrowing authority to allow the city to accept $10 million in state grant money to build a new library. In order to get enough votes to pass that motion, Council President Renaud struck a deal with At Large Councilor Isaac Mass—he would support the library if the Council also voted to remove about 160 acres from the French King Highway Overlay Zone and triple the threshold for the city’s major development review process.

After much debate, both the library and zoning changes passed, much to the consternation of local gadfly Al Norman, who has spent several decades opposing large-scale retail development in Greenfield and elsewhere, and the last few years fighting Councilor Mass on changes to the French King Highway in particular.

Following the passage of those two connected motions in August, opponents of both the new library and the FKH zoning changing went to work. The library opponents collected the hundreds of signatures required by the city charter to put the question on the ballot at this November’s municipal election. If the ballot question passes, then the decision to accept the state grant and build a new library stands; if it fails, no new library.

Meanwhile, Al Norman went a different route. Using a different provision of the city charter, he collected the much lower number of signatures required to petition the Council to put the question of whether or not to keep the French King Highway zoning changes on the ballot this November.

That brings us back around to Wednesday night’s meeting, at which the Council considered Norman’s petition. After a bit of drama following Councilor Mass’s attempt to adjourn the meeting before consideration of the motion began (the motion to adjourn failed), the councilors took up the petition.

The debate broke along several lines. Councilors Mass and Pyfrom objected to Norman “not doing the work” of collecting as many signatures as the library opponents. A number of councilors debated whether the compromise made earlier this year still held, given that the library is now going to the voters. The Council accepted the petitions, and then Councilor Dolan suggested a non-binding resolution be put to the voters.

At that point, Councilor Mass made a procedural objection to such a resolution being made and passed in a single meeting. Councilors Pyfrom and Allis joined his objection, which was sufficient to push the question of whether to put the FKH zoning changes on the ballot to the next meeting (regular or special) of the City Council.

Given the Council’s tabling of the motion earlier in the evening to override the Mayor’s veto of the Safe City ordinance, I imagine there is some behind-the-scenes wrangling happening to get a special meeting scheduled within the next week or two. If that happens, we could see further discussion of the FKH petition. Stay tuned…

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