The EDC considers zoning amendments, property assessments (or the lack thereof), and the First National Bank.

It’s a few days late, but I managed to catch up on this past Tuesday’s meeting of the Economic Development Committee of the Greenfield City Council. It was a fairly brief meeting (as these things go), and the agenda covered three main topics:

  1. An update from MJ Adams
  2. An update on the review of Boards and Commissions
  3. A vote on a motion to close a zoning loophole

MJ Adams’ update

MJ Adams is Greenfield’s Director of Community & Economic Development, and her updates at these meetings are similar to the reports from city officials (the Superintendent of Schools, the DPW Director, etc.) that happen at City Council meetings.

Most of her update (and the ensuing discussion with the Councilor on the EDC) concerned the ongoing effort to figure out what to do with the First National Bank building that has been sitting empty on Bank Row for as long as I have lived in Greenfield. The building was owned by the Franklin County Community Development Corporation for a number of years, but was sold a few years ago to the Greenfield Redevelopment Authority.

The current plan for the FNB building—coming out of the city’s Sustainable Master Plan—is to turn into a shared creative space. The GRA has engaged a consultant to conduct a feasibility study for this plan, and the results of that study are expected to be delivered to the GRA and the advisory board for the project at the beginning of December and discusses at their December 9 meeting. There was some back and forth between Adams and Councilors Desorgher (P3) and Elmer (At-large) about the origins of the current plan for the building, as well as other potential uses1.

There were a few other miscellaneous updates as well:

  • Data collection for the downtown revitalization plan (community and small business surveys) is complete, and the consultant’s report should be ready to share the next EDC meeting in December. Next steps after that would be an update next year of the downtown revitalization plan.
  • They’re looking at an second round of Shared Streets grant funding. The first round funded the planters, traffic barriers, and heaters for outdoor dining downtown, and they would look to use the second round to possibly begin funding pedestrian plaza updates to Court Square.
  • The initial microenterprise grants were awarded this past week.

Updates on the review of Boards and Commissions

Councilor Dolan had intended to have more of an update here, but said the issue has turned out to be more complicated that he expected. More to come at future meetings.

Councilors Desorgher and Elmer had a bit of a sidebar here on the Board of Assessors. Desorgher said she has been attending their recent meetings, and expressed concern about the lack of improvement on proper assessments across the city. Both she and Elmer are of the opinion that assessments are one of the biggest sources of revenue for the city, that there are a lot of discrepancies as to how properties are being assessed, and that (in Councilor Elmer’s words) “there is a lot of money sitting on the table that Greenfield isn’t collecting.”

Councilor Elmer concluded by urging more members of the City Council to begin attending Board of Assessors meetings and push for more improvement in how property assessments are conducted in Greenfield.

Closing a zoning loophole

I’m still catching up on the actual issue here, and at the risk of editorializing for a moment, the tendency within city government to provide little context before or during meetings to help folks who aren’t in the weeds of this stuff is not helping.

The actual zoning change under consideration is:

AMEND ZONING ORDINANCE, CHAPTER 200, SECTION 7.18: ACCESSORY DWELLING UNITS; SUBSECTION D: ACCESSORY DWELLING UNIT STANDARDS, BY INSERTING NEW SUBSECTION (14) AS FOLLOWS: NO ACCESSORY DWELLING UNIT SHALL BE HELD IN SEPARATE OWNERSHIP FROM THE PRINCIPAL STRUCTURE OR DWELLING UNIT. IF OWNERSHIP IS LATER DIVIDED UNDER MASSACHUSETTS CONDOMINIUM LAW, ALL UNITS OF THE CONDOMINIUM MUST BE OWNER-OCCUPIED, AND FURTHER AMENDS THE TABLE OF CONTENTS AND INDEX OF THE CODE. AND FURTHER THAT NONSUBSTANTIVE CHANGES TO THE NUMBERING OF THE ORDINANCE BE PERMITTED IN ORDER THAT IT BE IN COMPLIANCE WITH THE NUMBERING FORMAT OF THE CODE OF THE CITY OF GREENFIELD.

As best I can tell (and I’ll be the first to admit I may have this wrong), the loophole here in the existing law is that I could build an Accessory Dwelling Unit on my property, call it a condominium, and then sell it to someone else, effectively dividing my lot into two lots.

The EDC ended up voting 4-1 in favor of this motion (which had been approved unanimously by the Planning Board). There has apparently been a fair amount of input from the Al Norman crew in support of this change, and while some additional language changes had been suggested in the input, the EDC left the new language as it was drafted the Planning Board.

The “No” vote on this motion came from Councilor Dolan, who characterized it “a protest vote.” His main concern was that the process of a larger zoning review process previously proposed by the City Council and the Planning Board has not been started, and this question should be part of that process; he went on to say that the loophole was essentially way to get around “our very large minimum lots sizes,” and the larger zoning review process should address the issue. Councilor Elmer also expressed his concern that the rezoning hasn’t moved forward at all. He said that when he spoke to the Mayor about it, she had “forgotten all about it”; he suggested that if it is going to happen, the Council will need to push on it.

I believe this proposed change now goes to the full City Council for a vote.

The Economic Development Committee meets next on December 8.

  1. Specifically, there has been some discussion about reaching out directly to Apple (and possibly other companies) about using the FNB building as retail space. However, the determination here is that the current feasibility study and process need to be completed before other uses can be pursued.

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