The City Council on Thursday voted 6-3 to authorize the mayor to negotiate a five-year contract with Motorola Solutions to replace the Northampton Police Department dashboard cameras. I voted with the majority after doing my own research and listening to several hours of public comments, presentations by city officials and discussion by councilors during City Council meetings Feb. 3 and 17, and a Finance Committee meeting Feb. 8. I concluded that there is no evidence that dashboard cameras have been misused in Northampton, and that they have worked as intended as a tool of accountability providing video evidence that has been used to prosecute criminals and exonerate innocent defendants.
There will be an opportunity to continue community discussion about the use of surveillance equipment in Northampton during a review of the ordinance approved in December 2019 that bans any city official from using “any city resources to obtain, retain, access, or use any face surveillance system.” The ordinance requires that it be reviewed by the City Council within three years of its adoption, and that process is expected to start March 3.
Barriers to service on city boards and committees
Also on Thursday, the City Council voted 9-0 to approve a resolution establishing “a select committee to study barriers to service on city boards and committees and opportunities for the city to work with residents to overcome those barriers.” The City Council president and mayor will appoint a committee of two current elected officials, three residents who are volunteer members of city boards or committees, and two residents who have never or who are not currently serving on a city board or committee. Findings and recommendations are due by the Oct. 20 City Council meeting.
Animal control facility
Finally on Thursday, the City Council voted 9-0 to refer to the Finance Committee a proposal to appropriate $100,000 to buy the former Moose Lodge property at 196 Cooke Ave. for use as an animal-control facility and parking for the adjacent Broad Brook Fitzgerald Lake conservation area. I attended a 90-minute neighborhood meeting Feb. 12 during which city officials described the proposal and answered questions. About 45 residents attended and most who spoke voiced concerns about quality-of-life issues in the neighborhood resulting from the animal-control facility where up to eight dogs could be housed. Also at issue is the number of parking spaces that would be designated for people using the conservation area. Thirteen people spoke on the issue during public comment at Thursday’s City Council meeting, with most opposed to the animal-control facility in a residential neighborhood.
I have received telephone calls or emails from 41 different households, with 21 opposing the former Moose Lodge as a site for the animal-control facility, 16 supporting it and four neutral in their opinion or simply asking questions. Most of the neighbors closest to the former Moose Lodge who contacted me oppose the site.
The next step is for city councilors to attend a noise experiment at the former Moose Lodge property to demonstrate how the level of sound diminishes over distance. This will be performed under the site visit exemption to the Open Meeting Law, which allows councilors to ask questions about the experiment, but we will not be taking testimony or answering questions from the public.
The next forum for public discussion about the animal-control facility is the Finance Committee meeting at 6 p.m. March 1. I will send a Zoom link to that meeting when it is available.
Northampton Rehabilitation and Nursing Center redevelopment
Laura Baker, real estate development director for Valley Community Development Corp. of Northampton, led a 70-minute Zoom session for neighbors Feb. 16 describing the planned redevelopment of the 6.2-acre property at 737 Bridge Road. Last used by the Northampton Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, the site has been vacant since 2011. Valley CDC proposes to renovate the existing building for 60 units of affordable housing.
About 40 people attended the meeting and many voiced support for the project, with questions centered on the impact of traffic on the surrounding residential streets and the need to add sidewalks in some areas, particularly those where children will be walking to the Jackson Street School. Among the concerns are whether vehicles will enter or exit the property from or onto Bridge Road, and the location of parking, green space and recreational areas around the housing on the property.
Several neighbors who attended have asked for a site visit to view and discuss options, and I have suggested that to Laura and Wayne Feiden, the city’s director of Planning & Sustainability, as the next step for neighborhood engagement.
The Northampton Senior Center, which has been closed since Jan. 10 because of the surge in Covid-19 cases, will reopen to the public Monday, Feb. 28, for limited services, including membership renewal appointments, use of the fitness center by reservation only for 30 minutes or one hour, billiards in the game room (four-person limit), and movies. Curbside lunch and food distribution programs will continue as pick-up only.
Starting March 7, fitness classes will be offered in person and as a hybrid option, and wellness services will resume the week of March 14. The bistro and coffee shop will not reopen until the indoor mask mandate is lifted in the city.
Proof of full vaccination, including a booster shot if eligible, is required to enter the building at 67 Conz St. People with questions about available services should call the Senior Center at 587-1228.