Cap on cannabis dispensaries
The City Council on Thursday voted 6-3 to approve an ordinance capping at 12 the number of retail marijuana dispensaries in Northampton. I voted with the majority, and President James Nash (Ward 3), Marissa Elkins (at-large) and Garrick Perry (Ward 4) opposed the ordinance.
It now goes to Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra, who has said she opposes a cap. If she vetoes the ordinance, it would return to the City Council with the reason for her disapproval. Under the city’s charter, the City Council would again consider the ordinance no less than 10 days nor more than 30 days after its return. The votes of at least six city councilors are required to override a veto by the mayor.
I supported the ordinance largely in response to concerns raised by public health advocates, including Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Merridith O’Leary who has called for a halt to additional dispensaries.
The ordinance would exclude any applicants who qualify as social equity candidates as defined by the Cannabis Control Commission. Information about the Social Equity Program is available at: https://masscannabiscontrol.com/equity-programs/
It also would exclude any proposed retail marijuana establishment that already has a signed host community agreement when the ordinance takes effect. The ordinance would not apply to any host community agreement signed after the ordinance takes effect that is solely for delivery or courier service for cannabis products.
There had been 12 adult-use dispensaries operating in Northampton (including two that also offer medical marijuana treatment), until Dec. 16, when The Source, 58 Pleasant St., closed. Two other host community agreements have been signed, including one for two separate sites.
The mayor has the sole authority for executing host community agreements for specific marijuana establishments, but the City Council is allowed to place a cap on the number of dispensaries. Some 60 other communities in Massachusetts have imposed caps, including Amherst, Easthampton, Hadley, Southampton and Williamsburg.
Northampton High School traffic safety improvements
The City Council on Thursday unanimously approved the appropriation of $500,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds for the initial design and bidding costs for pedestrian, bicyclist and motor vehicle traffic safety improvements on streets surrounding Northampton High School. A total cost of $3 million is estimated for the improvements recommended after a traffic study by Fuss & O’Neill of Springfield.
That traffic study is available here: https://www.northamptonma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/21256/North-Elm-St-NHS-Traffic-Study-Dec-2022?bidId=
The city’s Transportation and Parking Commission on Tuesday voted unanimously to authorize the city to pursue traffic signals instead of roundabouts at the intersections of North Elm and Elm streets, and North Elm and Woodlawn Avenue. Although roundabouts are the city’s preferred option for improving intersections, they are not possible near the high school because there is not enough room in the existing right-of-way, and city officials believe it would be too time-consuming to seek approval from the state Legislature for land-taking from the privately owned Childs Park. During the design process, other traffic-calming possibilities, such as raised crosswalks, also will be considered.
The Transportation and Parking Commission also unanimously approved a proposed ordinance that will go to the City Council that would permanently remove five parking spaces on the east side of North Elm Street north of Woodlawn Avenue adjacent to Childs Park and replace them with a bicycle lane.
Other recommendations in the traffic study include reopening the section of road in front of Northampton High School that connects North Elm and Elm streets for a one-way bus lane for student pick-up and drop-off; creating a one-way pick-up and drop-off lane inside the high school parking lot; making Milton Street one way between Elm Street and Ormond Drive; realigning Riverside Drive so it is perpendicular to Elm Street; and establishing a seven-foot wide parking lane on the north side of Woodlawn Avenue adjacent to Childs Park.
The traffic study was commissioned in response to safety concerns resulting from 21 collisions near the high school since 2017, including the death of a bicyclist in October 2021. In addition, two pedestrians have been struck.
Donna LaScaleia, the city’s director of the Department of Public Works and chair of the Transportation and Parking Commission, estimates that designing the improvements will take a year and construction could begin in summer 2024.
Safety improvements on North King and Hatfield streets
More than 100 people attended either in person or remotely an informational meeting held by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation on Jan. 10 in the City Council chambers to hear from city officials and the public about safety improvements at the intersection of North King and Hatfield streets.
I was one of three city councilors who joined Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra in voicing strong support for traffic-calming measures at that intersection and on Hatfield Street to Cooke Avenue. I also advocated for avoiding any impact on a nearby archaeological site, and making sure that surrounding businesses are involved in the planning process. Many of the other approximately 25 people who spoke favored a redesigned roundabout that would avoid the archaeological site; others preferred a traffic signal.
MassDOT in 2021 canceled its contract for a previously planned roundabout at the site and stated that it was reevaluating the project’s design. Opponents cited the original project’s potential impact on an archaeological site with artifacts estimated to be at least 8,000 years old.
Potential safety improvements also include bicycle lanes, signs, pavement markings, and improved sidewalks, crosswalks and wheelchair ramps.
The area affected extends on Hatfield Street from Cooke Avenue to the intersection with North King Street, and the northbound and southbound approaches on North King Street.
A recording of the informational meeting is available here:
Neighborhood character/housing costs
The City Council’s Committee on Community Resources will meet virtually at 5:30 p.m., Monday, Jan. 23, for a discussion of neighborhood character, energy and sustainability issues (building and trees) as they relate to housing and its costs.
Expected participants are Dorrie Brooks of Jones Whitsett Architects in Greenfield, and Northampton Tree Warden Richard Parasiliti Jr.
Why Reparations? Why Northampton? Why Now?
The Northampton Reparations Committee, with cosponsor Forbes Library, will present a virtual program from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 24, about reparations for Black residents of Northampton.
Members of the group will describe their two years of work, including a petition with more than 400 signatures, and a resolution to be submitted to the City Council seeking a commission to address reparations. A link to the petition is on the committee’s website at northamptonreparations.com.
Panelists addressing “Why Reparations? Why Northampton? Why Now?” will be the Rev. Andrea Ayvazian, founder and director of the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership and associate pastor of the Alden Baptist Church in Springfield; Ousmane Power-Greene, an author who is program director of Africana Studies and associate professor of history at Clark University in Worcester; and Dan Cannity, co-chair of the Police Review Commission of Northampton and lead instructional designer and faculty support at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Joint meeting on municipal budget
Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31, with the City Council, School Committee, trustees of Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, and the superintendents of both school districts, to review the financial condition of the city and revenue and expenditure forecasts.
As required by the city charter, this is the first formal step in developing the municipal budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2023.