The City Council on Thursday unanimously approved appropriating $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act money to purchase the former First Baptist Church at 298 Main St. for use as the Community Resilience Hub.
The vote came after Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra told the council that the city had extensively explored about 10 buildings as possible sites for the Hub, including St. Mary of the Assumption Church on Elm Street, which closed in 2010. However, the Springfield diocese was not interested in selling that building to the city, Sciarra said in response to questions raised by some residents about whether it had been considered for the Hub.
The city has an option to pay $3.3 million for the 14,500-square-foot former First Baptist Church, which has been vacant since 1993 when it was purchased by Eric Suher, owner of the Iron Horse Entertainment Group.
In addition to the $1 million in ARPA money, the city also has designated $1,610,000 in cannabis mitigation funds, $506,872 in Community Development Block Grants, a $200,000 gift from Smith College, and $53,268 in other donations to purchase the site and associated costs in establishing the Resilience Hub. City officials expect that renovations of the building will begin in the coming months and that its conversion to the Hub will be completed in stages.
The city has sought a suitable location since the 2019 report “A Downtown Northampton for Everyone: Residents, Visitors, Merchants, and People At-Risk” identified the need for such a resource center. It would be used as a day center with programs and services for vulnerable residents, including those who are homeless, a community space and an emergency response center during crises.
Community Action Pioneer Valley is the city’s social service partner as the lead operating agency for the Hub, which will also serve as a home for the new Department of Community Care.
Climate Change Mitigation Stabilization Fund
The City Council on Thursday unanimously approved the appropriation of $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act money to create a Climate Change Mitigation Stabilization Fund.
The vote followed a positive recommendation issued by the Committee on Finance, of which I am a member, after discussing the proposal with Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra on Tuesday.
The fund will be used to pay for design and strategic planning as well as operating costs and long-term capital projects to meet the city’s goal of becoming a net carbon-neutral city by 2050 and support goals established by the Resilience and Regeneration Plan to mitigate the impacts of climate change. It also will provide local money to use as a match for potential state and federal grants.
Downtown parking regulations
The City Council on Thursday unanimously approved changes to downtown parking regulations, including fees and hours. The city has not yet set a date for the new regulations to take effect, but it is expected to be this winter.
Among the changes is a later start time of 10 a.m. to begin charging fees at parking meters. At some meters, fees would be extended to 8 p.m., with a higher fee charged between 5 and 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and all day on Saturdays. Some meter fees would be decreased, and time limits at some meters would be eliminated. A permit for the E. John Gare Parking Garage would increase from $90 to $110 per month.
Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra said she expects that for a short time after the new regulations take effect, the city will issue warnings instead of fines between 6 to 8 p.m., which are new hours for enforcement of parking fees at meters.
Cap on cannabis dispensaries
The City Council Committee on Legislative Matters, of which I am a member, during its virtual meeting at 5 p.m., Monday, Jan. 9, will discuss a proposed ordinance to cap at 12 the number of retail marijuana dispensaries in Northampton.
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 proposed cap would exclude any proposed marijuana establishment that already has a signed lease for a Northampton property when the ordinance takes effect.
It also 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/
Although the City Council does not have jurisdiction over host community agreements for specific marijuana establishments, it could place a cap on the number of dispensaries allowed in Northampton. In 2018, the City Council rejected a proposed cap of 10. City councilors are responding to some residents who are now calling for renewed consideration of a cap on cannabis dispensaries.
Safety improvements on North King and Hatfield streets
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation will hold an informational meeting at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 10, in the City Council chambers, 210 Main St., on its latest plans for safety improvements at the intersection of North King and Hatfield streets. There will also be remote participation.
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.
State officials on Tuesday are expected to discuss the most recent design modifications and describe the next phases for the project. Potential safety improvements include traffic control devices, signs, pavement markings, reconstruction of sidewalks, crosswalks and wheelchair ramps, and accommodations for bicyclists.
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.
Holiday tree collection
The Northampton Department of Public Works will collect holiday trees for recycling from 9 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Jan. 7 and Saturday, Jan. 14.
Trees that are clear of ornaments, lights, tinsel, plastic bags, netting and metal wires may be dropped off in the front, right parking lot at Smith Vocational High School, 80 Locust St. Artificial trees will not be accepted.
The tree collection is available to all Northampton residents. A transfer station sticker is not required, but people may be asked for proof of residency (driver’s license or vehicle registration).