Community Preservation Commission reviews pending requests

Community Preservation Commission members Cheryl Crowe, Thomas Sharp, chair, Cynthia Gaylord, Daniel Kelly and Vincent Olinski at Wednesday’s meeting.

WESTFIELD – The Community Preservation Commission held a public information hearing and quarterly meeting on Wednesday, with members Thomas E. Sharp, chair, Cynthia P. Gaylord, Vincent Olinski, Daniel Kelly, and Cheryl Crowe present.
City Planner Jay Vinskey did a rundown of available Community Preservation Act funds. Vinskey said there is approximately $800,000 available, half of which must be spent on low-income housing, leaving $400,000 available for this year.
Vinskey added that the Rail Trail would be asking for a pre-commitment of $250,000 for next year. Last July, the CPC voted to fund the Rail Trail at $250,000 for design work on the central phase, knowing they would be coming back.
Sharp questioned Vinskey further about the pending applications before them; the Colonial Village at Stanley Park, the Elks Lodge and the Rail Trail, and whether they had the funds needed to cover the requests. Vinskey said they did.
First up for review was Stanley Park. Jeffrey Glaze, president of the Board of Directors said the grant would be for two structures in the Colonial Village in Stanley Park; replicas of a meeting house and grist mill that were built in the 1960’s. Glaze said the funding request of $85,000 would be to partially repair and update them.
Glaze said the CPC had previously been concerned about the easement on the property. Normally, projects funded by the CPC carry deed restrictions in perpetuity. Glaze said he met with the city attorney, Sharp and Vinskey. “Stanley Park doesn’t see any reason for an easement, as it’s already open to the public,” Glaze said. He said the Board of Directors agreed to a 30-year restriction, which had been agreeable to the CPC at its last meeting.
Sharp said the CPC had also asked for a Memorandum of Understanding, if the terms were acceptable.
Managing Director Robert C. McKean said he has been at Stanley Park for ten years, and the park is in its 70th year. “Stanley Park is not going to change, it will stay that way forever. We want to open these buildings to the public. I can assure you, we will be taking care of the city’s money,” McKean said, adding that they also do a lot for the city for free. “It’s a give and take,” McKean said.
Sharp asked what other funding would be involved in the restoration of the buildings. McKean said the $85,000 would be for materials, and they would use their own carpentry crew. “The total to be spent is $160,000,” McKean said, adding they’ve already raised $40,000 through the “Pathways to Colonial Times” fundraiser. With some of the money, they also hope to rebuild the blacksmith shop, which he called “a real old-fashioned blacksmith shop.”
“I want to totally speak in support of this. Stanley Park is the greatest asset we have here,” said Olinski.
Gaylord added that the Historical Commission is “square behind you.” She said they are very comfortable with the 30-year restriction.
McKean asked if the CPC could make a vote pending the MOU, because he wanted to get started on the work, and didn’t want to wait until the next quarterly meeting. Vinskey said the CPC has approved funding before a grant agreement is put in place, but Sharp said the next step would be to have “some sort of agreement.” Gaylord said she would be willing to come to a special meeting to approve the grant. At the end of the meeting, it was agreed to find a date for a special meeting in May.
For the Columbia-Greenway Rail Trail discussion, Cressotti said the design effort is altogether $500,000, and the request is for $250,000 to complete the design. “We’re asking for your commitment tonight,” Cressotti said.
Also speaking on behalf of the Rail Trail was Daniel Call. “Last year, we were very pleased with your support of $250,000. At that time, I said we would be coming back for $250,000, which will complete the design of the central portion,” he said. Call also said that the funding will impact the $6.25 million grant from the state. “At the moment, we’re on schedule,” Call said.
Vinskey said a recommendation from the CPC would be a pre-commitment to next year’s (FY19) budget, contingent on the budget being approved and the money being available.
“I think the Rail Trail is super cool,” said Sharp. The CPC then voted to recommend the funding to the City Council for FY19.
Stephen Andras came forward on behalf of a pending application from the Elks Lodge on 56 Franklin Street, for $96,576 to restore the columns on the 150-year old building. Andras said the house was formerly owned by the Van Deusen family, owner of the tobacco company. The lodge took over the building in 1929. The building is located in the historic district, although it is not listed in the Historic Registry.
“We don’t have a lot of the history before the Lodge took over,” Andras said, adding that the building is starting to have issues. He said an architect came in and found a lot more trouble, which is why they increased their original estimate from $30,000 to $96,000 for the work on the columns.
Andras said the Elks Lodge is an active club in Westfield, sponsoring the Rag Shag parade, grants to homeless veterans, suicide prevention and the Boys & Girls club. He also said the West Springfield Lodge members recently merged with them at the Franklin St. site.
Olinski said these types of historic renovations are governed by state-mandated materials that are very specific. Andras said he has been having trouble finding contractors interested in doing the work. “As soon as they hear the word ‘historic,’ they run,” he said.
Gaylord suggested that Andras speak with Joseph Shibley, who is restoring the façade of the Bismark Hotel, for restoration tips.
“One of the things we request, is that we do not fund 100%,” Olinski said. Andras said $450,000 has been spent already on the building, along with in-kind work by members.
Andras also said the building, which has no mortgage on it, is actually owned by the Grand Lodge, which Sharp said might complicate things. The request was tabled to the next meeting.
The last pending request was for $77,625 for a Down Payment Assistant Program, to be run by Westfield’s Community Development Director Peter J. Miller. Vinskey said the CPC has been talking for some time about using the restricted housing funds in a more versatile way, such as establishing a housing trust. “This is trust-like,” he said.
Vinskey said the Down Payment Assistance Program provides grants to low and moderate income families to purchase homes. The grant would support 15 buyers, at a maximum of $5,000 each.
Olinski said the Community Development Department has a similar program with the federal government, and has experience with it. He said it would have a wide impact on people in the community.
“I think it is a good project to get it rolling. We have a lot of dollars in housing,” Kelly said.
Gaylord asked to table it to the next meeting, to give the members a chance to read up on it. Olinski suggested inviting Miller to the meeting to discuss the program.

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