Councilor O’Connell: Ward 4 update

There are several issues currently in the news effecting Ward Four and the entire City.  The first is the Western Avenue Renovation Project.  This Project, years in the planning, is once again under review by Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT). There have been several versions of this plan including one with construction improvements with multi modal trails on both the north and south sides of Western Avenue, another with accommodations for a side by side bike trail adjoining the roadway and now, the latest plan presents itself with a bike and pedestrian trail along the north side of Western Avenue.  The state DOT hosted, at the urging of myself and Mayor Brian Sullivan, a public informational hearing last week to present this latest plan to the public. The major concerns of resident seemed to be the maintenance of the trail and the responsibility for upkeep of said trail. Some are also concerned with the number of trees that will be removed. According to Federal guidelines, it appears right now that the City of Westfield would be responsible for the maintenance of the trail but as we know what is required does not always happen. The process is ongoing and there will be requirements for a formal Public Hearing as well as Massachusetts Environmental Protection Agency (MEPA) reviews.
The proposed new Elementary School continues to be in the news.  Recently the National Park Service under the Department of the Interior has ruled that the appraisals of Ponders Hollow property and the Cross Street playground site are inaccurate anddeficient.   In other words, the appraisals commissioned by the City’s Law Department and paid for with City funds do not meet the standards required by the Federal government to allow the land transfer to proceed. The appraisals that were not done properly.As stated in one email from the Department of the Interior,  “ Further, that the appraisals were not prepared according to the Uniform Appraisal Standards for Federal Land Acquisition (UASFLA)which is the required standard for LWCF-assisted acquisitions and conversion land exchanges “.  The City of Westfield will now have to pursue another avenue for seeking equal replacement land.  When the City Council took the vote to transfer the Ponders Hollow site from the Fire Department to the Park and Rec some of us questioned the appraisals but we were told by the City’s Law Department that the appraisals were accurate and fulfilled UASFLA standards-something that was untrue. The net result is that the City of Westfield’s proposed new school is certainly delayed with yet one more legal issue presented.  The reason for these hurdles is simple: The past Administration failed to follow the law.  What is our best course of action to build acutting-edge, high tech school for our City’s children?  We must correct our missteps and re-evaluate the proposed 600 student elementary school on Cross Street.  With each day the opportunity to get back on track passes, we lose daylight, students continue to attend classes out of town, our overall expenses increase and our opportunity to direct our destiny passes.
Congratulations to those 86 brave souls who participated in the 12th Annual Penguin Plunge-“Slide and Shiver” last Saturday. These folks and their sponsors raised over $15,000 for Amelia Park Children’s Museum. This annual event is the major fundraiser for the Museum and allows them to carry on their mission serving our Community’s children all year.  If you are interested in joining the board please contact Diana McLean at [email protected]
The Westfield State University sponsored Neighborhood Advisory Board (NAB) met this week to review some important issues affecting the University and City residents. The two events planned in the near future are the Downtown meeting of WSU and the neighbors in the downtown area (Westfield Athenaeum on April 20) and the Pizza party at the University’s Main campus on April 27.
Stanley Park has announced that their Annual Gala will be held this summer on August 6 at the Park in the new Pavilion.
We begin this session (2016-2017) of City Council with five new Councilors and a new Mayor and the hope that together we will work for the good of our City. We depend on your input so please, never hesitate to reach out to your City Council to assist you in any way possible.
Mary O’Connell
Ward Four City Council

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not the staff, editor, or publisher of this publication.

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