Committee obeys law of unintended consequences

WESTFIELD – The Legislative & Ordinance Committee voted to keep several items in committee for further study after discussing possible unintended consequences last night.
One issue is the zone change sponsored by Ward 3 Councilor Ann Callahan, who is seeking to add a definition for private parks to the city’s zoning codes. Callahan’s intention is to add the protections now afforded to public parks to private, nonprofit parks that are open to the general public.
Callahan, speaking at the public hearings held on the zone amendment, said that in the present ordinance language there is no specific definition, nor specific protection, of a privately owned park.
“Private parks have always been treated the same way as municipal parks, but it has been implied, not specified in the ordinance codes,” Callahan said.
The revised definition of a private park states it is: An area of land intended for outdoor enjoyment by the general public, which may have affiliated facilities used for conservation, recreation, assembly, concession, amusement, administration and the like, and which is owned by a governmental entity, or operated in its entirety as a non-commercial use.
The Planning Board voted at its Jan. 15 meeting to send the City Council a positive recommendation to expand the definition of privately-owned parks in the city to codify treatment of those facilities under city ordinance.
The L&O discussion last night raised more questions than provided answers.
Police Sgt. Eric Hall said that there is a connection between the zoning code and city Ordinance Chapter 11, section 66 which states Whenever the words “public park” are used in this chapter they shall be understood as including: Apremont Park, Chauncey Allen Park, Clay Hill Park, Grandmothers Garden, General Shepard Park, General Wareham Park, Holcomb Park, Islands on the corner of Broad and West Silver Streets, Islands on Court Street east of Washington Street, including Soldiers Monument, Kane Park, Half Mile Falls Park, Parker Memorial Park, Park Square, Tekoa Park and Wojtkiewicz Park. Also included are the historic cemeteries, East Mountain Cemetery, Mechanic Street Cemetery and Mundale Cemetery. All public park boundaries are shown on the city assessor’s map. ”
“There is a list of all public parks, some of which don’t exist anymore, while some new ones are not included,” Hall said. “The new bike path is not included, the parks created as part of the bridge construction are not included. It doesn’t include playgrounds.”
Hall said that the problem is police enforcement and that without the park designation, police officers are limited.
“If it’s not defined as a park, we can’t enforce trespass laws,” Hall said.
City Planner Jay Vinskey said the proposed amendment is a zoning issue that has no effect on parks, but establishes allowable use for private parks that are open to the general public, such as Stanley Park.
Ward 1 Councilor Christopher Keefe, chairman of the L&O, said the proposed change could have a broader impact than intended.
“We need to know what we can control and what we can’t control in a private park,” Keefe said. “Can we regulate the consumption of alcohol, of entertainment, of hours of operation like we do in public parks?”
The proposed amendment is also in the council’s Zoning, Planning and Development Committee, which led Keefe to quip that the L&O would let that committee answer those concerns. The L&O members voted to keep the motion in committee for further review.
The committee also tabled two motions related to the city’s animal control program.
One motion is for the creation of an Animal Advisory and Hearing Committee, which could include members from Agawam and West Springfield, which entered into inter-municipal agreements with the city to use the animal shelter.
The other motion would transfer administration of the animal control program from the Police Department to the Health Department, which under state law is responsible for public health issues relative to animal control.
The L&O also discussed moving responsibility for issuing dog licenses from the City Clerk to the Health Department.

To Top