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Speaking of the planning board and the Beaver Brook subdivision, it appears that throughout Northampton the balance has suddenly tilted badly against neighborhoods and in favor of the developers, builders, and Realtors. And the planners appear to be either overwhelmed or complicit in favoring, indeed promoting, more growth and greater sprawl.
In all sections of the city - such as rural Leeds, pockets of open land off Ryan Road, atop North Farms Road, property along Bridge Road, and the tempting housing possibilities on the former state hospital property, earth moving equipment is already at work or engineering plans, design renderings and specifications are already on file at the planning board office.
We can envision down the line developers lusting after some local properties - the sprawling VA property in Leeds, not if, but when the federal government begins to dispose of some or all of that appealing property, or the Clarke School for the Deafís priceless Round Hill property.
Meanwhile, George Andrikidis, head of the department of public works, says his department does not have the resources to maintain any additional public streets.
And a city transportation study committee has made a host of recommendations for "calming" what many regard as excessive speeding throughout the city, as well as a proposals to reduce traffic congestion, even though these recommendations now languish, ignored, in a municipal pigeon hole somewhere.
At the same time that pell mell growth threatens to change the face and spirit of the city, the City Council, worried about shrinking water supplies, has voted a new schedule of fines for prohibited types of water use.
Of course, the municipal resource that is scarcer than any other is revenue - cash - dollars - hard currency - bucks - to continue to support existing levels of service, whether it be the schools, libraries, parks and recreation, affordable housing, waste management, water treatment, or salaries and manpower for the public safety departments.
Why are the planners so eager to give a stamp of approval to every new development, large, small, marginal, or inappropriate?
Could it be that the people in charge of planning have conflicting interests. Iím thinking specifically of restaurateur Daniel Yacuzzo, chairman of the planning board, and until recently president of the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce. Whose interests do you suppose he favors? And, only a few weeks ago he was succeeded as Chamber boss by my old friend Patrick M. Goggins, owner of the cityís largest real estate firm and whose distinctive yellow signs we see poking out of every byway in the city. Whose interests will he be favoring? I think weíll find out very soon.
Meanwhile, it was refreshing to see the unanimity that has characterized this particular City Council break down finally and develop cracks of disagreement. A little personal rancor seeped out during the debate over continuing simulcast gambling at the Three County Fairgrounds.
Total consensus is no way to govern a lively community with a diverse population.
Myself, I line up with the undergunned anti-simulcast forces. The whole concept of simulcast gambling is one big fat loophole that essentially allows off-track betting in the city of Northampton without being honest enough to call it that or getting city-wide citizen approval.
Itís about business and commerce, not community needs and interests. The financially ailing Three County Fair is wobbling under the outdated concept of horse racing and fair-going when the rest of the world has moved on. It seeks to squeeze a little more revenue out of its gambling operations in an effort to survive, but for what purpose? Itís all about the Fair Association, not the community. And who is the Fair Association, nothing but a self-selected group of individuals who believe they should be treated by the city like a sacred cow.
Itís like the Taste of Northampton, which each year is trumpeted as the greatest show on earth. But no member of the public has ever seen the books of the Taste, which are secret. At least the Arthur Anderson accounting firm was required to issue a public report of its examination of the Enron Corp. books even though Anderson produced a willfully dishonest audit The Taste organizers, especially restaurateur Daniel Yacuzzo, have insisted in the past that the public has no right to see how much money the Taste takes in or where it goes. The Taste is all about the Taste, whose driving force once more is the Chamber of Commerce. Itís not about the citizens of Northampton, or the Cooley Dickinson Hospital, which gets a paltry contribution from the Taste each year or the beleaguered businesses downtown which more or less shut down for the Taste weekend because of the roaming crowds of tourists.
Fair and Taste, Taste and Fair. Are they really the soul of this city?
I hope not.
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