FRED WHITBURN'S FOREST
Anatomy of the Beaver Brook Estates Deal:
Tracking the Paper Trail and the Money
By Mike Kirby
In January I went to the public hearing on the Beaver Brook subdivision up in Leeds. This particular night the project abutters were out in force, standing in front of the microphone one by one and telling the planning board why they didn't want this subdivision in its present incarnation in their backyard.
They were people like you and me, people unhappy that sleepy Northampton is filling up with cars and developments. It takes guts to stand up and talk in front of a public hearing, and people's voices trembled from time and time as they looked nervously at their notes. Two little kids presented a petition from the people on Grove Avenue, which borders the Beaver Brook property; older people talked about the forest and wetlands they were going to lose, parents talked about traffic problems they and their families were going to have to deal with. One older board member was asleep, but stirred himself every now and then to focus blearily on what was going on. Other board members examined their cuticles, looked out the window, and waited for everything to get over with.
The lack of eye contact from most of the board members made me feel that things were going to go against the project's opponents. If people look you in the eye when you are speaking, most of the time they are listening to you. If they look past you, or at the floor, you are in trouble. They've most likely made up their mind.
A week later I went back for the continuation of the public hearing and it was hot again, and now it was the board's turn to talk and your role is to sit in the back of the room and try to hear what they are saying. There is a P.A. system, I think, but it never seems to be on during meetings when the board is deliberating. In the end, neither the developer nor the neighbors got what they wanted from the board. The plan that was favored by the neighbors and developer was for a 41-unit subdivision. It would have kept Grove Avenue a dead-end street, and connected it to a common private driveway servicing four flag lots.
That was turned down and a 49-unit plan was approved that would connect Grove Avenue, a sleepy little cul-de-sac on the banks of the Mill River, to Route 9. The restrictions would make the new connecting road into an obstacle course of sorts, with tight curves and so-called "speed tables," elongated squared-off speed bumps, to discourage people cutting through.