Four At-Large City Council Hopefuls Lumber Through Candidates Forum: Audio Playlist
NORTHAMPTON — Four pols, two seats. An hour and 15 minutes allotted. Questions answered in two-minute soundbites, in serial rotation. The mayoral hopefuls waiting in the wings, preparing to take the stage.
It ain’t easy being an at-large candidate for City Council this year.
Last Wednesday night, at the Bridge Street Elementary School, the Ward 3 Neighborhood Association sponsored a mega- candidates forum, first featuring at-large council hopefuls Bill Dwight, M.J. Adams-Pullan, Michael Janik, and incumbent At-large City Councilor Jesse Adams, then moving on to showcase mayoral contenders Michael Bardsley and David Narkewicz.
The at-largers answered questions posed by moderator Kerry Buckley, who is director of Historic Northampton, and by audience members. Because of time and logistical constraints, there was no opportunity for the moderator to ask follow-up questions or for panelists to respond to each other.
In his opening remarks, incumbent Jesse Adams said he is the proven incumbent who has a history of delivering on promises.
M.J. Adams-Pullan said the the change in leadership in the corner office (six-term mayor Clare Higgins stepped down in September, and the seat’s up for grabs on Nov. 8) presents opportunities for new ideas and energy.
Bill Dwight said “the city’s blessings are earned not bestowed.”
And Michael Janik spoke of his management experience at Big Y Supermarkets, his work with special needs kids, his pending Master’s degree from Cambridge College, and “the perception out there that people aren’t being listened to.”
From there, the candidates’ answers to questions stayed largely within the safety zone, yielding few surprises: a query about “what exactly an At-large City Councilor does” elicited a variety pack of responses; each said the redevelopment of the Three County Fairgrounds needs to be done right; all agreed that economic development has to be a priority. Support for the Community Preservation Act was pretty much universal, although Janik express reservations about its value.
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King Street Rezoning Plan
All four were boosterish on the proposal to rezone King Street, the city’s commercial corridor, to make it easier for developers to build there. Supporters hope for an up-or-down vote from the City Council on the new zoning plan, initially proposed by the Northampton Area Chamber of Commerce, by the end of the year.
In discussing the matter, everyone but Adams-Pullan mentioned “Families With Power,” a group of low-income moms from the King Street neighborhood who spoke at a recent Planning Board hearing. The group called for more in the way of sidewalks, crosswalks, and simple walking access to and across the King Street commercial corridor from apartment complexes in the neighborhood.
Of the four candidates, Dwight devoted the most airtime to addressing the needs of low-income residents in the city’s planning process.
He said his primary concern at this point is making sure that people who live on either side of the King Street corridor, particularly residents of subsidized housing complexes, are heard.
“It will be easier for people to travel from Brattleboro to come to shop in Northampton than it would be for people who live a hundred yards away, up at Hampshire Heights, Hathaway Farms, Barret Street apartments, and River Run apartments,” said Dwight, referring to the dangerous pedestrian access from those complexes to King Street.
Dwight, who had a hand in drafting the current zoning for King Street while a Ward 1 City Councilor 10 years ago, rattled off a list of successful projects developed under those rules, but conceded that zoning should change with the times.
Incumbent Jesse Adams said he’d been meeting with the Chamber of Commerce about rezoning King Street since early 2010. He said that King Street’s zoning should be “more business friendly than it has in the past” and said that, with the new proposals, a balance has been struck between environmental and commercial needs.
(The Chamber’s role in pushing their zoning plan through city government has not been without controversy; last summer the chairman of the Zoning Revisions Committee resigned in protest over the matter.)
Adams-Pullan delivered a soliloquy on the “very strong and valiant planning history in the city.” Discussions about King Street, she said, should look toward the future. “How are we going to get out of our cars and capitalize on the proximity to the rail line?” she asked, referring to the return of intercity rail in the Pioneer Valley.
She did not say whether she would give an up-or-down vote to the new zoning plan, which is geared toward attracting traditional highway business-style development in the short term. “We are continuing to reinvent ourselves and make ourselves fresh and new,” she said.
Janik said that the rezoning, which eliminates special permit and maximum setback requirements for most commercial uses in the Highway Business zone, was “far overdue” and that the city is “headed in the right direction” there. He suggested that the King Street plan be used as a model for developing the rest of the city. “Florence is hurting too,” he said.
The Coke Plant’s Draw on the City’s Water Supply
An audience question about the impact of the Coca-Cola plant expansion upon the city’s water supply drew a range of data-free answers.
Adams-Pullan, speaking authoritatively as a member of the Board of Public Works, said that Northampton has “an abundant resource of water,” and conveyed that water use restrictions in the city are tied to a monitoring gauge on the Mill River, and have nothing to do with reservoir levels. Water restrictions are triggered every summer “even though our reservoirs might be filled to the brim,” she said.
But last summer the city’s two reservoirs dropped to dangerously low levels, and a backup well that’s not routed through the filtration plant was brought on line as an emergency measure. (To see our full story on last summer’s water shortage, click here.)
The expanded Coke plant will pull 900,000 gallons per day from the city’s water supply, about a third of the city’s average daily use of 3.1 million gallons, and about 14 percent of the municipal filtration plant’s 6.5 million gallon-per-day capacity. (See data contained in the project’s state-level environmental filing here.) The Ryan Reservoir in West Whately, the city’s primary drinking water source, can only supply about 3 millions gallons per day, according to Water Department literature; and on one day in 2010, Northampton residents and businesses used 4.46 million gallons.
The other three candidates, wisely, kept their comments to generic votes of support for both water protection and the jobs provided by the Coca-Cola plant expansion.
Dwight spoke about other communities that had chosen to privatize their water supplies, and said he was glad Northampton wasn’t among them. As for the Coke plant, he called it a “critical asset — we need the revenue and the jobs that they generate.” Even though the plant uses a lot of water, it “does not break the standard of evil empire that I would object to,” he said.
Janik said there should be a contingency plan in place should the city’s reservoirs go low, where Coke might “abate some of its water usage or do a differential fee to accommodate that usage.” In the long run, he said, the city has to look at its water resources and make its judgment based on that, with Coke as a “partner at the table.”
Councilor Adams countered that it’s impossible to charge Coca-Cola more per gallon for water than other customers. He said he feels strongly about protecting water resources, citing his vote to purchase 127 acres of watershed protection land and his support for closing down the city’s landfill, which is located over an aquifer recharge area.
Adams also brought up the issue of the tax break that the city granted to Coca-Cola for its recent expansion to produce fruit drinks.
“That did not sit well with me,” Adams said. “I don’t want to give Coke a tax break, I want to give small businesses downtown a tax break.”
But Adams said he voted for the tax break because of the jobs that Coke provides: “I want people who want to live here to be able to live here.”
The two at-large city councilors represent all of the city’s residents. There are seven ward councilors as well, who are elected by specific neighborhoods.
Adams is a lawyer with a downtown practice; Janik works as an aide in the Southampton school system; Adams-Pullan is executive director of Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity; and Dwight, a former City Council member, is a former radio talk show host and video store clerk.
© 2011 Northampton Media
Mary Serreze can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Listen using the embedded audio player in this post. Audio feed from NCTV.