Chester Master Plan steering committee expands to 10; other appointments on hold

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2016 Telegraph Publishing, LLC

The long awaited master planning process for downtown Chester is about to begin its year-long run and at its Oct. 5 meeting, the town’s Select Board was slated to appoint its steering committee, but there was a twist.

Executive Assistant Julie Hance explains appointing six instead of three residents to the master planning steering committee. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Executive Assistant Julie Hance explains appointing six instead of three residents to the master planning steering committee. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

As late as Wednesday morning at the Chester Economic Development Committee meeting, the plan called for tapping three town residents from the pool of people who had applied to serve on the committee. Added to the four pre-selected members — Town Manager David Pisha, Executive Assistant Julie Hance, Bob Flint of the Springfield Regional Development Corp., and Jason Rasmussen, of the Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission — the seven member group would be an official committee of town government and act as the liaison with SE Group – the master planning consultant selected from nine applicants in August.

While six residents expressed interest in working on the project, Pisha and Hance told the CEDC  that they would recommend the Select Board appoint Scott Wunderle, Carla Westine and Kelly Arrison to the committee.

Later that day however, the town manager’s office reversed itself and, in the interest of being inclusive, recommended expanding the committee to 10 members and appointing everyone who applied.

Select Board member Arne Jonynas called it a good idea. “You want people to get involved,” said Jonynas. “It’s tough to turn them away.”

Board chair John DeBenedetti asked if Mark Kane of SE Group had been consulted on the change.

Hance said he had and that a 10 or 11 member committee was fine with him. Board member Heather Chase agreed, saying that there was not much difference between seven and 10 members but that the change would add different viewpoints and talents to the effort.

In addition to the original three recommended, the board also appointed Hugh Henry, Claudio Veliz and Barre Pinske to the panel.

Hance said they would begin with a meeting with Kane where he would spell out the commitment that the project would involve from each of them.

Other appointments on hold

While the master planning appointments went off without a hitch, late in the meeting it came to light that several people have submitted letters of interest in serving on other town boards but no action has been taken.

Chester resident Amy Mosher told the board that she had submitted a letter of interest for the Planning Commission the previous Friday and expected that the board would have it in their packets by Wednesday. Mosher said that on the day of the meeting, she had received a letter from Pisha saying that such appointments were on hold pending the board’s adoption of a conflict of interest policy that would limit a person’s participation in town government to one board.

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Frank Bidwell tells the board he has been interested in serving on the budget committee but has not been appointed

Frank Bidwell, who was recently appointed as an alternate to the Development Review Board, pointed out that he had expressed interest in working on the budget committee, an elected position for which no one ran last year.

At the same time that the town has been seeking volunteers to fill positions on the DRB and other boards, the Select Board has been considering a conflict of interest policy that  at DeBenedetti’s suggestion  would bar residents from serving on multiple boards since it would put them in the position of advocating for one board’s decision to another board, which he deemed to be a conflict of interest.

In the past, Tom Bock has served simultaneously on the Planning Commission and the Select Board, while Harry Goodell served simultaneously on planning and the DRB. Whenever proposals for zoning changes went before the Select Board, Bock would leave the board table and participate in the meeting from the audience, waiting until voting was done to return to the board.

Aside from Bidwell’s bid to serve on two boards, Phil Perlah who serves on the DRB has also expressed interest in serving on the Planning Commission. Reached by The Telegraph on Monday, Perlah confirmed that he also received a letter last week saying that the select board would not act on appointments until the conflict of interest policy is completed.

“I didn’t know we had letters,” said DeBenedetti at the select board meeting.

Chase asked if a special meeting should be called to deal with the appointments, but the board decided to do it in a regular session.

Historic Building Committee…or not

At the its Sept. 21 meeting, Bidwell suggested that the Select Board form a committee to look at the town’s historic buildings to prioritize restoration and maintenance work and to raise funds to help the town accomplish it. With board members pointing to the work of Chester Townscape on the Hearse House and Public Tomb, the idea was put on the agenda for the first meeting in October.

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Chester Townscape’s Tori Spater calls a committee to work on the town’s historic buildings “a necessity.”

Pisha presented a detailed set of spreadsheets that added up estimates of work needed on three historic buildings and co-mingling them with the costs of constructing a new public safety building, upgrading the sewer plant and substantial repairs to the town garage to show that by 2020 the town’s capital plan (including the bond financing plan) would be in the red.

At the end of Pisha’s presentation, Chase said she thought that this agenda item was going to be a discussion on whether to form a committee and noted that it should not include emergency services, the sewer plant or the town garage.

DeBenedetti questioned what the function of such a committee would be.

Tori Spater, chair of Chester Townscape told the board that a steering committee could put ideas together and bring them back to the town. “I think it’s a necessity for the town to preserve its historic buildings,” said Spater.

Chester resident Marilyn Mahusky said that the dedicated group was needed to keep preservation from falling to the wayside and that one function of the committee would be to raise funds to help in the efforts.

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Marilyn Mahusky tells the board that an historic building committee will keep the issue of preservation from falling to the wayside.

“We’ve gotta set priorities,” said board member Dan Cote, “but a spreadsheet isn’t the whole story. We have to have a plan.”

But, DeBenedetti said that he wanted to give Pisha the chance to “generate that plan.”

Hance, looking at the spreadsheet, said that with work already done and grants applied for there is a plan. “I’m not against a committee, but this project may not be as big as we are looking at,” said Hance.

“Whether the project is big or small,” said Jonynas, “if people want to get involved, that’s good. I’m all for it.”

DeBenedetti asked Pisha to come to the next meeting with parameters for a committee.

In other business

Police Chief Rick Cloud told the board that the portable radar sign was set up on North Street recording northbound traffic from Sept. 30 to Oct. 3.

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Police Chief Rick Cloud explains the use of radar signs for speed control

About 3,700 cars passed the sign during that time with 14 percent at or below the 30 mph limit, 47 percent between 31 and 35 mph and 39 percent traveling above 36 mph. The board discussed the idea of buying more signs that are solar powered and do not involve recharging at the police station like the current sign. Cote suggested swapping out charged batteries, but Cloud said changing batteries involves dismantling the mechanism.

The board will discuss more radar signs during budgeting for next year.

The board also approved applying for a Transportation Alternatives grant to replace a failing culvert just past Zezza Road on Popple Dungeon Road. The grant is for $300,000 with a $100,000 match. The culvert will be replaced by a Multi-Plate arch culvert that will be constructed under a temporary bridge that will keep the road open.

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  1. Lew Watters says:

    There are a wide choice of speed traffic control signs and systems available to solve our growing problem. They range from the most simple flashing your speed to ones that document violations and even alert authorities. It is a matter of priority whether we, as a community, get control of this dangerous problem.

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