NSNA To Present 859 Petition Signatures to City Council Today

The North Street Neighborhood Association will present 859 petition signatures at today’s City Council meeting. This includes 613 signatures from residents of Northampton and 246 from non-residents. The petitions began circulating on July 21. The City Council meeting will take place at 7:15pm in City Hall, 210 Main Street, in the second floor hearing room. Concerned citizens are urged to attend.

The text of the petition reads:

Northampton was designated a “Tree City” in 2005, in recognition for its commitment to community trees and forests. Nevertheless, large, cherished trees continue to be cut down without public review, sometimes in quantity. These trees benefit the city as a whole by cooling local temperatures, removing air pollutants, absorbing water, reducing erosion, buffering sound, providing habitats for animals, and looking beautiful. We would like Northampton’s city officials to consider adopting some of the tree protections that exist in other Massachusetts communities like Lexington and Springfield.

Northampton is also home to numerous wetlands, which further enhance the natural beauty of the city and play a role in flood mitigation. Ordinance language now being considered by city officials states:

Problems with nutrient runoff, erosion, siltation, loss of groundwater recharge, poor water quality, vegetation change and harm to wildlife habitat are greatly exacerbated by activities within 100 feet of wetlands. These impacts may happen either immediately, or over time, as a consequence of construction, or as a consequence of daily operation.
Despite acknowledging the fragility and value of wetlands, the city is actively considering laws to encourage new development to encroach as close as 10 feet to wetlands in downtown districts.

We, the undersigned, urge Mayor Clare Higgins and the Northampton City Council to:

1) Pass an ordinance to protect “significant trees”
such that all “significant trees”, whether on public or private land, may not be cut down in whole or substantial part without permission from the Northampton Tree Committee or other appropriate official body. A significant tree is one which is 75 years old or older, or is 3 or more feet in diameter at chest height. The Tree Committee would take into account whether the tree is diseased, damaged, or poses a danger to people or property, and whether not taking action on the tree would impose a hardship on the property owner that exceeds the public’s interest in preserving the tree.

2) Revise Northampton’s wetlands protection ordinance to emphasize that new development should not occur within 100 feet of a wetland in any part of the city unless exceptional circumstances apply,
such as the property owner demonstrating to the city that their hardship in being restrained from development exceeds the public’s interest in protecting wetlands.

Neither trees nor wetlands are on the Council’s official agenda today. However, we would like Council members to start thinking now about deferring their vote on a too-weak wetlands ordinance when they take it up on September 6. More discussion is needed to secure a city-wide consensus. We also believe the issue of wetlands buffer zones should not be split off from the issue of vernal pools.

To sign the petition, please download the MS Word version or the Rich Text File version and mail the completed petition to North Street Neighborhood Association, 351 Pleasant Street, PMB 222, Northampton, MA 01060-3961.

See also:

A Statement from Robert Bissell on the Wetland Ordinance Debate
In a major disappointment for conservationists, the Vernal Pool provisions (PDF) were deleted from the Wetlands Ordinance at the Ordinance Committee meeting in late July. These provisions were the product of over two years’ worth of effort from concerned citizens, wetlands experts and members of the Conservation Commission…

The remainder of the Wetlands Ordinance (without the Vernal Pool provisions) has been sent on to City Council and will likely be voted on at the September 6 meeting. Some conservationists feel the gutted ordinance is now so weak that it does not merit support…

Here are three suggestions, all of which would help establish that the Chamber [of Commerce] is sincere in seeking to enact a stronger and better wetlands ordinance, and wants to have a good working relationship with conservationists. I suggest the first two because they are areas in which conservationists compromised their position in exchange for the Vernal Pool provisions. Since everything is now up for grabs it makes sense to reconsider these areas.

  1. Create an increased downtown buffer zone

  2. Create greater protections for the Route 10 Wildlife Corridor

  3. Prevent any weakening of the replication language in the current Wetlands Ordinance.
Replication rarely if ever works – that’s why destruction of wetlands should rarely be allowed, and the reason for the 200% replication language…

Benefits of Urban Wetlands and Their Buffer Areas
More pictures from [the forest off North Street] show its substantial natural beauty and mature trees–this is no urban brownfield. It includes numerous edge zones between wetland, forest and meadow. These edge zones, key areas of biodiversity, are threatened by Kohl’s 31-unit condo proposal, its attendant roads and parking spaces, and more generally by a proposed ordinance to reduce the buffer area around many of Northampton’s wetlands from 100 feet to as little as 10 feet…

Intermittent Streams Merit a 100-Foot Buffer Zone in Hopkinton
Creeks and streams, including intermittent streams, are important for storm damage prevention, flood control, ground water protection, wildlife habitat, and recreation values. During spring, summer, and fall these streams disperse snowmelt and storm runoff across the landscape thereby preventing dangerous volumes and flows from spilling over roadways and property. This broad dispersal also allows for larger volumes of water to infiltrate into the ground, recharging groundwater supplies…

Some animals, such as pickerel frogs and eastern spotted newts, rely heavily on intermittent streams for movement. For these reasons the upland areas surrounding intermittent streams are heavily utilized by wildlife for living space, breeding, feeding, migrating, dispersal, and security. Accordingly, this Bylaw protects streams of all forms (Bylaw section 206-3 and Regulation 11.9) and the buffer zone within 100 feet of those streams. [emphasis added]

Irony of Infill: You Have to Drive to Enjoy Nature
A key assumption built into infill is that walking access to amenities associated with civilization takes priority over walking access to nature. If developers are permitted to aggressively pave over green spaces downtown, more residents will be compelled to drive if they want to enjoy parks and woods. Most likely their overall time spent in ‘unbuilt’ environments will decrease.

The Nature of Northampton: Henry James and Tracy Kidder
Kidder: In fact, continuity is one of the things I like about New England. I grew up on Long Island in the 1950s, and the place where I was raised has essentially vanished. It was bulldozed. For me it’s reassuring that my “replacement” home has changed less. In fact, we know that over the last 150 years quite dramatic changes have occurred—almost every tree was cut at one time, for example—but the landscape has returned in many respects to the way it was in the early 19th century.