Video Highlights from the 10/19/09 Mayoral Debate: Wetlands, King Street, Infill and the BID

Here are selected highlights from the 10/19/09 mayoral debate between incumbent Clare Higgins and Michael Bardsley. Each clip is 3-4 minutes long. This debate was hosted by the Ward 3 Neighborhood Association. The original video of the complete debate was recorded by Mary Serreze of Northampton Media.

Question: Talk about a mistake you have made and what you learned from it

“I think probably a mistake that was made was in the…Wetlands Ordinance discussion…  Afraid that we were going to lose the whole thing [including a hard-won compromise on vernal pool protection], we said, OK, let’s move forward, let’s vote on this and then we’ll go back and reexamine the wetlands piece, with assurances that the wetlands [ordinance] wasn’t meant to open up big development, that it was only to help homeowners in making it more homeowner-friendly. And that turned out not to be the case, so I have pledged to reexamine the wetlands ordinance.”

Higgins: Would like to separate the zoning of northern King Street from southern King Street; regrets how last year’s school strategic planning devolved into a struggle over whether to close an elementary school


Question: “Every town and city in the United States wishes they had more open space in their downtowns, believing that even little parks or open areas make a city more livable. They also attract people who want to live or frequent that city. Seemingly, Northampton does not have the same outlook as other communities. How did the infill theory for growth of the business district morph into an infill theory for all of the residential areas that surround the business district? Besides local developers and real estate agents, how does this infill benefit the current citizens and taxpayers of Northampton who live in these areas?”

Higgins: “I agree with Councilor Bardsley that we need to think about design standards. I think we need to think about density…and I think we need to think about things like greenspace and trees.” 

Bardsley: “I think we need design standards… Infill isn’t simply cramming in buildings.”


Question: “A much higher than expected percentage of the downtown business owners opted out of the Business Improvement District. Since the Mayor and Council approved the process for establishing the BID, what happened to that idea or process that resulted in such a large percentage of refusals to join?”

Higgins: These are difficult economic times and some businesses can’t afford to contribute to the BID at this time.

Bardsley: “I think the fact that there was a perceived need for a BID…is a testimony to the failure of city government to really work with downtown and take care of downtown… [Statements have been made by BID proponents that] during the last 10 years the maintenance of downtown has diminished greatly and to the point where it was interfering with business. They also made the statement that during the last 10 years, the safety issues, or the perception of safety downtown, had declined considerably…”


See also:

Northampton Media Video: Plassmann Debates Reckman for Ward 3 City Council Seat, 10/19/09

City Council Enacts New Wetlands Ordinance, Including 10-Foot Buffers (10/5/07)
When illustrating how the new ordinance might be applied, Bruce Young dwelt on the hypothetical example of a homeowner who wants to build an accessory apartment on their property, and how relaxed buffer zone requirements could facilitate that. While this came across as innocuous and benign, there was no discussion of the cumulative impact of many landowners encroaching on wetlands. It’s easy to see how the Conservation Commission, by giving away our flood protection piecemeal over time, could materially impact the city’s experience during the next major rainstorm.

Also glossed over was the impact of major projects, such as Kohl Construction’s [condo proposal] for the woods behind North Street…

March 10: Zoning Revisions Committee to Meet; Our Suggestions
Before trying to facilitate infill development, might it be best to first establish infill design standards? (see Springfield)

Video: Zoning Revisions Committee Meeting of 5/20/09
1:30:09-1:38:39… Discussion of design guidelines. Jim Nash:Neighborhood groups have anxiety about what infill will look like.Specifying design guidelines up front will ease the way for other regulatory changes. Residents will have more trust in the outcome. Let’s analyze mistakes from the past.

Lessons from San Diego: Why We Need Infill Design Guidelines

Houston Chronicle: “Density hasn’t been kind to Cottage Grove…”

Our Ad in the May 6 Gazette: “How to Avoid Classic Infill Design Mistakes”

Knoxville Infill Housing Design Guidelines: Lessons from Experience

Letter to Gazette: “Wants a mayor who’ll support green space in town” (10/17/09)
[Eileen Hirsch:] My first encounter with Mayor Higgins was 15 years ago when she was a city councilor at large and our South Street neighborhood was battling with a developer who wanted to convert green space behind our homes into condominiums. It was an area that had no frontage and was utilized for gardens, neighborhood gatherings and recreation. Special zoning ordinances for high-density areas were utilized to circumvent common sense.

Michael Bardsley, our city councilor, spoke at Planning Board meetings advocating for the neighborhood. Mayor Mary Ford supported the neighbors. Claire Higgins, a councilor at-large, supported the project. She appeared to have no appreciation for this beautiful area and saw it as an opportunity to pack in more housing. After a legal battle, most of this beautiful area was retained.

As I have watched the mayor over the past 10 years, I have seen this same lack of appreciation for in-town green space repeated over and over…

Video: First public “in-process” presentation and feedback session for Design Northampton Week
Fran Volkmann, Vice Chair, Community Preservation Committee
We would like to concentrate development closer in, we like the idea of walkability, bikeability, neighborhood center… The thing that happens to us, however, is that we buy that and then somebody builds some horrible thing…and then they say to you, “This is infill, you know. It’s good, it’s infill.” …You know if you walk in European cities, you very often find little tiny pocket parks, and little bits of green spaces, mixed in with beautiful buildings… How do we…learn to…value…respect for people at the same time that we try to fill in our park spaces?