Suher speaks about Mountain Park project
By G. Michael Dobbs
HOLYOKE Despite a little drama concerning cameras at a public meeting, the Holyoke Conservation Commission seemed pleased with its conversation Thursday with developer Eric Suher concerning his plans for the former Mountain Park property.
The commission ordered Suher to file a Notice of Intent (NOI) by March 12 that would describe any work to the property that would have an impact on the wetlands. There will be a public hearing on March 26.
Suher is the owner of E-S Sports Apparel in Holyoke as well as the Ironhorse Entertainment Group in Northampton. He bought the former Mountain Park property in 2007.
Suher was asked to speak with the commission about concerns that his clearing of dead trees, vines and brush as well as removing debris of former park buildings may have encroached on a small protected wetlands area. The meeting was an administrative hearing, rather than a public hearing, on Suher's development. Although members of the public attended the meeting, they could not speak.
Suher said his crews had been working to clear the former picnic grove area as well as the site of the "casino" building. He said that invasive plant species and vines had killed many of the trees including ornamental varieties that had been planted there at the turn of the 20th century. He added he removed the wood posts and fencing that had been left behind from the park's zoo area and demolished the old office for the Mt. Tom playhouse that had been used for "illicit acts by undesirable individuals."
When asked about his restoration efforts, Suher said his intent was to renovate the picnic grove into a fully landscaped park with a use similar to what had been at the park through most of its history. His goal, he added, was to have a recreation area open at all times "with or without tickets." He did not explain the admission price reference.
He maintained that his activities were all within the buffer zone protecting the wetlands area.
He said he couldn't submit a fully mapped plan until the spring.
"I think people will be very happy with what that plan will be," he added.
The meeting was interrupted when a local blogger known as "Rambling VanDog" (http://ramblingvandog.blogspot.com) was asked by Suher not to take photos during the meeting. The blogger complied with Suher's request.
Suher then asked why there was a person with a video camera taping the meeting and if he was doing so for the commission. When he was told the camera operator, Albert Bowler, was taping for himself, Suher protested. He told the commission that he didn't want a video camera trained on him and that he would wait outside in the hallway for two minutes for the commission to decide how it would respond.
The commission, although it cannot by law prohibit photography by a citizen at a public meeting, did ask Bowler to operate his camera from the seats set up for the public, meaning he would only be able to tape Suher's back, rather than his face.
Suher returned and asked, "Okay, what else do you want from me?" He and the commission then agreed on a date for the NOI.
"You're doing a great thing up there," Conservation Commissioner Eileen Leahy told Suher.
Bowler, who is the husband of the commission's chair, Bernice Bowler, said he was taping the meeting for "historical reasons."