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Board reconfirms school’s special permit

Date: 12/6/2011

Dec. 7, 2011

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD — It took two meetings, but the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) is finally comfortable with its approval of the application for a dimensional special permit for the proposed Ashley Street School project at a special meeting on Nov. 29.

The dimensional special permit is necessary for the project because two of the three wings of the 96,000 square-foot school building will extend closer to adjacent streets and parking lots than the city’s zoning ordinances allow.

Michael Parent, chairman of the ZBA said that the board unanimously OKd the special permit on Nov. 16 after reviewing three of the four conditions necessary for approval. However, shortly after that meeting “one of the board members was uncomfortable putting down something not covered [by the board’s discussion]” in their recommendation to the Planning Board, and he consulted with the city’s Legal Department for advice on how to add information on the fourth condition to the decision.

Parent said the board originally believed the fourth condition, which involved sidewalks in the site plan and the “adequate and appropriate circulation of pedestrians” between the proposed school and the parking lot at St. Peter & St. Casimir Catholic Church – which the School Department plans to rent for faculty use – “was the pervue of the Planning Board.”

Parent said the Law Department indicated the board needed to approve all conditions of the special permit before making a favorable recommendation to the Planning Board. He said he invited City Solicitor Atty.. Susan Phillips to the Nov. 29 meeting to explain the necessary changes.

“Marty Newman, a board member, offered a finding that had a broader scope than just the sidewalk,” Parent said, adding that the board approved his suggestion.

That finding stated “after reviewing the site plan and a site visit, the [Zoning Board of Appeals] is satisfied that the adequate and appropriate functions will be provided for the operation of the proposed use of an elementary school” at the site.

Parent acknowledged there were neighborhood residents who spoke against the permit at the meeting, citing the size of the school and its potential impact on the neighborhood. He said that though the board listened to the concerns, their only area of jurisdiction involved evaluating and granting permission for the dimensional special permit.

“The Planning Board still has to have a meeting were Mr. [Thomas] Smith and others can voice their concerns.” Parent said. “I tried to make it clear to the people from the neighborhood that we weren’t finalizing [the] plan [that night.]”

Debbie Gardner can be reached by email at

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