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Hearing reviews demolition of playground

Date: 9/19/2012

By Carley Dangona

WESTFIELD — At the Superior Court in Springfield on Sept. 12, Judge Tina Page presided over a hearing investigating whether or not the city legally proceeded with the Ashley Street School Project.

Thomas Kenefick III, representative of the plaintiffs in the case, sought a continuance of the temporary restraining order granted by the court Sept. 4.

Kenefick argued that the city began construction without first completely the appropriate legal steps as designated by Article 97. "As an open space, as a protected space the city had to and has to follow procedure under Article 97," he said. "It [Article 97] has not been complied with. The entire Cross Street Playground (CSP) is protected under federal law."

Article 97 states that only after review by the state's Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs can designated use of protected land be repurposed. Such change requires a two-thirds approval by both houses of Legislature.

Kenefick continued, "The issue isn't what the city can do; it's when can they do it."

Assistant City Solicitor William O'Grady, attorney for Westfield, argued that the city was not violating the article. "The money used initially [for the CSP] was to create a playground," he stated. "Article 97 deems the procedure for converting this property to other use must be followed. The proposed site [for the new elementary school] is being upgraded [not repurposed] with soccer, basketball and baseball fields."

O'Grady criticized the emergency motion by the residents to acquire the temporary restraining order, since their case was initially filed in April. He called it a delay tactic that jeopardizes the entire project and could cost taxpayers millions.

Kenefick responded stating that the emergency was constituted by the fact that the city began bulldozing the site and proceeded with the groundbreaking. He also charged that the city should've complied with the law before committing to the project.

At time of publication, the court had yet to rule on the case.