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Judge upholds ruling in Ashley Street case

Date: 12/5/2012

By Carley Dangona

WESTFIELD — The city faced another roadblock in the Ashley Street School Project when Judge Tina Page again ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on Oct. 22, denying the defendants' request for reconsideration of the preliminary injunction she issued in September.

Mayor Daniel Knapik responded to the ruling. "I don't agree with it. I believe she [Page] overreached, but we have to respect the decision," he said. "The facts support what we're doing."

Reminder Publications learned from court documents supplied by the plaintiffs and filed by the court in November, that the request specifically sought to amend the stipulation that "a 2/3 vote from both houses of the General Court approving the approved use of this property."

Page set this requirement in regards to the Cross Street Playground portion of the site, which she ruled as land protected by Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution. Under the article, a replacement site must be chosen and approved before the protected land is altered in any way.

The source of contention is the fact that the entire site of the playground and former school are leveled, despite this requirement.

"The citizen's of the Cross Street Playground neighborhood have proven that Westfield knew the Cross Street Playground was a protected open space long before this school project was born and that the city of Westfield did not follow laws to change the use of the playground," Thomas Smith, one of the plaintiffs, said.

Smith cited the following references in support of the claim:

•The 2009 Westfield Reconnaissance Report indicates the playground is a protected open space. That report also acknowledges the playground is located within Westfield's Environmental Justice Neighborhood.

•The mayor's own 2010 Open Space and Recreation Plan described the Cross Street Playground as a protected open space. The plan also includes a map indicating the permanently protected open spaces in the area. The playground is one of those spaces.

•In August 2011, ATC Associates Inc. submitted their Initial Site Investigation in regards to the plan for the proposed new school. The report states, "Protected Open Space surrounds the school administration building and encompasses 22 Ashley Street property. The Ralph Sanville Memorial Field and Cross Street Playground, which are identified as Protected Open Space, are adjacent and north of the 22 Ashley Street Parcel." 22 Ashley St. is the old Ashley Street School and former administration building for the Westfield School Department.

He continued, "We conducted an MSBA [Massachusetts School Building Authority] deed search and it wasn't recorded in the Registry of Deeds. If it had been in the deed search, we would've known that this process needed to be done."

Knapik added, "I don't appreciate the contention that we've done something illegal."