WESTFIELD – After months of controversy over the move, the City Council voted to approve the Ponders Hollow land transfer from the Fire Department’s care to the Park and Recreation Department at its meeting on Sept. 3.
The transfer narrowly passed, getting the nine votes needed to approve the move. Councilors Dan Allie, Dave Flaherty, Cindy Harris and Mary O’Connell, voted against the transfer.
Though the Ponders Hollow land transfer is independent of the proposed school at Ashley and Cross Streets, the conversations have been tied together throughout. The parcel could eventually be used to replace the land at the Cross Street Playground that would be needed to build the school.
In order to maintain the city’s park space, the two pieces of land would have to be of greater or equal value.
Flaherty argued that the city was “jumping the gun” and it should be sent to the Planning Board rather than passed. He also said the National Parks Service was still “investigating” the appraisals.
“To me that means they’ve identified issues. It doesn’t mean they’re just doing this out of courtesy,” Flaherty said. “It means they’ve identified issues, so I think we’ll likely see something coming from this in the next couple of months. I hope we have another chance to discuss this.”
Both sides of the debate saw pressure from the public, either saying moving on this would property value in the neighborhood or that inaction was standing in the way of providing children a new school.
Previous to the meeting, City Solicitor Susan Phillips provided the council with a legal opinion regarding the transfer, which helped clarify for some.
Councilor Christopher Keefe said he was glad Phillips and her team could help the council’s decision.
“I want to thank the Law Department for their timely response… thank you fellow councilors for patience on this, but I thought it was important enough to get this part of it right,” Keefe said.