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Mayor's suggestions spark more debate

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM After withdrawing his proposed amendments to the conflict-ridden transient parking ordinance, Agawam Mayor Richard Cohen instead submitted his suggestions to Ordinance and Zoning Subcommittees at their joint meeting last week.

The subcommittees are currently in the preliminary stages of drafting an entirely new transient parking ordinance.

Cohen said he withdrew the amendments so as not to "create confusion" and that he hopes the subcommittees will "look at the suggestions thoroughly and consider them" when writing the new ordinance.

He added that accusations in recent weeks that the City Council was "duped" or "hoodwinked" into passing the ordinance were untrue.

Several City Council members have recently stated they were fooled into believing the new ordinance was in the interests of public safety, specifically for those parking across from Six Flags and walking across Massachusetts Highway 159 to get to the park.

"I don't think public safety has ever been an issue here," Robert Rossi, Agawam City Councilor and member of the Zoning Committee said at the meeting.

However, Cohen disagrees and has stated from the beginning that this ordinance has and will continue to be in the interests of public safety.

Agawam Police Chief Robert Campbell said he believed there was a "public safety issue" in the Six Flags area. He said that prior to the new ordinance people would park in transient parking lots across from Six Flags and "walk three or four abreast" along Main Street "where there is no sidewalk."

He added that once the parking ordinance was enacted into law "the parking stopped and there was no need for people to cross the street. It has been my experience that even on the weekend there has been no pedestrian traffic."

Robert Magovern, Agawam City Councilor and chair of the Ordinance Committee responded by saying, "This issue is much bigger than Six Flags. In trying to alleviate the safety issue we created a monster."

Debate and discussion was sparked even further when questions were raised regarding Cohen's four suggestions.

The first suggestion stated that the ordinance should "remain in effect for the southerly Main Street Route 159 corridor and should also be in effect if there are any sites in [the] community that conflict with public safety and/or the safety of residents."

Cohen's second suggestion stated that the "ordinance should remain in effect" for churches and other non-profits organizations that have an "approved parking site" from the town. He added that this will allow parking for non-church sponsored events. Cohen also suggested that non-profit organizations be exempt from the $250 filing fee for the special parking permit.

His third suggestion pertained to the senior citizen bus trips. An addition of over 40 spaces was added to the Town Hall parking lot and has "alleviated parking problems for seniors."

Cohen's final suggestion stated that the ordinance should be amended "to allow temporary 30-day permits to be issued and approved by the City Council following review by the Building Inspector and Chief of Police." His suggested fee for the permit is $25. Under the current ordinance special parking permits are valid for two years.

However, Dennis Perry, Agawam City Councilor stated his concerns about the 30-day parking permit. He said he did not believe that under the current criteria set forth by the ordinance that anyone would be able to meet the standards and be granted a permit.

"We need to take it line item by line item and make changes," he said of the criteria for obtaining a special parking permit established through the current ordinance.

Cohen responded by saying, "Everybody's saying [the ordinance] isn't working. What is it the Council is looking to do? Are you looking to help the businesses on Main Street?"

Magovern questioned why Agawam even needed to have a parking ordinance, when he said that towns such as West Springfield have no such law and operate without incident during events such as The Big E.

Eventually, however, a new temporary parking ordinance will be written. Discussion on how to go about that task concluded last week with a plan to look at the Massachusetts state law and the eventual proposal for a new ordinance to be sent to the Planning Board.