|By Katelyn Gendron-List|
Reminder Assistant Editor
AGAWAM It was an all too familiar scene at last weeks City Council meeting where the discussion over the controversial new transient parking ordinance continued.
Once again, numerous members of the residential and business community came together to air their grievances or show support for the new law that has sent this town into an uproar.
At the meeting each of the 10 members of the Council who voted in favor of the new ordinance two months ago, each took their turn to apologize, citing that they passed the law in the interests of public safety.
However Richard Cohen, mayor of Agawam told Reminder Publications that he believes the ordinance is working and does not agree with its possible repeal.
"The work that went into this was with all the correct intentions and I'm not going to apologize for doing what I thought was the right thing based on the input we had from all departments, including the Council," Cohen said.
The new ordinance, which clearly defines transient or temporary parking and specifically states requirements for obtaining a transient parking permit, has been met by strong opposition by businesses on Main Street, that claim they are losing money.
At the council meeting Donald Rheault, president of the Agawam City Council said that the ordinance is not in the best interests of public safety but to serve big business.
Michael Palazzi, owner of South Agawam Storage on Main Street, stated his support to rescind the ordinance that has created a hardship for his business. Palazzi added that before the new ordinance he would park over 30 cars everyday for those attending Six Flags.
Palazzi, other business owners and residents across from Six Flags charge between $5 and $10 for daily parking. The cost at the theme park is $15.
But for Larry Litton, park president of Six Flags New England, the issue is not about Palazzi's 36 spaces Six Flags has a parking lot of 7,000 spaces but about the safety of those parking in the lots on Main Street and walking across Massachusetts State Highway 159 to get to the park.
Litton added that Six Flags reached out to the town after his first week of work at the park last September, when he almost ran over a person parked in a lot on Main Street.
"Why is this a Six Flags issue?" Litton asked. "We didn't write the ordinance. It was not our intent to shut down businesses. This whole thing is way out of control."
Litton added that he was unaware of the affect that the new ordinance would have on churches like Sacred Heart Church, that was told by police that they could now only use their parking lot for church related functions.
Ronald Sadlowski, pastor of Sacred Heart Church was met with applause by many of those in attendance when he said, "This is not about public safety, it's a smokescreen for power."
Lit ton stated that Six Flags offered to pay the $250 two-year transient parking permit application fee on behalf of the Sacred Heart Church.
Currently, Cohen has proposed amendments to the ordinance, which includes the exemption of non-profits from paying the application fee. Municipal parking lots will also be exempt as a result of the amendments.
"If safety is the bottom line, how can you make exemptions to safety?" Rheault asked.
For businesses such as South Agawam Storage that paid their application fee and been trying to obtain a permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals for several months, Palazzi said, "it has been a long drawn out, misleading and confusing nightmare."
Thus far Palazzi has not been granted a special permit for transient parking.
"I gave my assurances to people that everyone would have equal opportunity to apply but I allowed myself to be hoodwinked for the first time as a councilor," Robert Rossi, Agawam City Councilor said. "I was also led to believe that charitable organizations would never be affected by this."
Joseph Mineo, Agawam City Councilor stated that he does not believe that any business on Main Street has "a snowballs chance of getting a permit," as the requirements are too severe.
Agawam residents were also concerned about their ability to obtain transient parking permits for The Big E. According to Mineo, only Rocky's and the Food Mart Plaza have been granted permits. He added that the homes on Suffield Street did not meet the criteria as stipulated by the new ordinance.
But for those residents on Main Street that were plagued by transient parkers who left trash and urinated on their lawns, they spoke out in favor of the new ordinance.
Lueen Jodoin, a resident of Main Street stated that she and her neighbors have been able to reclaim their neighborhood over the past two months and to repeal the ordinance would be a step backward.
However the City Council voted unanimously to send the ordinance to the Planning Board for amending by repealing.
"We made a mistake but at least we recognize this," Dennis Perry, Agawam City Councilor said. "There are procedures that we have to follow and it's going to take come time but I promise we will correct our mistakes."
Palazzi stated that he believes the council is moving in the right direction and that they can form a law that will accommodate the residents and businesses on Main Street.
However Litton stated that he believes the repeal of the ordinance would be a step backward, as there will be no safety enforcement for those walking across the highway to the park during next year's spring season.