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Actions cover mistakes

Date: 7/16/2014

Does Westfield’s efforts to take Alice Wielgus’ farm by eminent domain for more baseball fields, over four acres of asphalt for parking and driveway loops in a flood plain and a disc golf course in the woods next to the Westfield River, truly reflect such dire need to of the city? How many people know what disc golf is? How many people in Westfield have been petitioning the city to build a disc golf course?

In 2012, the Law Department convinced the Conservation Commission to deem the athletic fields on the Cross Street Playground as “surplus” to the needs of Westfield. The Park and Recreation Department also voted to deem the playground’s athletic fields as “surplus” to the needs of Westfield. Even the Westfield Little League approved the loss of ball fields on Cross Street.

Based on these approvals made in 2011 and 2012, the city supposedly had a surplus of recreational open space. Was there such a lack of foresight that now someone’s private property is needed because Westfield refuses to develop land it already owns for ball fields and a school, that it has to take a private citizen’s active farm? In the flood plain?

In March 2012, the Cross Street neighborhood group presented the facts that the city was not following the state’s environmental laws protecting the Cross Street Playground. We also highlighted the fragile agreement the city made with the Catholic church to use a church parking lot for the proposed school’s faculty.

In May of 2012, under legal pressure to conform to the laws, Mayor Daniel Knapik and the Law Department pretended to convince the state and National Park Service (NPS) that the city was conforming to the NPS laws, the Article 97 law, and the Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA)?Article 97 Land Disposition Policy, in order to avoid legal consequences for not following these laws before planning to build a school on protected land.

In May and again in June, after the state warned that the city had to follow state and Federal laws in order to take the playground land for the proposed school, the mayor said, “We’re going to just keep going until a judge tells us to stop, (Westfield Evening News Aug., 8 2012).” How does this expressed attitude convince anyone that the leader of the city is willing to properly respect the laws, Environmental Justice and Alice Wielgus’ rights without being forced to do so?

Now, Knapik and the Law Department, who initiated the request to take Alice’s land by eminent domain, claim the city is deficient in recreational open space. Knapik claimed to the NPS and to the EEA that it is Westfield’s policy to only build schools in the urban neighborhoods. A Freedom of Information Act request for that policy yielded this response from the Law Department: “There is no such written policy.”

The citizens of Westfield would see a new school realized more quickly if the citizens demanded that a new school be built on the city’s School Department land that is not protected and is much larger than the tiny Cross and Ashley Street site.

If a private citizen’s active farmland is taken in order to cover up the city’s numerous procedural mistakes, how long will it be until the next family farm, or protected open space, finds itself in the crosshairs?

Thomas Smith