Deerfield Planning Board approves North Main Street park plans

  • The Deerfield Planning Board approved the site plan and stormwater management plan for the North Main Street park project last week. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Monday, June 20, 2022

DEERFIELD — Following months of discussion, the Planning Board unanimously approved the stormwater management and site plan for the town’s North Main Street park project late last month.

With those approvals in hand, the town must now wait for the Conservation Commission to approve a notice of intent before moving on with the bidding process for construction.

As the town has pursued the project, to be located near Frontier Regional School at 137 North Main St., for several years, attorney John McLaughlin, who is representing abutter Judith Rathbone, has argued town officials are circumventing green development bylaws passed at the June 2021 annual Town Meeting. The bylaws state an applicant cannot alter more than 40% of a property, but they do not specifically mention municipal projects.

McLaughlin argues that municipal projects are implied to fall under the bylaws, but Planning Board Chair Analee Wulfkuhle said Town Counsel Lisa Meade has determined that is not the case.

“Our legal counsel has found precedent that states you can’t imply something that’s not there; it needs to be stated,” Wulfkuhle said by phone. “We felt quite comfortable following legal counsel’s recommendation.”

Wulfkhule estimates that approximately 80% of the North Main Street property will be altered in the project.

The town intends to build the park in phases, with the first focusing on walking paths, multipurpose fields, picnic areas and planted vegetation. Future phases may include field lighting and an outdoor basketball court. The park is expected to be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and will accommodate athletic games and practices for the Recreation Department, as well as outdoor concerts when a band shell is constructed.

Residents approved a $1.2 million appropriation at June 2020’s annual Town Meeting for the acquisition of the parcel and construction of recreation fields, foot and bicycle paths, and parking. In October of that year, special Town Meeting voters approved using an additional $1 million in Community Preservation Act funds to support the project.

Following the Planning Board’s approval, McLaughlin said he and Rathbone are going to “contemplate what we’re going to do” in terms of appealing the decision.

“I’m just disappointed they didn’t discuss some of the issues we raised,” he said.

Wulfkuhle said the Planning Board received little public comment in the form of letters or public comment at the public hearings, which began in January.

There is also an appeal process for the Planning Board’s approval and, if approved, the Conservation Commission’s decision, which will must be resolved before bidding can begin.