During the Public Speak Out period at the February 21 City Council Meeting, five residents discussed their opposition to the demolition and disposition of Lyman Terrace. Following the February 17 notice from the Holyoke Housing Authority stating that the demolition of Lyman Terrace would have “no significant impact on the human environment,” they had spent the weekend canvassing Holyoke neighborhoods, talking to residents about their opinions of the demolition, and collected petition signatures opposing the demolition of the site. To date, they have reported having collected 112 signatures.
In advance of last night’s city council meeting, these residents contacted me and ask for my support; “Was there any action that the city could take to prevent this from happening?”
Before taking action, there were several things to keep in mind, which I restated at last night’s Council meeting:
1. The City has no financial investment in the project; all funds for demolition would come out of the HHA’s Operating Budget and from HUD.
2. The City has no formal involvement in the decision-making process regarding demolition. The HHA owns the land outright and can therefore dispose of it as it sees fit and is legally permissible. Therefore, the only option the the City has to express its opposition is with a written letter submitted to the Public Comment Period that is available to all individuals and groups before the March 7 deadline.
3. Residents absolutely deserve better quality living conditions. One of the main arguments that the HHA is making in support of the demolition is that the residents should not have to “live in those conditions; the residents want demolition.” However, demolition is just one among several options to improve the quality of life and living conditions of residents in Lyman Terrace. Rehabilitation/renovation alone or coupled with some demolition to make mixed-income or mixed-used units in that area could also be explored.
4. Opposition to the demolition is based strictly on perceived historic value and structural integrity of the buildings. According to the Massachusetts Historic Commission, there are at least two criteria that I believe Lyman Terrace meets that would qualify for listing it on the National Register: a) its association with the history of public housing in the United States, and b) a method of construction that is particular to the Works Progress Era. Additionally, no forensic studies have been presented to identify whether the building have any structural problems.
As such, there were four things that I thought were appropriate and effective actions to take. First, the City Council could adopt a Resolution to formally go on record stating its opposition to the outright demolition of Lyman Terrace based on the perceived historic value and structural integrity of the buildings. Second, we could as a representative body offer a written letter to the public comment period expressing our concerns and opposition to the demolition. Third, that we invite all the parties involved in the proposed demolition and the future of Lyman Terrace to the City Council to discuss what the situation at Lyman Terrace and what are the potential range of options for dealing with the problems there. Finally, we should ask the Holyoke Historic Commission and Massachusetts Historic Commission to investigate whether Lyman Terrace qualifies as a historic site that belongs on the National Register.
I motioned to have the Resolution adopted due to the upcoming March 7 deadline for public comment. Since of regularly schedule March 6 meeting is canceled due to the Presidental Primary Elections on Super Tuesday, this was the only opportunity the council would have to decide to take action as a body before the end of the comment period.
That motion was amended to send to the Redevelopment Committee by Council McGiverin for further discussion. By a show of hands the motion passed.
However, I counted a tie vote: Alexander, Bresnahan, Leahy, McGiverin, Murphy, Tallman, and Vacon voting in favor and Bartley, Ferreira, Jourdain, Lebron-Martinez, Lisi, Soto, and Vega voting against sending to committee (and in favor of adoption that evening), so I asked for clarification which let to a reconsideration of our actions (passed 8-6 with Tallman joining those who initially wanted to adopt).
Finally, on the roll call vote to send to committee the vote was again 8-6 (this time, Ward 1 Councilor Lebron-Martinez joined those who favored sending the order to committee instead of taking action that evening).
Despite having “lost” the vote that I was after, i was very satisfied with awareness-raising efforts of both the Orders that I filed and the citizen involvement and participation demonstrated by the 30 or so Holyoke residents that came down to City Hall to support the issue.
The order will likely come up in Redevelopment Committee after the close of the public comment period on March 7, so I will be submitting written comments as an individual citizen/city councilor. I urge those of you who are following the debate to do the same. Comments can be submitted to:
City of Holyoke Office for Community Development, City Hall Annex Room 400, Holyoke, MA 01040 by first class mail, by fax to 413-322-5611 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org
I am also looking forward to having in the Mayor, the Housing Authority, HUD, Holyoke Office of Community Development, and Holyoke Historic Commission to discuss this order in public. Hopefully, the residents will come and attend and hear, in a more balanced power setting, what the situation with Lyman Terrace currently is and how we can generate a variety of options to improve the area. This is especially important because when I hear that “demotion is what the residents want” I can’t help but think that demolition is presented to the residents as the more reasonable and responsible decision because a wider range of options have not been explored.
There was a lot of media generated from last night’s event, so I will be updating this post as audio/video/photography links are posted.