The City Council has decided to open the discussion to the public before voting whether or not they will request relief from the state Legislature to move the East Gloucester Building Project forward.
During Tuesday night’s meeting, Gloucester’s City Council unanimously agreed to host a public hearing on Monday, Feb. 24, at 7 p.m. in Kyrouz Auditorium of City Hall to have further discussion regarding Article 97.
“There was a concern that waiting until afterwards wasn’t giving people a chance to weigh in as part of the process verses after the fact,” Ward 1 Councilor Scott Memhard said. “This is an effort to try and create more of a public discussion forum in advance of the actual request of the legislature.”
The day following the public hearing, the City Council will vote on whether or not to request relief from Article 97 of the state’s constitution in order to build a new elementary school at 11 Webster St., which includes Mattos Field.
By waiting until the next City Council meeting to vote on the issue, “it gives us a whole evening to digest the public hearing,” City Council President Steven G. LeBlanc, Jr. said.
An ongoing discussion
Last year, the East Gloucester School Building Committee selected Veterans Memorial School and Mattos Field as the preferred site for the new elementary school.
Councilor Valerie Gilman noted that the site for the combined school was recommended by the School Building Committee and approved by the School Committee.
Since this preference was articulated by the Building Committee, many questions have risen to the surface including a deed restriction on Mattos Field property that has the potential to prohibit it from being used as the location of a new school.
On Feb. 5, the Planning and Development Committee unanimously voted to recommend that the City Council seek relief from Article 97.
During this Committee meeting, a public meeting where General Counsel Chip Payson presented research on the history of Mattos Playground and the deed restriction of Article 97 in the Massachusetts Constitution.
According to Article 97, “lands and easements taken or acquired for conservation purposes shall not be used for other purposes or otherwise disposed of without the approval of a two-thirds roll call vote of each branch of the Legislature.”
Payson concluded that it is unclear as to whether or not Mattos Field falls under the deed restriction and that they will treat it as if it were in order to avoid any Article 97 lawsuit.
With the intention of building the new school at the Veterans and Mattos Field site, Payson suggested a land swap.
The city would recommend that the East Gloucester School site be protected and designated open space in place of Mattos Field in order to satisfy the requirements of Article 97, Payson said.
While the end of the evening concluded in the Committee unanimously voting to recommend the relief to City Council, the night was not exempt from dissenting voices on the matter.
Some community members expressed concerns of losing a valuable ball field while others inquired about the option of fixing the existing school rather than building a new one.
Councilors Jennifer Holmgren, Barry Pett, and Valerie Gilman all confirmed their support for the relief.
If the City Council votes to request the relief on Feb. 25, the petition will be sent to state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante to be presented to the state Legislature.
Staff writer Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-675-2705 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go:
What: City Council will be hosting a public hearing for further discussion with community members in regards to Article 97.
When: Monday, Feb. 24 at 7 p.m.
Where: Kyrouz Auditorium of City Hall