NORTH ADAMS --An ordinance established to delay the demolition of buildings deemed historically significant passed by a slim margin Tuesday night, following a tense debate of whether or not it should move forward or be sent back to committee.
Councilor Jennifer Breen was one of two councilors to vote against the ordinance, saying she found the sense of urgency to pass it "offensive" and that she had issue in passing an ordinance that could hinder progress, further putting the burden on the back of taxpayers. She also challenged Mayor Richard J. Alcom bright's transparency, once again demanding to know what developer was looking to purchase the St. Francis of Assisi Church complex.
"I don't want to hinder progress," she said. "The tax base of this city can no longer be the elderly and the regular joes who pay property tax in this city. St. Francis is an unstable structure. I don't want the burden of maintaining this property to fall on the backs of the taxpayers. I want to reduce taxes. I can't support an ordinance if I don't have transparency. I feel like this is being steamrolled through and it hasn't been properly vetted."
Breen, who as a member of the General Governance Com mittee approved the recommendation of the ordinance during its Monday night meeting, took issue with an amendment changing three instances in which the title "Building Commissioner" was used to reflect "Building Inspector." The title of Building Inspector
"I think the changes would be significant," she said. "I was thinking about this and checked ‘Robert's Rules of Order.' The changes that were made yesterday are significant and would require it to go back to committee. We have a commissioner, so changing it to say inspector is a significant change."
City Solicitor John DeRosa, who crafted the ordinance from a model ordinance provided by the Massachusetts Historical Commission, disagreed, saying that while the city's Public Safety Commissioner oversees the building department, the City Ordinances and building code clearly define the role of the Building Inspector and the position's purview.
"I don't see that to be a significant change," he said.
Breen disagreed and stated she thought the ordinance needed to go back to committee because the amendment was not on the agenda of the General Governance meeting. She said she believed the change was a violation of the Open Meeting Law.
"I just want to follow the law," she said. "I have a concern about the Open Meeting Law. I don't want to argue about a technicality. I don't want the council to be in trouble with the Attorney General's office because of this."
DeRosa said he saw no violation. Councilor Lisa Blackmer questioned what the agenda item stated and after looking at the posting for the meeting said that the posting was general enough to cover the change.
Breen voted in favor of the amendment, which passed with eight votes, with one abstention by Councilor Alan Marden. However, Breen later voted against the ordinance, saying that it wasn't properly vetted by the General Governance Committee. She also called the ordinance's wording "sloppy" and questioned DeRosa's ability to write the ordinance because of his connection with the Partnership for North Adams.
Councilor John Barrett III, who also voted against the ordinance, said he believed other mechanisms, such as being listed on the National Register of Historic places, put enough protection in place and that other means, such as the establishment of a historic preservation fund, should be utilized.
"Let's be honest, everyone knows a drug store wants to go into that spot," he said. "Even if the sale happens in a month, this drug store isn't going to be built right away. There are protections already in place. It's in the Monument Square Historic District. We have a Planning Board with a strong site plan review process that wouldn't allow this to happen. I'm all for saving the churches, as my record shows. The city has been active in preserving historic landmarks in the past, through the purchase of the Mohawk Theater and the Notre Dame Church complex."
Barrett also stated during the meeting that he "wasn't against the concept" but believed more research needed to be done.
The ordinance passed with six votes in favor, two against and Marden abstaining.