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Take My Council, Please: The Dollar Tree of Knowledge…



SPRINGFIELD—In a quiet meeting Monday the City Council mostly handled bookkeeping issues, a welcome respite from the more tempestuous gatherings of September. However, there was a vigorous debate about a retail project at a major intersection for traffic—and the divisions within the city.

Aside from the debate about the impact of a Dollar Tree project planned for East Forest Park, the Council’s agenda passed with little trouble. However, the Council lent its support to workers locked in negotiations and to a plan to make city streets more accommodating to pedestrians and bicyclists.

The bureaucratic nature of the meeting included accepting money for the police and health and human services departments for equipment, intervention and mental health services for the homeless. Grants for youth gyms at Chesnut and Gerena schools were also approved.

The Council received the August revenue and expenditure report from Comptroller Pat Burns.

The Council transferred $150,000 to the settlement account from the self-insurance. Litigation Chief John Liebel told the Council the city’s settlement fund had been depleted, but this transfer should cover the city through June, barring the return of another major judgment.

Washington School via Google Street view.

The case that cleaned out the settlement fund was a slip at Washington Street School. Liebel explained a third party vendor encountered a defect while exiting, fell and sustained injuries. The judgment was $150,000, but was capped at $100,000.

The Council approved payment of an Elder Affairs bill from last year and informational utility reports.

DPW Director Chris Cignoli (via Springfield City Hall)

The headlining guest star Monday night was DPW director Christopher Cignoli, starting with a resolution on the city’s Complete Streets program. The proposal involves integrating pedestrian and bicycle access into the city’s urban planning.

Cignoli explained the plan was developed with input from residents, Livewell Springfield and MassBike, an organization that advocates accessibility for bike use. Hopefully, Cignoli said better bike access will attract young professionals to the city.

The Council received a Maintenance & Development Committee report on removing jersey barriers on Main Street and restoring parking. Although DPW’s authority to place the barriers expired, the committees requested time for further review.

The committee’s chairman, Melvin Edwards, said MGM representatives—the casino’s construction prompted the removal of on-street parking—reiterated promises to help affected businesses find alternative parking.

Edwards’s committee recommended the reappointment of William Leonard to the Water & Sewer Commission. “We’re blessed with a great water system and we’re really blessed with a great staff,” Leonard said before his unanimous confirmation.

The Council and Cignoli clashed over a normally humdrum utility report on Allen Street near the intersection with Island Pond Road where a Dollar Tree is slated. Cignoli said previous dollar store plans had been rejected by the Board of Public Works, but this one had been approved.

Councilor Tim Allen in 2012.  (WMassP&I)

Councilor Tim Allen in 2012. (WMassP&I)

Ward 7 Councilor Timothy Allen, who represents the area, moved to refer the item to committee so the Council had an item to debate as it sought to improve safety at the Allen-Island Pond intersection.

However, Cignoli warned that the item involved—information about a land swap, necessary for DPW to alter the intersection—was not related to Allen and residents’ safety concerns. Allen and residents have argued increased foot traffic to the Dollar Tree will necessitate better crosswalks.

An apparent undercurrent was opposition to the low-cost store on the edge of the city’s wealthier quarters. Cignoli said some residents had emailed him preferring a Dunkin Donuts or a Starbucks.

While the DPW director’s tone may have seemed dismissive of residents’ concerns, his point was fundamentally the city, and the Council in particular, had no legal authority reject the project. The zoning ordinance permitted Dollar Tree’s placement.

Because the project was too small to fall within the Council’s jurisdiction, Cignoli largely shot down suggestions from Ward 6 Councilor Ken Shea to get the body more involved. Cignoli did allow that were conditions at the intersection to deteriorate, Dollar Tree might be obligated to help fix them.

Ending on a less fraught note, the Council passed a resolve, introduced by Ward 8 Councilor Orlando Ramos, supporting workers in their final bargaining session with Clinical Support Options. The affected workers who provide counseling, prevention services and treatment for sexual abuse trauma and addiction. The workers are represented by Service Employees International Union, Local 509.

Noting the state senate’s recent opioid bill, Ramos observed, “These are the people who provide the services we need to tackle that crisis.”

Edwards added, urging management to bargain in good faith, “The fact that these people are doing such critical work in our community and earning less than $15 an hour is unacceptable.”

CSO could not be immediately reached for comment.



The Council’s next move on Dollar Tree remains uncertain. Councilors may not have objected to the type of store directly, but the echo of residents’ opposition was felt. There is a problem with stymieing a properly zoned retailer simply because it is down market. The concern about downscaling in Springfield, though hardly a new phenomenon, is not out of place. Some businesses in the city have closed recently, particularly along the Forest Park/East Forest Park axis, perhaps belying the much-ballyhooed resurgence of the city.