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North Adams Council OKs Zoning, Earlier Voting
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
05:42AM / Wednesday, October 11, 2023
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday delayed an extensive rewrite of the city's taxi ordinance but moved forward on several other ordinance changes and lengthened the time for voting on election day. 
The council approved to start voting in the city election two hours earlier, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Council President Lisa Blackmer brought up the change, saying a number of citizens had spoken to her about not being able to vote before going to work. State and federal elections start at 7 so people are used to being able to vote at that time, she said. 
Some councilors didn't think the change necessary, pointing to the many ways people can vote now — by absentee, by mail and by voting early in the city clerk's office, including two Saturdays prior to the election. 
There was also some concern about the cost since the poll workers and police would have to come in two hours earlier and public services workers would have come in early to set up the polling stations at St. Elizabeth's Parish Center.
"Yes, there are other options available but we know in North Adams we have a large voter base that is elderly and they have traditionally voted early in the morning," said Councilor Peter Oleskiewicz. "Regardless of the extra cost incurred, I still stand strongly behind that earlier voting time because regardless if there's one vote or 500 votes, every vote does matter."
The Public Safety Committee has been working on the taxi ordinance for months to update it present standards, clarify sections related to violations and processes, licensing and authorities, and provide some enforcement measures missing previously. 
"We've been working on this since March and I want to thank the members of the Public Safety Committee and the our police chief and lieutenant and mayor for helping us put this together," said Councilor Bryan Sapienza, chair of the committee. 
The committee took up the task at the request of Mayor Jennifer Macksey after a hearing on violations pointed to the city's limitations in regulating cab companies. 
City Councilor Ashley Shade, however, pointed to a couple issues she found within the new ordinance, including whether the violations cited were for the ordinance or traffic laws in general, and whether they were limited to the cabs or included private vehicles. 
She also found problems with the appeal process. The ordinance gave the police chief authority to immediately revoke a license and she thought the driver should have the chance to appeal to the council before losing their livelihood. 
"I think just adding a few words can clarify those but I think those are really important things to clarify before we pass this through," Shade said. "Other than that, I think everything else is covered and I think that this does a great job of simplifying the taxi ordinance and making it easier to understand for the public, making it easier to understand for the business owners and operators."
An initial attempt was made to amend on the floor but the councilors got bogged down in debating how the appeal process would work and how alleged criminal actions should be addressed. 
"As much as I would love to see this fall off the agenda, I think it needs to go back to committee to work these things out," said Councilor Wayne Wilkinson. "It's not ready to come to the full council."
Sapienza rescinded his original motion and moved that it be referred back to his committee for more tweaking. It passed 6-1 with Shade voting nay.
An ordinance change to the composition of the Airport Commission passed its second reading but the short-term rental ordinance that was passed to second reading two weeks ago was postponed on a second vote because of problems in posting the legal notice to the newspaper for the required amount of time.
The motion to postpone passed 5-2 with Councilors Wilkinson and Jennifer Barbeau voting nay. 
A zoning amendment to the downtown district that would allow parking in front of buildings (it currently limits building setbacks to 10 feet) passed 5-2 to a second reading, also with Shade and Barbeau voting nay. 
Shade has objected to the exception for Main Street, saying a new zone should be created rather than adjusting pieces of the ordinance.  
"I think Union Street should be a separate zone from Main Street," she said, later adding, "it's too large and needs to be redrawn ... I think the rule inside of this zone should be the same for everything inside of it."
Building Inspector William Meranti this was one way to make zoning work and to fix an oversight when the ordinances were updated a few years ago. 
"The Planning Board grants special permits, that's what they do, those would be another special permit that they would have the ability to grant or not, depending on the applicator," he said.  
Councilor Keith Bona said creating a different zone with different rules wouldn't change much since the Planning Board could still make specific adjustments. 
"We're not automatically giving a developer the right to do something there," Wilkinson said. "You have to put the trust in the Planning Board ... give them the option."
Shade said it wasn't a matter of not trusting the Planning Board but rather an issue of fairness. 
Councilors Marie T. Harpin and Michael Obasohan were absent. 
In other business: 
The mayor read a proclamation designating October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. A standout is planned from 5 to 6 p.m. at City Hall on Wednesday.
• The City Council voted to authorize a memorandum of understanding for Title VI Every Student Succeeds Act submitted by the mayor. 
Thomas Simon, director of student support services, explained the agreement is between several state agencies to allow some reimbursement for the city's transportation of children placed in foster care to the schools that they have been attending. 
"Historically, we have anywhere between $20,000 to $50,000 of costs associated with this type of transportation," he said. "This would allow us to recover approximately roughly 20 percent of those costs on an annual basis."
• The council voted permission for the administration to apply for a FY2023 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant for $11,678 for traffic safety equipment like cones and barrier and including an enclosed cargo trailer. Interim Chief Mark Bailey said there is no place to store the equipment and they don't fit in the cruisers so officers have been using their private vehicles to move them around.
• Secondhand licenses were approved for Mary Ann George of Maryanntiques & Gifts on Ashland Street and Jessica Sweeney for Savvy Hive on Main Street. Obilio Rodriguez III was approved to drive a taxi for RJ's Taxi. 
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