Councilors showed concerns for business; not so much for tenants

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Linda Farrington of 11 Barker Ct. is fearful of being homeless when the the city forces her out to make Union St. parking lot more attractive; right, one of the land parcels being bought for a new intersection near the future Sig plant.

Tuesday's 11-2 City Council vote to move forward with the $270,000 purchase of two parcels of land near the intersection of Milton and Salmon Falls roads and Amarosa Drive drew little discussion ... but more than when they bought an apartment house last month.

The purchase of the two acre-plus parcels was proposed by city officials to allow for an expedited completion of a newly designed intersection to facilitate increased traffic in the area when gun maker Sig Sauer moves into the former Stonewall Kitchen outlet store.

Councilors Doug Lachance and Palana Belken were the only two councilors who voiced concerns, mostly over the potential impact the new design might have on businesses adjacent to the intersection.

Voting against the purchase were Belken and Jeremy Hutchinson, a longtime advocate for the homeless.

While concerns over the welfare of local businesses were scant during Tuesday's session, concerns about four Rochester families being kicked out of their homes were nonexistent on Dec. 1 when City Council voted 9-4 to spend $290,000 to purchase 11 Barker Court.

The four families included two young couples, one with children; and two disabled women.

The purpose of purchasing the vacant parcels at the Salmon Falls intersection is clear: With hundreds of employees working in shifts at the new Sig Sauer plant, that is going to take Amarosa Drive from a road of tranquility all of the time to a much more densely trafficked pattern much of the time, especially around shift changes.

We all know that at peak traffic times during holidays and summer months, northbound traffic can get stacked up clear to the Milton Road Market Basket.

City officials have also noted that Sig Sauer has promised to repurchase the land not used at fair market value. They have also committed $500,000 to the building of the intersection.

So we get it. A newly engineered intersection is probably a good thing.

What we don't get is the need to purchase 11 Barker Court, which will ultimately displace - or possibly leave homeless - four families so the city can beautify the Union Street parking lot.

That's right, the city wants to put up some shrubbery, make the perimeters of the parking lot greener and maybe throw in a bench or two while taking an apartment house that is generating tax revenue off the books.

Councilors voted overwhelmingly to approve the $290,000 taxpayer-funded purchase, with only Palana Belken, Jim Gray, Jeremy Hutchinson and Pete Lachapelle voting against it.

Interestingly, none of those opposed had anything to say during discussion on the merits of the purchase. In fact, none of the councilors had anything to say about it during the Dec. 1 meeting. Not a whisper.

Gray did say later that he voted against it because "it was a poor use of taxpayer money."

City Manager Blaine Cox said the genesis of idea to beautify the parking lot came during a 2018 charrette.

For those who don't know what a charrette is, it is loosely defined as a meeting in which stakeholders look to iron out differences and map solutions.

We think it's safe to say the tenants living at 11 Barker Court never got the invite, yet we would submit that they, too, were and are stakeholders.

- HT

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