This letter is to reaffirm my commitment to honestly and transparently represent Ward 3 residents, as I’ve done since I was elected to the Town Council in 2018. I take seriously my responsibility to share unbiased facts with you about town issues so you can form your own judgments.
I have endeavored to do this as evidenced by my sending out detailed summaries after every Council meeting, emailing near daily COVID-19 updates since mid-March and most recently, sharing a multi-page summary of the changes in the revised historic preservation ordinance currently being considered.
I’ve watched dishearteningly as my Ward 3 counterpart — Councilman Mark LoGrippo — has oftentimes chosen to do the opposite. He has repeatedly spread misinformation about previous issues, including the re-opening of the Conservation Center, the use of the town’s surplus and even the use of the town’s street sweepers.
I have kept my criticism mute, not only to give him the benefit of the doubt but to help ensure that public discourse around issues important to residents remains civil and non-partisan. I also took him at his word when he announced in his re-election campaign for Ward 3 Councilman in April 2019 that he would “continue to serve with a philosophy rooted in honest government, transparent operation.”
Unfortunately, it appears that spreading misinformation unchecked has only served to embolden my fellow councilman. This is reflected in his highly misleading and false claims about the proposed revisions to the historic preservation ordinance that he recently circulated via email and Facebook.
To not speak out now and correct his alarmist and misleading information would be a dereliction of my duties to the residents of Ward 3. Instead of a sincere attempt to provide accurate information on the issues, his actions serve to undermine the facts through polarizing partisan politics. The misinformation Councilman LoGrippo shared in this instance appears even more partisan in nature because he sits on the Council’s Code Review Committee, which was responsible for overseeing revisions to this ordinance and has been discussed in that Committee for the past year.
At a bare minimum, Ward 3 residents should expect him to share the details contained in the revised ordinance fully, accurately and transparently. Additionally, his active participation in the process enabled him to not only weigh in on the legal and policy aspects of the ordinance, but to understand and convey to Ward 3 residents the intent of the changes which were thoroughly reviewed, discussed, and agreed upon.
The following review of the claims that Councilman LoGrippo shared, versus the actual facts contained in the revised ordinance, will serve to clear up any confusion that residents may have. They also demonstrate that either Councilman LoGrippo deliberately distributed false and misleading information in an attempt to stir up fears, or more generously but equally as problematic, does not understand the details of an ordinance which he has been working on in committee for the better part of a year.
LoGrippo Claim 1a: This ordinance allows the town to designate a house as historic without the owner's consent . . . (this appeared in his Facebook post and email to Ward 3 residents on Monday, June 29.)
Fact-Check: This is VERY MISLEADING because it implies that the town can designate any home as historic on a willy-nilly basis without any check on this authority. This is SIMPLY NOT THE CASE. In fact, the revised ordinance places several constraints as well as a multi-step process on the Historic Preservation Commission’s (HPC) ability to recommend a historic designation on a home or district without homeowner consent.
First, the HPC can only initiate a historic designation process on a home or district that meets stringent, historical-defining characteristics set forth by the National Historic Registry. Then the HPC must follow a rigorous 3-step process, including issuing a report and voting to designate by itself, then a presentation and vote at the Planning Board followed lastly by a Town Council vote. I think it’s also worth pointing out some additional context related to this responsibility:
1) the HPC has publicly said that they have no plans to pursue a historic designation without homeowner consent.
2) this authority to initiate a historic designation without homeowner consent is actually part of the state’s historic preservation law so Westfield is granting authority to the HPC that the state already allows.
LoGrippo Claim 1b (a continuation of claim 1a): . . .so that no exterior changes can be made without town approval, a power that does not exist under the current ordinance or under the state's historic preservation law.
Fact-Check: This is FALSE. In the revised historic preservation ordinance, a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) is NOT needed to paint any color on the exterior of your home, NOR for changes on sides of your house not facing the street, NOR for any changes on street-facing sides that are exact replicas. Additionally, the revised ordinance removes the fees associated with a COA. The revised ordinance actually provides more flexibility to homeowners of historically designated homes regarding exterior changes than the current ordinance. Additionally, state law explicitly empowers local HPCs to establish design criteria and apply them when a property owner of a historically designated home wants to change the exterior of their home.
LoGrippo Claim 2: It allows the town to designate entire neighborhoods as historic so that the restrictions apply to all homes including brand new homes in the district. Recognize that even if 20% or more of the homeowners object to such a designation, a vote of six (6) members out of nine (9) on Town Council can override this.
Fact-Check: This is MISLEADING because it implies that the Town can designate an entire neighborhood without any constraint. As mentioned above, this isn’t the case. The HPC can recommend a district for designation ONLY if it meets stringent federal criteria. It is correct that state law provides that if 20% or more of homeowners in a proposed district file a petition opposing historic designation, the Town Council can approve this designation with a super majority vote of 6 out of 9 members. This same provision applies to ANY zoning change. Also keep in mind that the town already has the authority to designate a district without 100% homeowner consent. Under the current ordinance, the Town Council can designate a district as historic if 75% of the property owners in the district approve even if 25% oppose it.
LoGrippo Claim 3: It requires town approval for demolition/replacement of any home built before 1930.
Fact-Check: This is VERY MISLEADING because it implies that the town will prohibit the tear down of any home built before 1930. This simply is not the case. As already mentioned, there are stringent historic preservation criteria that the HPC must follow to initiate the historic designation process. 1930 was determined to be a demarcation of architectural significance in Westfield, even though most homes built before 1930 would not satisfy the federal criteria for designation therefore allowing demolition permits to be issued.
Only homes that meet these stringent criteria that have a pending demolition permit application would be paused to allow the HPC to review for historical significance and potential for designation. This is to ensure that the town has the opportunity to potentially save homes or buildings with historic significance before it’s too late. The property at 261 Clark Street, for example, was built in 1860 and served as the first clubhouse for the Westfield Tennis Club and was recently torn down with no opportunity to save it.
Hypothetically, imagine if the owners of the Arcanum Hall building in downtown Westfield at the corner of East Broad and Elm applied for a demolition permit. Under current law, the Town is completely powerless to stop the destruction of this building. Under the revised historic preservation ordinance, the town would be able to pause the demolition to evaluate the building’s historical significance first.
I think you’ll agree that my Ward 3 counterpart’s recent statements are not rooted in honest government or transparency but are rather intended to politicize and fearmonger — which are behaviors that Ward 3 voters have told me repeatedly they don’t want to see from their elected officials.
I will continue to deliver the facts to Ward 3 voters, so they can make their own fully informed judgment. And hope my counterpart starts doing the same.
Ward 3 Councilman David Contract