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Pittsfield City Council Votes Down Public Hearing On Springside Bike Park Proposal

An aerial image of a park with different zones shaded in different colors.
City Of Pittsfield Parks Commission

Controversy around a proposal to build a facility for mountain biking in a Pittsfield, Massachusetts public park made it to this week’s city council meeting.

Brought to the city’s parks commission by the Berkshire Chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association, the project would involve the installation of a mountain bike park in Springside Park. While it’s received preliminary approval from the commission, some in the community oppose the plan.

Designs for the bike park describe a 2.3 acre footprint in the historic park that would be around 72% green space. Along with a pump track, there would be a skills training zone, a flow zone jump area, a dual slalom course as well as crushed stone paths and recreational areas with picnic tables.

About half a dozen members of the public appeared at Tuesday night’s Pittsfield city council meeting to support Ward 7 councilor Anthony Maffuccio’s petition to hold a public hearing on the project.

“Do we have a contract with the new nonprofit that wants to design and build this in Springside Park? Do we have to have a two-thirds vote to get rid of this park piece of land because we are redeveloping it? There is so many unanswered questions, I think, about the project, even legal wise, that we as a city council should know the parameters of this project and the answers to some of these questions," he said. "And I'm asking that we hold this at the next meeting on September 28th.”

The petition prompted debate amongst council members.

“I'm going to vote against this because it's before the parks commission. And I do not think it sets a good precedent when we're looking to hold public meetings against other boards here in the city. I would, if anything refer to them for an additional public hearing at parks, which they've had numerous meetings held," said At-Large city councilor Pete White. “This is a matter before the parks commission. I don't think we should be looking to get information and muddying the waters when it doesn't matter what the city council votes, yes or no, after a public hearing. We would just be voting to have a public hearing that we have no say in.”

Ward 2 councilor Kevin Morandi backed Maffuccio.

“We have an obligation to listen to the public," said Morandi. "Obviously, they're not getting listened to. If they're coming to ask us and ask the councilors to approve a public forum, a conversation needs to happen and the public needs to be involved. That is a city park. And I agree with the obligation of a contract. So let's get it all out in the open. Let's have some dialogue. And let's hear from the people.”

Ward 1 councilor Helen Moon disagreed.

“I don't actually think that people aren't being heard, I think that they are being listened to," Moon countered. "And sometimes when people are listened to and they don't get their way, then they're trying to kind of subvert the process. And I don't think that that is a precedent that we want to set.”

City attorney Steven Pagnotta offered what context he could to the proceedings.

“Nothing has been set in stone yet by the parks commission or by the New England mountain bike group that is proposing to put this in," he said. "I'm not sure there's a downside to the commission, to the city council to having this hearing. But I'm not aware that it has a decision making vote at this particular time. It's still in the park commission's hands at this point.”

In a 7-3 vote with only councilors Maffuccio, Morandi and Ward 4’s Christopher Connell in support, the council voted down the bid for a public hearing on the bike park.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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