Boards balk at limiting use of Hadley Town Common

Amherst residents Lena Grant-Giraud, from left, Andrew Grant-Thomas, Melissa Giraud and Tim Holcomb feast on Esselon Cafe’s fried asparagus during thes Asparagus Festival on the Town Common on June 3, 2023.

Amherst residents Lena Grant-Giraud, from left, Andrew Grant-Thomas, Melissa Giraud and Tim Holcomb feast on Esselon Cafe’s fried asparagus during thes Asparagus Festival on the Town Common on June 3, 2023. FILE PHOTO

Visitors throng New England Public Media’s Asparagus Festival on the Hadley Town Common on West Street on June 3, 2023.

Visitors throng New England Public Media’s Asparagus Festival on the Hadley Town Common on West Street on June 3, 2023. STAFF FILE PHOTO

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 04-19-2024 2:06 PM

Modified: 04-19-2024 4:44 PM


HADLEY — Significant work and time for municipal staff associated with preparing for New England Public Media’s annual Asparagus Festival is prompting Hadley officials to examine whether fees should be increased and other adjustments made to how approvals are given for use of the historic West Street Common.

“I am concerned about the long-term use of the common by groups that have outgrown it,” Select Board member Jane Nevinsmith told a joint meeting of the Select Board and Historical Commission on Wednesday. “I’m specifically talking about the Asparagus Festival.”

Nevinsmith said she is raising the issue because the town’s police, fire and public works departments are spending time planning for event, which this year will take place June 1, and the influx of visitors creates issues for traffic on Route 9.

Nevinsmith said it’s also unclear whether the event brings anything of value to Hadley that doesn’t already exist in terms of asparagus, and that West Street residents are affected for several hours, with no sense of privacy during that day as people drive and walk along the length of the common.

While other Select Board members didn’t support the idea of disallowing use of the common for the Asparagus Festival or other large events, they suggested possible adjustments to charges for its use and the security deposits for covering the costs of municipal public safety and public works.

Hadley charges nonprofits $100 for use of the common, while for-profit entities pay $500. All applicants are required to make a $500 refundable deposit.

The current application for use of the common describes it and the adjacent Great Me adow as “a remnant 17th-century agricultural landscape.” The application was last revised in 2005 and states that it “is a valued part of our community, and the Hadley Historical Commission encourages its use and enjoyment.”

The application also includes findings from a report, “The Hadley West Street Common and Great Meadow: A Cultural Landscape Study” from 2005, as well as the state Department of Environmental Management’s 2000 report “Common Wealth: How to Protect the Heritage and Invest in the Future of Your Town Common.”

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Select Board member Molly Keegan said more active use of the common might be appropriate, and she wouldn’t want to arbitrarily limit events by the number of people or cars.

“I’d like to do more to promote the use of the town common,” Keegan said.

Keegan said she understands that the Asparagus Festival is significant to the neighborhood in terms of its size, but pointed out it’s likely that many visitors spend the day in Hadley, shopping at stores and eating at restaurants. She wants to work with public safety and public works personnel to make improvements to how events are staged, observing that there were issues with trash that wasn’t cleaned up one year.

Select Board member Joyce Chunglo said farmers like to promote their products, whether it be asparagus or other things they are growing, and she worries about taking that opportunity away. “I haven’t heard anything negative from farmers saying, ‘Don’t have an Asparagus Festival,’” Chunglo said.

Though Select Board member Randy Izer said he, like Nevinsmith, worries that the event has gotten too big, he wouldn’t prohibit it, but would find a way to set a fee or deposit that can cover the costs of work by the town.

“I don’t have a problem with people using the common,” Izer said. “It is called the common for a reason; it’s been that way since this town was created.”

Diana West, who chairs the Historical Commission, said members support continued, though limited, use of the common, so long as it is left in the condition it was found. Last year, damaged grass both on the common and on some homeowners’ lawns was left in the wake of the festival, West said.

Licensing Coordinator Jennifer Sanders James said the deposit from the Asparagus Festival in 2023 was used to purchase bags of grass seed and to cover the costs of DPW workers fixing damaged areas.

West said the commission would look at how to better compensate public safety and public works for preparation for large events.

“We should address this fee structure, because I don’t think it’s appropriate for our current economy,” West said.

The Historical Commission will examine the issue at a future meeting and make recommendations to the Select Board.

Select Board Chairwoman Amy Parsons said she worries that upping the deposit, though, could discourage use of the common, such as a church doing a sunrise service there. Her colleagues suggested that such a deposit could be waived, depending on the group using the common.

The Select Board did vote to adjust the existing insurance policy for those using the common, based on a recommendation from Susan Glowatsky, the town’s collector and risk manager

Town Administrator Carolyn Brennan said she would provide details of how other communities handle access to their commons.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.