Smith Voc agrees to host a pound

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NORTHAMPTON — A longstanding controversy over the city’s proposed location for a pound appears to have been resolved with an agreement to house the facility on the campus of Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School.

“It was really just a remarkable alignment of the stars,” Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra said.

The city is now planning to build affordable and market-priced mixed or affordable housing on the Moose Lodge property on Cooke Avenue near Hatfield Street, the last location where residents objected to the project, according to Sciarra.

Sciarra announced the deal with Smith Vocational in a press release Tuesday night. The vocational school is preparing to open a pet program, and the animal control facility is said to be located nearby. The facility would be built at the back of campus, near the Department of Animal Science.

“It’s very far from many residences,” Sciarra said.

The building would house stray cats and dogs and other pets picked up by the city. Currently, these animals are housed at the police station, until they are claimed by the owners or moved to shelters.

It will also be located near a building on which Greenfield Community College has an expiring lease and which Smith Voc will convert for use in its pet program.

“That was really the catalyst,” said Smith Voc Superintendent Andrew Linkenhoker.

He also said the animal control facility will provide students in the animal science department with the opportunity to interact with small animals and give criminal justice students the opportunity to learn about animal control.

“I think it’s a win-win,” he said.

The city spent several years trying to find a site for a place to house stray animals. After being pushed back by neighborhood opposition on Glendale Road in 2019 and on Chapel Street last year, officials have set their sights on the Moose Lodge property on Cooke Avenue near Hatfield Street. Last month, the city council voted 8 to 1 to buy the property for $100,000, with the intention of using it for an animal control facility.

But not everyone was happy with Moose Lodge’s proposal, with a number of neighborhood residents voicing their opposition to the project. Dog barking was one of the big concerns raised by neighbors.

Following the March vote, Sciarra was told by Smith Voc administrator Julie Spencer-Robinson that the new pet program could mean the school would be willing to reopen talks to locate the animal control facility on his property.

Previous talks between the city and Smith Voc had resulted in no agreement, but this time an agreement was reached.

“I’m really looking forward to partnering with them,” the mayor said.

Smith Voc trustees approved the plan on Tuesday and it is now in the hands of city council.

Ward 1 Councilman Stanley Moulton, who represents the Moose Lodge area, said he supports the plan and the few councilors he has spoken to also support it.

“It’s probably the best possible resolution,” Moulton said. “It’s a great example of how city departments should work together.”

He also noted that the new location will provide educational opportunities for students and thanked Sciarra for responding quickly to residents’ concerns.

“I give him a lot of credit,” Moulton said.

Christine Clark, one of the residents who opposed Moose Lodge’s proposal, also expressed her support for the new plan.

“We’re thrilled he’s going to Smith Voc Tech,” Clark said.

Clark praised Ward 6 Councilwoman Marianne LaBarge, who was the only councilor to vote against the Moose Lodge plan and whom she credits with advocating for opponents.

“For all of this, Marianne LaBarge truly deserves recognition,” Clark said.

She also noted that LaBarge did this even though the Moose Lodge was not in her neighborhood.

“She really is a hero,” Clark said. “She joined us.

Additionally, Clark said there was a “huge community effort” against the Moose Lodge project.

“We are back to peace and quiet on Cooke Avenue,” Clark said.

The former Moose Lodge property, meanwhile, is expected to be retained by the city, and Sciarra said she hopes it will be converted into affordable housing.

Asked about the prospect of putting affordable housing on the Moose Lodge property, Clark expressed support for affordable housing there.

Bera Dunau can be reached at [email protected]

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