Letters to the Editor - 5-23-24

A Housing Plan for the Pope Property

The consultant’s proposal to the Pope Committee is concise, elegant and clear for a plan that will be re- imagining Salisbury for the indefinite future. This initiative is more than soccer fields and rental units. It asks for a plan to bring Salisbury into the future.

There is one overarching requirement in the proposal that “The resulting comprehensive plan will be a new neighborhood that is an extension of Salisbury center. The existing Housatonic Child Care Center and Visiting Nurse Association buildings will be an integral component of the new neighborhood. Safe and universally accessible connections will be provided to the town center. The existing Rail Trail will be a vital connection between the neighborhoods.”

The methodology: “The plan will need to be produced based on science, land use best practices, and aesthetic sensibilities in a way that is thoroughly defensible.”

Looking at the initial designs from the consultants that massed the housing along Salmon Kill Road, I suggested “Let’s keep the hedgerow and place the housing behind it as a village around a Green.” I was inspired by my recollection of small parks in Savannah Georgia. This concept was well-received, and the consultants did their own promising rendition.

Soccer fields in front conserved the rural feel of Salmon Kill Road. With the housing moved to the north of the property, the concept of extension of the Town center was obvious and easy. Coming from Town you pass the library, step across Wachocastinook Creek and you are in the new Village. Think left bank, right bank in Paris. You are in the same town, only a different district. We had two workable proposals that could meet the requirement: Extension of Town center, connectivity of neighborhoods with Rail Trail connecting.

Then a Committee Member said, “We can’t have a road along the Rail Trail, people and cars don’t mix.”

But we do have a road along the Rail Trail. Railroad Street goes 1300’ along the Rail Trail through town, apparently without daily fatalities.

This “no road” edict was accepted without thoughtful discussion or any reference to safety standards about walkways along a road. This 10mph, 12’ wide, one-way road is 40’ from the path, totally safe.

Another Committee member suggested rotating the consultant’s proposals to put the Green up against the Rail Trail, eliminating that road. Ironically, this created a far more dangerous cul-de-sac, and would also reduced the value of the Green for the residents. Still worse, this new proposal was neither an “extension of the Town Center” nor a good provider of the “easily accessible connections.”

For a wonderful place to live, a safe flow of traffic, adequate parking, a new Town park, and a plan for some Housing Trust condo ownership, take a look at my proposal. Please email me geomassey@yahoo.com with subject heading “Housing Proposal.”

George Massey


Setting Record Straight on Affordable Housing

Accurate facts are vital to civil discourse about public policy initiatives. This is why I am saddened by the “Why We Need Affordable Housing” letter published in these pages last week.

This letter misinterpreted my earlier “Protect the Rail Trail” comments (co-authored with a neighbor) on several counts, and I write to correct those misinterpretations.

With reference to the construction plans for the Pope property, the authors of the letter professed a devotion to “facts and clarity of intent.” Yet consider their response to my letter.

While I emphasized that “affordable housing is a moral imperative,” they maintain that I “reveal affordable housing as [our] intended target.” Under no circumstances am I opposed to much needed affordable housing in our community.

Their letter goes on to opine that “affordable housing is urgently needed in Salisbury.”

Of course, it is; and that lies at the heart of my “moral imperative” statement. They say further that teachers, nurses, and others in our community need affordable housing — as if I didn’t understand and deeply embrace that objective. They add that our community should welcome “young and old” and “people across the economic spectrum.” Of course, we should — and we do.

That objective is also patently central to the “moral imperative.” So to portray me as an opponent of “affordable housing” is counterfactual and, indeed, deeply hurtful. I am happy to compare my progressive views on society with those of anyone else.

What seems to have incensed these critics is the question raised in my letter about dangers to the section of the Rail Trail between Library Street and Salmon Kill Road, which runs adjacent to the Pope property. This is one of the most beautiful vistas in our villages. My letter presented — in quotes from its report — recommendations advanced by an influential consulting firm that would make radical changes to the Rail Trail near the center of Salisbury, transforming the pathway from a bucolic walking and cycling experience into a “vehicular traffic lane.”

Added to that, my letter noted that a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission (as quoted in this newspaper) seeks to pave this entire upper Trail expanse for use by automobile traffic. Much of this disregard for sanctity of the Trail and the Historic District Line results from the government proposal offered in its “Schema No. 6” to erect 64 housing units on the limited buildable land within the Pope property. I observed, echoing the opinion of a good many of our fellow citizens, that such high-density housing is a mistake. I advocate a lower density objective.

I oppose the warehousing of future citizens into a barracks-like setting, while simultaneously irreparably scarring — or eliminating altogether — the northern tier of the Rail Trail.

Let me put this in caps to avoid further misunderstandings about my position:

Affordable housing — abolutely yes. High density housing that encroaches into our historic district and diminishes our rail trail — absolutely no. The central fact is that we can protect the Rail Trail and pursue the moral imperative of affordable housing. We just have to be smarter about seeking both vital objectives.

The critics of my letter maintain that the housing proposed in Scheme 6 for the Pope property “protects the Historic District” and “would not have an impact” on the Rail Trail. I urge readers to examine the consultant’s report, as well as Schem 6 based on this report (both documents are available online), then draw their own conclusions.

Loch K. Johnson


After a Cricket

Hope holds despair as much as despair holds hope.

Despair has to keep hope out of mind somewhere,

like that fine-tooth strumming I heard over lunch

from what couldn’t have been a cricket. It was

too cold in the fall, too sunny in the day. Hope—

hard hope—doesn’t tune out but listens

through despair for sounds of life.

For the foreseeable century, the climate will gleam on us,

with a fixed gleam that breaks down anywhere at once,

as any expression will if it’s held too long.

Over lunch the next day I heard the same sound.

So I went outdoors and followed the strumming to what,

sure enough, was a cricket, running one forewing

down the other, somewhere in the noonday shade

of the braided wisteria vine in pod. I felt his strumming

deepened the shade he basked in. But I knew

he wasn’t playing for me or only to please himself.

The next day, nothing. So I went out and I listened

to a silence in the shape of a strum.

The strummer, I like to think, hadn’t given out

but met up with an admirer.

His hope would have held. He played

like it would never have occurred to him

to stop before he was done.

John Shoptaw

From a new collection, Near-Earth Object, published by Unbound Edition Press (Atlanta)

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