Easthampton officials, consultants join residents on New City walking tour

by Emily Thurlow

EASTHAMPTON — When Marjorie Zaik walked through the New City neighborhood this past weekend, she looked at a completely different neighborhood from the one she grew up in.

In the 1960s and ’70s, Parsons Street had three grocery stores and a drug store. The area was also home to a couple of bars, a luncheonette and a funeral parlor.

And while Zaik, who still resides in Easthampton, isn’t looking to turn back time and bring back all of those businesses or way of life, she would like to see some reverence to the time and history that helped shape the area.

“I’m interested in preserving the history of this neighborhood, which is not really evident when you look at it because Parsons Street used to be very commercial as well as residential,” she said. “There’s a kind of history hidden behind the storefronts that have been turned into apartments. … Maybe we could include some historical markers to reflect the former population who lived here, which were a lot of Polish and French-Canadian immigrants.”

Her grandparents owned a two-family home on Federal Street, which was passed through the family for roughly 90 years. There are still remnants of a milk-peddling business that her grandfather ran, she added.

Zaik joined more than 30 other area residents for the New City neighborhood outdoor public meeting and walking tour on Saturday, led by Easthampton public officials and consultants Fuss & O’Neill, a civil and environmental consulting engineering firm from Manchester, Conn.

The gathering is the second of its kind geared at engaging residents “where they’re at,” to get a better understanding of the area, according to City Planner Jeff Bagg.

“We’ve heard from a lot of people who have lived here a long time and knew the history and they were really excited about creating a new version and a new history,” he said. “Getting their input was and really is important in our future design.”

Following a presentation held at the park at the corner of Parsons and Federal streets, participants were split into three walking groups, stopping along the way to discuss areas that have been previously established as more challenging. On one tour, Fuss & O’Neill program manager Julianne Busa stopped at the intersection of Ferry and Parsons streets to get feedback about the area. When asked if it was problematic, chuckles of laughter were dispersed through the crowd.

“Oh, it’s scary,” one said.

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“If you’re from town, you know you don’t turn left,” another said.

Along the way, residents would note the lack of parking as homes were designed for mill workers who didn’t have cars or garages to worry about. They’d also note the cracks in the sidewalks or complete lack of sidewalks altogether. One Maine Avenue resident spoke of how the parking can be so challenging that her driveway is often partially obstructed by cars.

District 2 City Councilor Homar Gomez echoed the issue of parking in New City. He hopes that planning for the future of the neighborhood gets a little creative to address both the need for a safe playground for area children as well as the parking drought.

“If you come here in the winter when we have our parking ban, it’s a problem,” said Gomez, adding that much of the area’s housing doesn’t include parking. “This really is a great event. This is one of the oldest neighborhoods, and I think it’s about time that the city has taken a look at this particular area.”

Resident Garrett Schenck said the bicycle infrastructure also needs some work. For the New City neighborhood, he said, connectivity to the city’s bike path is a real challenge. Schenck said he’s hoping that the city will invest more into the bike infrastructure rather than the car infrastructure.

From here, preliminary plans will be prepared that will be presented to the community to determine what projects will take priority and lay out a multi-year action plan. An arborist will also be inspecting trees throughout the neighborhood to assess their condition.

On Nov. 29 and 30, the water and sewer infrastructure will be inspected by Fuss & O’Neill. With that inspection, the firm conducts a sanitary sewer smoke test. The smoke is a non-toxic, non-staining and odorless vapor.

“They block off two sections and they push smoke into the area and look for any areas that the smoke is rising through any cracks in the concrete, because that would be an indication that there is a crack underneath,” said Bagg. “Please do not be alarmed if you see smoke rising from building downspouts, vents or drainage structures.”

For those who were unable to attend the meeting and want more information, visit easthamptonma.gov/newcity.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com

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