CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – The city’s Mayor John Vieau is distancing himself from the owners of the Slate Conservation Area.
The embattled woodland property is in jeopardy of being bulldozed for industrial development. But opponents of developing the site feel the mayor’s office isn’t being transparent enough.
“For the record, the city of Chicopee does not own the property. The mayor’s office is not involved with any zone changing,” said Mayor Vieau at a June 7, 2021, news conference at Chicopee City Hall.
Slate Conservation Area consists of 57 acres of untouched land in Chicopee just steps away from city life. But as the 22News I-Team first reported in April, its owner, Westover Metropolitan Development Corporation wants to develop the land.
The land sits up against Westover Airport, making it a perfect location for industrial use.
“This has been a part of their entire lives. Most of these people that I’m hearing from, you know, say I’ve walked this land since I was a child,” said Tina Colucci of Chicopee.
Slate Conservation also shares a property line with a Chicopee neighborhood along Slate Road where Tina Colucci lives. Their backyards are lined with towering trees, while their front yards are lined with newly created signs that read ‘Save Slate Conservation Area.’
“We have spent so much time cleaning up our brownfields and putting plans in place to get our air quality healthier,” said Mary Hayner of Chicopee. “Why would you want any business to come and undo that and cut down trees?”
The group set up a website called Slate Conservation Alliance, where they detail their battle. They’re encouraging others to join their fight. They’ve created two petitions. The first aims to persuade Mayor John Vieau to buy back the Slate Conservation Area and permanently protect it.
The other petition would prevent a proposed land swap. Under the proposal, six city-owned acres near the parking lot of Chicopee State Park would be given to the Commonwealth, in exchange for two triangles of land on the other side of the park that jet into the Slate Conservation Area.
“So, yes there was a draft proposal, no it has not moved anywhere beyond a draft document,” said Lee Pouliot, the city’s director of planning and development.
“I think that land swap is pretty important because it proves the mayor’s office is trying really hard to develop this parcel,” said Chicopee City Councilor Derek Dobosz.
Mayor John Vieau denies the claim.
Opponents of developing the property provided the 22News I-Team with several political ads and news articles from 1969 and 1970 that show former Chicopee Mayor Richard Demers put the land into some form of local conservation, nearly five years before the state would create Article 97 in 1974. Residents are hoping to prove that the land was always intended to be conserved, even though it wasn’t formally designated as such at the state level.
Mayor John Vieau said he is committed to listening to all points of view.
“I’m not going to act in haste until I hear everything that’s going on and try and help promote and do what’s right for the citizens and the residents and the people who live in the city of Chicopee,” said Vieau.
The mayor’s office set up a new section on the city’s website where any and all public records surrounding the history of the Slate Conservation Area will be publicly posted.
22News reached out to WMDC for a new comment, but they have yet to respond. They’ve told the I-Team in previous reporting on this topic that plans for development were not prepared in secret.