Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Working for [comm]unity

Tonight may be a loaded night. Full of emotion, intensity and, hopefully, not heartbreak. I am trying to hold it all prayerfully and trust all will be well.

Of course, I am referring to the city council decision on a proposed development for my beloved Milford Main School. It's been such an awe-inspiring couple of weeks and I simply could not have imagined that so many people could rally together in such a community-minded way.

My neighbors, whom I never knew before, Joe and Janet, began knocking on doors when they found few others attending hearings and meetings while the proposed development seemed to sail through city channels.

I attended the first public hearing in front of the planning commission, kept up on the minutes of the second one and also when the city board of zoning appeals approved a variance in density for the property. I made sure to attend the public hearing happening before city council. I stayed for three-and-a-half hours, while the night owls remained until it ended about 1:20 a.m. About 40 people spoke after city staff, the developer and his experts made their case over 90 minutes. People's words moved me. People from all over Milford and all walks of life. One unrepresented group, children, were eloquently captured in one artist's words.

It was at the steps to the city building I encountered a new group, STOP Milford on Main, that had emerged with a terrific logo, t-shirts, petitions and, soon, yard signs. One of them started a Facebook page with, regular and relevant posts and spot-on info-graphics. A neighbor on the other side of town jumped in. Carl was involved about a dozen years ago when a developer wanted to plant houses in a flood plain on some very pristine, natural land. A small group organized, hired an attorney and with  much effort, founded ValleyView, now a 150-acre nature preserve and education center, in South Milford. After the tense hearing before council, he contacted me about gathering those opposed to what the developer calls Milford on Main. We both suspected there were other, small groups and interested individuals out there that we wanted to collect.

I offered my studio in Milford Main as a meeting space. After all, we were focused on Main; plus, I felt it was something I could do and I love showing off the place. Many people wander in and are surprised at the shape its in: better than they had anticipated. Enough inspectors through the place have hinted that the oldest section, mine built in 1912, is the soundest and that any asbestos is properly abated. It is only a problem when exposed such as during demolition. While it is true that renovations over the years have stripped some of the original charm, there's still plenty in the large classrooms with chalkboards that stretch down entire walls. In one meeting, the developer said there was no character or chalkboards left. He's visited me twice and, apparently, hadn't noticed.

Carl had said he'd like me in the mix as an example of what can continue to happen in Milford Main. This is a reason I have kept Artsy Fartsy at Main through inspections, wall-busting and weeks of dust as the Rookwood fountain was removed. Programs like Artsy Fartsy that serve the community belong here. I dislike he idea that the school for kids on the autism spectrum will leave. They have been so happy here.

So 20-something turned out for our first meeting at Main and we had a healthy discussion and managed some organizing. I am eternally grateful to the neighbors who braved cold weather and closed doors to collect hundreds of signatures. Their take was that so many were in the dark and, once informed, not in favor of the massive development.

Like wildfire, this energy has spread. It gives me hope and courage that our elected representatives will do their job. The best thing to come out of all of this is meeting more good people who happen to be my neighbors.

• When has something dire brought people together?
* What are examples of when even just one person has made a difference?
• What about democracy in action inspires me?
• How do I find freedom of speech sacred?
• How can I remain Spirit-led in trying experiences?

I had all but
lost hope

turning the key
in the studio door
as often as I
could get there

praying over
the room and
down the halls

hosting my
Artsy Fartsy kids
with as much energy
as we could muster

and spraying
that all over
the building

and, just as the
forgotten paperwhites
bloomed from
cracked dirt and complete

life sprung into

linked arms


worked for
the community


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