Live coverage: Holyoke officials resume talks about survey asking what residents want on Whiting Farms Road site

3 Oct

HOLYOKE — Track live coverage here as city officials Tuesday (Sept. 30) continue discussing survey results about what kind of development residents want on a vacant Whiting Farms Road property.

Follow the public hearing about a proposed zone change for the property as live coverage is posted in the comments section under this story.

The meeting at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall is a continuation of a public hearing on a petition for a zone change for the Whiting Farms Road property.

The city Department of Planning and Economic Development surveyed people about what they want on the Whiting Farms Road site, which is in the shadow of the Holyoke Mall at Ingleside. The most important qualities cited by the 361 paper and online respondents were air-water quality, taxes, employment, view, open space, traffic and housing.

Open space-recreation scored the highest intensity of responses in the survey followed by mixed-retail use, retail plaza, office space,auto dealer, a tie between industrial and single-unit residential and multi-unit residential, according to results discussed at the July 22 Ordinance Committee meeting.

The survey done in early summer yielded 189 online results and 172 by paper.

Tuesday’s hearing is being held by the City Council Ordinance Committee and the Planning Board.

Continuation of the hearing, which began in November, comes as Gary Rome Hyundai executed a contract on June 4 to buy the 19-acre site for $2,050,000 from the owner, the Holyoke Gas and Electric Department (HGE).

But contingencies must be addressed before the sale is final. One item that must be resolved is the property’s zoning designation, which has been in dispute for years even before residents filed the zone change request that the city boards will resume considering Tuesday.

Residents who have organized under the name Holyoke First have filed a request to change the property’s zone to industrial park from the current general business. They hope that would block large retail projects with loads of traffic, such as recent years’ controversies about Walmart and Lowe’s Home Improvement, large retailers that both backed away from the site.

Gary Rome Hyundai would need still another change in zoning, to highway business designation, to open a dealership on the property.

Seeking a zone change is a lengthy process, as seen by the current one sought by Holyoke First that is approaching a year.

After the public hearing is closed, the Planning Board will vote its recommendation to the Ordinance Committee. The committee will consider that recommendation in voting its own recommendation to the full City Council, which has final say on zone-change requests and can accept or reject such recommendations.

Holyoke First members Gayle Keith, Helen F. Norris and Kris Mercier told MassLive.com they oppose an auto dealership for the property and reiterated their desire instead to see a mixed-use development on the site.

Holyoke First has proposed the city establish at the Whiting Farms Road site a Smart Growth Zoning Overlay District. That’s a type of zoning that would allow for a mix of residential and commercial uses. Among restrictions would be a maximum size of 35,000 square feet permitted for a single non-residential building.

HGE opposes the zone change that Holyoke First favors because Manager James M. Lavelle has said that would limit its marketability and short-change department ratepayers.

Source: MassLive.com