HolyokeFirst plans mixed-use zone-change bid for Whiting Farms Road site to enhance neighborhood, block big retailers

8 Dec

HOLYOKE — HolyokeFirst members have withdrawn their request for a zone change to industrial park for a 19-acre site on Whiting Farms Road and will file another proposal that would allow a mix of uses they see enhancing the neighborhood, a member said.

Meanwhile, the owner of the property, the Holyoke Gas and Electric Department (HGE), wants to keep a more commercial zoning designation and has awarded a contract for the property to Gary Rome Hyundai for $2 million. But that deal hinges on Gary Rome obtaining a zone change from the City Council.

The property currently is zoned general business.

Gary Rome Hyundai’s plan would require a zone change to a highway business designation.

HolyokeFirst members are thinking more along the lines of Planned Unit Development or a use known as “RM-20,” a multifamily housing use, said Gayle Keith, of Farnum Drive.

A Planned Unit Development would allow a varied but complementary mix of uses like housing, recreation and commercial uses.

“The mix of uses allows residents to meet many daily needs for goods and services without leaving the development and provides employment for some residents,” according to the Municipal Research and Services Center in Seattle, Washington.

HolyokeFirst contacted the City Council last month and withdrew the zone-change petition it filed a year ago. That one sought a change to industrial park, the hope being that such a use would would block large retail projects with loads of traffic, HolyokeFirst members said.

Sensitive to criticism from other parts of the city, HolyokeFirst member Keith said, no, members still don’t want a big-box retailer like Walmart or Lowe’s Home Improvement or a car dealership sprawling onto the property.

HolyokeFirst members question whether those who fault members for opposing the business uses that have been proposed for the property in the past five years would themselves want to live across from such a sprawl, she said.

“We would like to see something that enhances our neighborhood,” Keith said.

Walmart withdrew its proposal to build a “supercenter” on the Whiting Farms Road property in September 2013. A spokesman said the retail giant retreated because tests showed soil contamination, not because protests against the retailer were so vocal.

HGE Manager James M. Lavelle has said any contamination was minor, the property never having been occupied, and easily cleaned up.

In December 2009, Lowe’s Home Improvement dropped a plan to build a $15 million facility on the Whiting Farms Road property because of the poor economy, officials said then.

Keith said a car dealership is incompatible with what some residents want in the neighborhood. Marcotte Ford of Holyoke also has shown interest in the Whiting Farms Road site.

“How would you feel?…We want something that is harmonious with our neighborhood, something that adds to it, not something that makes us into a second Riverdale Road,” Keith said.

“All that aside, would I or any of the other members like to look out our windows and see an auto dealership? No. It will decrease our home values,” she said.

“Yes, businesses in town are important, but so are the citizens.”