HOLYOKE — The City Council Ordinance Committee and the Planning Board on Tuesday (April 14) closed public hearings on dueling zone-change proposals — car dealership vs. residential — aimed at the same Whiting Farms Road site.
The zone-change petitions are vying for the same nearly 19 acres of vacant land owned by the Holyoke Gas and Electric Department (HGE). The site is on Whiting Farms Road across from Autumn and Lynch drives.
Public hearings for both zone-change petitons began March 31 and continued with testimony for another 90 minutes Tuesday before the boards’ votes to close the hearings.
Gary Rome Hyundai wants to build a dealership on the HGE site. To do that, he needs to get the property zoned Business Highway and from the current Business General, which prohibits an auto dealership.
Gary Rome Hyundai currently is at 1000 Main St. here and Rome said that business would stay open regardless of whether he is able to build a new one.
Rome’s plan to buy the property from HGE for $2,050,000 is contingent on getting the zone change.
Besides the revenue from the sale, Rome and lawyer Thomas “Toby” Wilson noted the Rome plan’s benefits would include a $10 million structure, creation of 50 new full-time jobs, some part-time positions and millions of dollars in property tax revenue.
“I want to be that economic engine to get things rolling,” Rome said.
Also targeting the HGE site are residents who want the zoning designation of the property changed to a use called RM-20. That stands for Multi-Family Residence at 20 units per acre. The uses are generally housing with limited commercial uses like bed and breakfast, funeral home, hospital and nursing home, Assistant City Solicitor Kara Cunha said.
The petition seeking the RM-20 use lists former city councilor Helen F. Norris as lead proponent.
Contrary to putting an auto dealership in a meadow across the street from residences, Norris said, the RM-20 would be a use compatible with the neighborhood.
“This is good for them and for the taxpayers,” Norris said.
Councilor at Large Howard B. Greaney said it was important to note that there is no concrete plan before the city for a development under the proposed RM-20 zone change, but there is a concrete plan regarding the zone change Gary Rome is proposing.
Ordinance Committee Chairwoman Rebecca Lisi noted that councilors must make zone-change decisions regarding whether the change of uses would be appropriate, not regarding a particular project.
The next step is for the Planning Board to take recommendation votes on the two zoning proposals. The Ordinance Committee will consider those recommendations in making its own recommendation votes.
Those recommendations are among factors that will be considered by the full City Council, which has final say over zone-change requests.