Officials close Whiting Farms parcel public hearing

21 Apr

HOLYOKE – The Ordinance Committee and Planning Board continued a public hearing on rezoning a large parcel on Whiting Farms Road. Gary Rome Hyundai proposes an over $10 million dealership for the site.

Before plans can move forward, both boards must approve rezoning the parcel to Business Highway, which would allow for a car dealership. However, residents from the Gordon Road area oppose the zoning change and Rome’s dealership idea.

The Council Chamber filled with Rome’s supporters, which included employees of his Main Street location and members of the business community. A previous meeting filled the City Council’s Auditorium.

Attorneys for Holyoke Gas and Electric, the property’s owner, issued a protest countering Helen Norris’ petition to rezone the parcel a RM-20 district.

Attorney Thomas Wilson, who represents Rome, said the zone change would allow Rome to move his Main Street dealership to the new site. He said 50 new jobs will be created and bring in tax revenue.

Wilson said the proposal benefits the city as a whole. In addition to the zone change, special permits must be issued and a site plan review submitted. He added the dealership would not increase traffic significantly.

Rome’s Main Street location would remain open.

He said, “Gary Rome is a local person, he’s not Walmart, not Lowes, not McDonald’s. He is local. He and his dog will be there to take your questions, your comments.”

Wilson emphasized Rome will participate in all site plan reviews and work will work with neighbors.

“Mr. Rome, like everyone in this room, wants to grow Holyoke. This is a spot he’s looked at and believes will contribute to the city as much as to Mr. Rome,” said Wilson.

Helen F. Norris, of Holyoke First, an opponent of Rome’s plan, supports an RM-20 or residential or mixed-use scheme for the 19-acre site, which has been the focus of past zoning battles.

Over the years, said Norris, the group met regularly with city officials and city councilors on properly zoning the parcel, zoning that would minimize impacting the nearby residential neighborhood.

Eventually, a survey was developed and mailed to residents and made available online. She said the surveyed results showed an RM-20 zoning would be the best fit for the parcel.

Norris filed for the RM-20 zone change in December 2014.

The RM-20 zoning would complement similar adjacent developments, she said. The zoning configuration would encourage mixed-development potential, while being in “harmony” with the existing neighborhood.

“Zoning laws are intended to promote the health, safety and welfare and commercial morals and prosperity for the community at-large,” said Norris, and not for the benefit of a particular property owner.

Rezoning the property to BH Zoning only benefits one person, she said, and allows for a wide array of development proposals, forever changing the residential real estate in the neighborhood.

Lowes and Walmart proposed rezoning the vacant site for retail operations, but the plans faced stiff opposition. Rome’s proposal, though, has garnered widespread support from residents and the business community.

Marcos Marrero, the city’s director of Planning and Economic Development, said the department met with both sides to review goals for the site, discussions not centered on the “highest and best use.”

Both boards closed the public hearing after the final speaker. The Planning Board must approve the zone change before the Ordinance Committee can take up the matter.

After the hearing, Rome said he was pleased with the support from the community.

“I’m in it to win it,” he said. Rome noted his family has been in Holyoke since 1890. “I’m in Holyoke and I want to grow in Holyoke. I want to help Holyoke. I know it’s a lot to go through, but in the end it will be worth it.”

By Dennis P. Hohenberger
Turley Correspondent