HOLYOKE — Gary Rome left City Hall Tuesday (May 12) smiling about support.
A few feet away, Gayle Keith said the city keeps disappointing residents like her.
The City Council Ordinance Committee voted 4-0 to recommend that the full City Council on May 19 approve a zone change Rome needs to build a $10 million Gary Rome Hyundai dealership on Whiting Farms Road.
“I’m very pleased with the support we’ve received from the city,” Rome said, in the hallway outside City Council Chambers.
If the City Council agrees to change the zoning designation of the nearly-19-acre site to Business Highway from the current Business General, which prohibits an auto dealership, the next step will be to seek site-plan-review approval from the Planning Board, he said.
“My hope is to get a shovel in the ground before the summer,” Rome said.
Rome’s plan, backed by Mayor Alex B. Morse, the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce and numerous others, would produce 50 new full-time and some part-time jobs along with thousands of dollars a year to the city in property taxes, he said.
The Holyoke Gas and Electric Department (HGE) owns the vacant property and has a deal to sell it to Rome for $2,050,000 contingent on approval of the zone change.
Currently at 1000 Main St. here, Gary Rome Hyundai will stay open there regardless of whether he is able to build the new dealership, Rome said.
The Ordinance Committee also voted 3-1 to recommend against adopting a competing zone change filed by residents like Keith who had eyed the same property on Whiting Farms Road as Rome but for a residential and light-business use.
The zoning designation they sought was 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.
Residents have said building an auto dealership on the property across from Autumn and Lynch drives would diminish the neighborhood’s quality of life. Placing a multivehicle outlet on what is now a meadow was unnecessary when other viable but less intrusive uses were possible, they said.
But it’s more than that, said Keith, of Farnum Drive, after the vote. Councilors and other officials are addressing only the needs of a businessman, Rome, who has attended hearings with his lawyer, architect and other consultants, rather than people who live in the neighborhood and worked on their zone-change petition themselves, she said.
“They don’t care about us,” Keith said.
“All that has to happen is Mr. Rome has to blow through there with his lawyer and his architect and his 100 employees who show up to support him. Let’s just say it: We don’t care about citizens,” she said.
Ordinance Committee Chairwoman Rebecca Lisi said later that was untrue. Lisi’s was the no vote on the committee’s decision regarding whether to adopt the Planning Board’s recommendation against the residents’ zone-change.
“I recognized the year-long commitment of resident neighbors in working to understand what uses would be a good fit for that site,” Lisi said.
But, she said, her reading of the results of a survey that the city did last year of what use neighbors and others want for the site was that the “only robust finding” was that neighbors were concerned with design features that would be permitted on the site.
She is filing orders related to dimensions and designs in the Business Highway zone to guard against a “big box” development on the site, she said.
In the survey, which drew 361 paper and online results, open space-recreation scored the highest intensity of responses for what people desired for the site. That was followed by mixed-retail use, retail plaza, office space,auto dealer, a tie between industrial and single-unit residential and multi-unit residential.
The Whiting Farms Road site has been the subject of battles in recent years. Walmart and Lowe’s Home Improvement both considered building big stores on the property to the consternation of residents like Keith. Walmart backed away in 2013 and Lowe’s in 2009.