Northampton Planning Board approves Smith College housing, YMCA parking lot expansion, marijuana dispensary

Last modified: Sunday, May 25, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — The Planning Board signed off on three projects this week that will mean a new housing complex at Smith College, expanded parking at the Hampshire Regional YMCA and a marijuana dispensary on Conz Street.

Smith’s proposal for five new dorms housing 80 students along Paradise Road near the college quadrangle drew the most discussion at Thursday’s meeting, with several neighbors and some board members criticizing the project’s design.

The buildings, at two stories each, are similar in size as the rest of the neighborhood, but several people voiced displeasure that the structures were too generic and did not fit in with the neighborhood, said Carolyn Misch, senior land use planner for the city. “The design wasn’t very pleasing to the people who came to the hearing,” she said.

The board can discuss a project’s design but has no authority to change it when considering a site plan. College officials said Friday the plan is solid.

“We are comfortable with our plan, which was carefully designed by our architects to be scaled to the neighborhood,” Samuel A. Masinter, director of college relations, said in an email. “While the fundamentals of our design are set, there is still some fine-tuning to be completed over the course of the summer. However, we do not expect any major changes to result from that process.”

Misch said the board approved a major site plan for the project after determining that technical issues surrounding stormwater management and wetlands were addressed. The project also won approval from the Conservation Commission for work that will occur within 200 feet of the Mill River.

College officials said earlier this week that the Paradise Road Apartments project is proposed in response to a demand from students who would prefer more apartment-style housing options. Each building would contain four apartments and house a total of 16 students. The new housing is expected to replace the Friedman apartment complex that houses 52 students between Round Hill Road and Henshaw Avenue.

The housing is planned for a 2.7-acre site that includes several college-owned buildings such as the Mason Infirmary, the former Sunnyside Child Care Center and a pair of homes. Those buildings will be demolished or moved as part of the project, with the infirmary scheduled to come down in June.

YMCA parking

The board also approved a plan by the Hampshire Regional YMCA to create a new parking lot off Prospect Street between its building and Nuttelman’s Florists at the corner of Prospect and Woodlawn Avenue.

The YMCA said more space is needed during peak times, and the new 25-space lot is an attempt to address some of the parking issues that have plagued the facility and surrounding neighborhood over the years, particularly on Massasoit Street.

“Users looking for parking at peak times results in vehicles driving through the neighborhood at unsafe speeds, parking in off-street tow zones, and parking on grass areas,” the YMCA wrote in its application for a site plan.

Plans call for the YMCA to expand a gravel driveway between its building and Nuttelman’s to make room for the new L-shaped parking lot that will hug two sides of the YMCA building. People who park in the lot will access the main entrance by using a new paved walkway.

Meantime, the main entry to the 86-space Massasoit Street parking lot will be relocated to align with Fifth Avenue. A second entry will be blocked off and used only for buses and large delivery trucks, freeing an extra space or two.

The addition of the new lot will enable the YMCA to expand its parking from 116 to 142 spaces. Another parking lot off Woodlawn next to a basketball court has 30 spaces.

The YMCA has been exploring ways to expand its parking for several years, with this proposal gaining the most support following numerous neighborhood meetings and discussions with city officials, according to the application filed with the city.

Marijuana dispensary

Finally, the board signed off on a site plan for New England Treatment Access, which intends to open a medical marijuana dispensary at 118 Conz St.

The company plans to operate Hampshire County’s only dispensary from the former medical office building in Northampton not far from Interstate 91. The dispensary is expected to open in September.

New England Treatment’s leadership team has met several times with the Planning Department and agreed to address a few minor changes to the exterior of the building, including expanded landscaping along Conz Street and screening of trash receptacles. Other than minor changes outside, Misch said most of the work will occur inside the building.

A dispensary is allowed on that portion of Conz Street under the city’s zoning. Misch said the public hearing drew no public comment and the board approve the site plan with the condition that the company pay a traffic mitigation fee before occupying the building.