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Commercial real estate growing strong in Northampton, Amherst

  • Construction underway at 1 East Pleasant St. in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Lumberyard Project on Pleasant Street Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Lumberyard Project on Pleasant Street Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Construction underway at 1 East Pleasant St. in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Construction underway at 1 East Pleasant St. in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Lumberyard Project on Pleasant Street Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Construction underway at 1 East Pleasant St. in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Construction underway at 1 East Pleasant St. in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS



@BeraDunau
Monday, February 12, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — Commercial real estate development in Amherst and Northampton has continued at a strong pace over the last year. However, the same cannot be said for all communities in Hampshire County.

Christine Brestrup, Amherst’s planning director, noted a number of mixed residential and business developments being constructed or planned for the town.

“We have a lot of activity in Amherst right now,” she said.

One such project is the building being built at 1 East Pleasant St., set to open sometime this summer. Containing 135 residential units, it will also feature 7,000 square feet of commercial space.

Another such project is Beacon Communities. Recently approved for North Amherst, it will have 130 units, and 22,000 square feet of commercial space. Ground is set to be broken on the project this spring.

Meanwhile, a project that would feature both apartments and a restaurant space on University Drive is going through the approval process in the town.

“There’s a lot of interest in being in Amherst,” said Brestrup.

She also noted how zoning had been changed in Amherst to accommodate more development, including changing onsite parking and lot size requirements, and that the housing construction is making up for a long period when housing wasn’t being built in town.

Brestrup also noted that the university isn’t the only driver for new housing demand, as a number of retired people are also moving to Amherst.

Carolyn Misch, Northampton’s senior land use planner and its permits manager, said that the city has been experiencing steady, small-scale commercial investment over the past few years.

She noted the Lumber Yard Apartments project off of Pleasant Street, which will contain 55 units and 5,400 square feet of commercial space. Misch said that demolition work was being completed there, and that construction will begin soon.

Another mixed use housing project that is being developed in Northampton is the Live 155 building, also being built off of Pleasant Street, which will contain 70 units of residential space and 2,600 square feet of commercial space. Misch noted that the building is almost complete

Misch pointed to the old Ford dealership on Damon Road and Industrial Drive, which has been permitted for mixed office and retail development, as well as the planned expansion of Stiebel Eltron, although she acknowledged that much the company is located in Hatfield.

Misch also said that the city had also adjusted its zoning bylaws to allow for more infill development.

Terry Masterson, economic development director for Northampton, noted the recent sale of the shuttered Bill Willard Inc. concrete plant on 303 King St. to The Colvest Group; a real estate developer in Springfield that has already overseen significant development on King Street.

“It will be interesting to see what emerges,” he said, also noting that the King Street corridor doesn’t have many development vacancies.

Masterson also noted the construction of a 60,000 square foot office building in Northampton off of Atwood Drive, and a planned expansion of River Valley Co-op into Easthampton. Since assuming his position in 2013, he said that he has seen a “hugely positive” string of development projects.

“I hope it continues,” he said.

Asked about commercial real estate in his city, Mayor David Narkewicz noted the Colvest acquisition. Narkewicz also pointed to ServiceNet Inc.’s decision to relocate its headquarters to a new building at Village Hill, and said that public investment in Pleasant Street seems to be spurring private development there.

“I think we have a very positive business environment,” he said.

Narkewicz and Masterson also expressed hope for the development of some of Northampton’s unused churches.

Richard Harris, town planner for South Hadley, said that the community is primarily residential in nature.

“It’s very limited,” he said about commercial development there.

He did, however, point to the conversion of a former restaurant into a package store, as well as the conversion of another former restaurant into a landscape supply store.

Harris also noted that there are some indications that industrial development may come to South Hadley, although there is nothing firm at the moment.

“We’re optimistic,” he said.

Belchertown is another community in Hampshire County that hasn’t seen a commercial development boom.

“We’re not a hotbed for business in Belchertown, unfortunately,” said Paul Adzima, the town’s building inspector.

He said that Belchertown’s location hurts it in this respect, and that there isn’t a lot of business-zoned property there either.

Adzima pointed to development on the former Belchertown State School property as something that could help out economic development.

“The town acquired it (about) 20 years ago,” Adzima noted.

He pointed out the 85-unit assisted living facility that’s being constructed on the campus, and is set to open this May/June, as well as the rear entrance being proposed for the property by Mass Development.

“There’s definitely movement over there,” he said.

Elsewhere in town, Adzima said that a Pet Valu store is set to open. He also noted that the town had invested in streetscape improvements, and is designing an upgraded walking trail on the former state school property.

The hill town of Cummington has seen virtually no commercial development over the last year.

“We’re too hilly,” said planning board member Judi Bogart, when asked about the lack of commercial development. “We don’t have any space.”

She said that Cummington does not even have a business or industrial zone.

Indeed, Bogart said that a new farm was the only new moneymaking enterprise to open in Cummington during this time period.

Bogart, who runs a bed and breakfast, said that a lot of people in Cummington work outside of the community, and that tradespeople work in town as well. She also expressed concern about how new economic development could affect the town and its rural character.