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Northampton planners approve hotel project, car dealerships

Tearing down of Kollmorgen on King Street in Northampton.

Tearing down of Kollmorgen on King Street in Northampton. Purchase photo reprints »

The board approved a major site plan for development of a pair of side-by-side car dealerships at the former Kollmorgen Electro-Optical site on King Street and a special permit for a new Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott hotel next to the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s headquarters on Conz Street.

The board also approved a major site plan by Realtor Patrick Goggins to tear down an existing Bank of America bank branch at 79 King St. and construct a new bank branch and apartment or condo building at the site.

When complete in early 2014, the new car dealerships proposed by Cosenzi Automotive Group for the former Kollmorgen site at 347 King St. will continue to revitalize the city’s largest commercial strip.

“King Street is so up and coming,” said co-owner Carla Cosenzi, shortly after her project won praise from the board.

Not only is the street becoming a destination spot for car shoppers thanks to current and prospective car dealerships along the street, but other businesses are enlivening the area and the bike trail is becoming a huge draw, she said.

Plans call for Cosenzi to demolish the 90,000-square-foot Kollmorgen building and construct auto dealerships next to each other for Northampton Volkswagen and Country Hyundai.

Northampton Volkswagen will move from cramped space it is renting on Damon Road, while Country Hyundai is relocating to the city from Greenfield, Cosenzi said.

The city recently granted a demolition permit for the Kollmorgen building. Kimberly Masiuk, of Associated Builders in South Hadley, said crews have been conducting abatement activities inside the building for some time and will continue to do so for another 10 weeks, at which point the building will come down. The new dealerships will “mirror each other” in look, with Volkswagen getting an 18,400-square-foot structure on the north end of the site and Hyundai a 17,800-square-foot building on the south.

Masiuk said the buildings will include showrooms, service drop-off areas in the front and service bays in the back. Both buildings will have plenty of glass along the front to showcase vehicles.

The site will include a combined 500 parking spaces, and will share a single driveway off King Street. Customers heading south on King Street will be instructed to use a newly installed traffic light in front of Colvest’s redevelopment of the old Hill & Dale Mall site, and access the dealerships through Colvest’s property, Masiuk said. Customers will not be allowed to make a left turn when exiting the building.

Some board members expressed concerns that people won’t follow the signs, causing traffic problems and potentially accidents. Carolyn Misch, the city’s senior planner, said city officials envision that a median will be constructed in the middle of King Street, perhaps as part of reconstruction of nearby Damon Road. That would alleviate the problem of vehicles turning left to get to the dealerships and instead force them to use the light, she said.

Despite the “funky” traffic flow, board Chairman Mark Sullivan said he was thrilled with the plan, as were other members of the board.

“The actual design and layout looks exactly like a graphic from the new zoning,” he said.

While acknowledging the large number of parking spaces, Masiuk said there will be less pavement than under the site’s previous use. Plans also call for significant landscaping throughout the site, including a pair of buffers separating the buildings and parking lot from King Street and its accompanying sidewalk. This is the type of pedestrian-friendly design the city had hoped to attract with its new zoning rules for King Street.

Hotel look a concern

The board was not as thrilled with plans presented by Hotel Northampton owner Mansour Ghalibaf for the new Fairfield hotel on Conz Street, with several members saying the project does little to enhance a critical gateway to the city.

“I just wish more of an effort would have been made to create a building that creates a nice appeal as an entryway” to the city, said member Stephen Gilson.

The board voiced particular displeasure with the architecture of one side of the hotel, which will face Conz Street. They also criticized the tree planting proposed along Conz as too scant, noting that it does not match the city’s zoning.

Members approved the project but attached several conditions they hope will improve the look of the development. Among the conditions are beefed-up landscaping, especially tree plantings along Conz Street; construction of a raised crosswalk from the side or front of the building and across a driveway to an existing crosswalk along Conz; and inclusion of storage for 12 bikes under the front canopy.

The four-floor, 55,000-square-foot hotel will include a 109-space parking lot on a 2.3-acre site between the Gazette and a Quality Inn & Suites hotel. The hotel would face north in the direction of the newspaper’s parking lot, with one side of the building facing Conz Street.

Plans call for the hotel to use the newspaper’s existing delivery and service driveway for vehicle access. The two businesses would share the driveway.

Shane McGuire, manager of the Quality Inn, voiced several concerns at the public hearing, including the short distance proposed between the driveway that circles around the new structure and the back of the Quality Inn. He said first-floor guests at the Quality Inn will likely be bothered by noise from the driveway.

McGuire also had traffic concerns over the busy Conz-Pleasant intersection.

“The corridor along Pleasant and Conz is an absolute nightmare,” McGuire said.

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