Redevelopment of Clarke School campus approved
GORDON DANIELS Rogers Hall, left and Hubbard Hall Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHAMPTON — The Springfield company redeveloping most of the historic Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech campus won a key approval from the Planning Board Thursday, despite neighbor concerns about increased traffic.
The board signed off on Opal Real Estate Group’s site plan for the campus, green-lighting the mixed-use development that calls for commercial space on the west side of Round Hill Road and luxury apartments on the east side.
The site will carry a historic preservation restriction intended to keep the look of the 10 historic buildings on the 11-acre campus intact.
“This is historic preservation in every sense of the word, both inside and outside,” said Demetrios Panteleakis, a managing partner of Opal.
The development, to be called Historic Round Hill Summit, calls for four buildings on the west side of the campus — Gawith, Adams, Coolidge and Skinner — to house a mix of professional and medical office tenants.
Opal estimates that 80 percent of the space in the buildings will be leased to professional office tenants, with the remaining 20 percent going to medical or dental office users.
On the east campus, Opal will convert Hubbard and Rogers halls into 38 luxury apartment units. The number of apartments proposed was cut nearly in half from an earlier proposal.
Carolyn Misch, senior land use planner for the city, said Opal changed course over the summer after the city adopted new zoning that gives property owners greater flexibility to reuse educational and religious buildings. The city adopted the new zoning in an effort to preserve historic buildings.
Developers also realized the configuration of the buildings on the west side of the campus make it too difficult to convert into apartments, and they were limited by National Park Service regulations governing federal historic tax credits, for which Opal has applied.
Four other buildings on the west campus will remain as is, including the Galbraith Physical Education Center. Panteleakis said the gym facility will not take memberships and is intended for the use by people who live there.
The Planning Board approval comes despite concerns from campus neighbors who believe the development will drastically change their quality of life for the worse.
In a lengthy public hearing before the board, some 20 people expressed worries about the increased traffic, especially along narrow Round Hill Road.
“Our world is going to change, there’s no doubt about it,” said Hedy Rose, of 96 Round Hill Road.
Opal representatives acknowledged the concerns and said they have reached an agreement with the city to pay a one-time fee of $103,000 to fund traffic mitigation in the area.
Details of specific measures have yet to be ironed out and must be approved by the city. Misch said steps will likely include traffic calming on Round Hill Road and improved pedestrian and crosswalk signs and other safety improvements to nearby Elm and Prospect streets.
Traffic calming can include such measures as raised crosswalks and traffic humps. Officials may also consider removing on-street parking on Round Hill Road, though that idea must be vetted and approved by the City Council.
Traffic was the main focus of the three-hour hearing. An Opal traffic study examined the “worst-case” scenario of a fully built-out project with 100 percent of the space leased to tenants, rather than the 60 percent developers anticipate they’ll actually be able to lease and still follow federal historic preservation rules inside the buildings.
The study acknowledged that while traffic will go up as a result of the project, the increase is not so significant that it will overburden Round Hill Road.
“It is more traffic, but it’s not more than some of the parallel streets in that area,” Misch said.
Richard Greene, of 88 Round Hill Road, was one of many residents who urged the board to take steps to reduce the impact of what he said was a 350 percent increase in traffic.
“It’s a fact that my quality of life is going to go down,” Greene said.
Resident Sarah Metcalf of 93 Bancroft Road presented a list of recommendations to the board that she said had the backing of about 25 residents.
While they support the parking reduction — the board approved a separate request for 180 parking spaces instead of the required 200 at the site — and the historic preservation restriction, Metcalf said traffic needs to be addressed.
Many of the recommendations were discussed at the meeting, such as no-parking on Round Hill Road and traffic-calming. “Anything that can slow things down we would support,” she said.
Round Hill residents wondered why developers can’t create an alternative access to the campus at Bancroft and Henshaw, streets at both ends of the development.
“Why should Round Hill Road take the full brunt of all the traffic?” asked Jason Foster of 87 Round Hill Road. “It just doesn’t seem fair.”
Panteleakis said developers examined that idea and deemed it not feasible because of steep grades. Residents acknowledged the dangerousness of those intersections, with some calling on the city to address safety there in the winter.
Greene said in an email he was disappointed in the Planning Board for not discussing ideas from residents in more depth.
Metcalf also expressed a desire to see the pedestrian areas of the campus remain open for the public to use, something Panteleakis said would happen.
“We want it to be an open campus that’s in use by all the neighbors,” Panteleakis said, noting that it will not be fenced and the tennis courts will remain open.
Clark Schools, meanwhile, will keep a small portion of land that includes Bell Hall, where it will consolidate a majority of its programs and administrative offices.
The Planning Board approved the school’s site plan request Thursday to reduce and consolidate parking to a new parking lot next to Bell Hall. The 43-space lot will serve the campus needs, rather than having employees use other parking throughout the campus.