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Ellie Cook Walking the Beat: Village Hill

Walking the beat

By Ellie Cook

Pillars of the community

As I neared the top of Village Hill a wweek ago, another evergreen fell. Clearing continues for new construction at the corner of Village Hill Road and Route 66 - the manifestation of long-reported plans.

Standing by as Peter Rayton took down trees was John Averill of Wright Builders, who will be in charge of the project. He referred questions to Jonathan Wright, the builder who is also a principal of project developer New Harmony Properties.

Wright said last weekend that he’s pleased to be building the first large high-performance building under the city’s “stretch code,” adopted in 2010. He called it an “exemplary workplace,” energy efficient and offering healthy fresh air (double-glazed windows that actually open).

Sustainability - “that’s what I’m interested in,” he said. “I’m not going to build it if it’s not going to be a healthy, high-performance building.”

“Nobody asked us to make this the only LEED-certified neighborhood in New England,” he said, referring to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design classification of the homes his company has built on Village Hill.

Co-developer Opal Real Estate Group will own and manage the property, with Opal co-founder and CEO Demetrios Panteleakis promising a high level of care. Opal is also involved in the Clarke Schools campus development.

The new building - Greek Revival in style - will comprise a combination of retail and office space, including the enlarged headquarters of Fazzi Associates, the home care and hospice consulting firm that recently announced plans to move there.

According to Panteleakis, a restaurant would be a perfect tenant, with plenty of parking and an outdoor dining area available.

“Our desire is to have a restaurant,” he said Monday. “We’ve had numerous conversations with various branded concepts.” He mentioned that Panera, the sandwich chain, would be a good model. But no one yet has stepped up.

Asked whether an independent restaurant is a possibility, he said Opal is “willing to hear anything.” Restaurateurs take notice.

Developers plan to eliminate the 1930s-era bus stop shelter - glass brick and all - but retain the pillars that bracket it.

Built in the 1870s, the pillars were a carriage-width gateway for the former State Hospital. Panteleakis, who grew up in Northampton, says he’s proud of the preservation of the gateway. The new building is to be called The Gatehouse.

Though dormitories have been rehabbed and the 1932 men’s dorm and coach house are awaiting interest, few artifacts remain from the early days of the hospital. Keeping the pillars is a nod to the old.

A new bus shelter is to be constructed closer to the street.

Perhaps it would be wise to encourage bus use by putting bus stops on both sides of the street, as car traffic from the burgeoning development and L3 KEO (formerly Kollmorgen Electro-Optical) can only increase. A PVTA bus goes by often, and residents wait for it in front of Kollmorgen.

Panteleakis also said that, addressing neighbors’ concerns, fewer trees will be cut down than originally planned for this project.

As to further plans, another lot to its east may be developed at a later date, he said. Across the street, a lot in front of Kollmorgen is still for sale, as is one on Earle Street.

Pecoy Builders has poured the foundation for the first bespoke house in the Westside development at Village Hill. The model home there is nearing completion.

The North dorm is being gutted for demolition.

Assisted living is next up. The plans for The Grantham Group’s project have been approved. The site, to be called Christopher Heights, like the company’s other facilities, is just north of the Haskell building, on the south end of Moser Street.

The spot seems kind of small for 83 units and a 29-car parking lot. Of course, the Haskell building has a gigantic parking lot.

Please don’t cut down the evergreens.

Halloween

First came the cheerfully gruesome display at Faces; now all the downtown stores have their Halloween on.

Besides decking out in cobwebs, bats and skeletons, many are offering trick-or-treating for youngsters Halloween afternoon and early evening.

If you were downtown a couple of weekends ago, you might have encountered avant-garde Halloween: what appeared to be a zombie flash mob, including a bride and groom. The makeup and facial expressions were scary. The epicenter appeared to be the sidewalk outside Fitzwilly’s, so maybe it was a zombie wedding reception.

At Hubbard House, at Smith, 11 jack-o'-lanterns sit on the porch. The carvings are artful, mostly Halloween themed - a cat sitting on a pumpkin, for example. But one clever carver went for the Obama logo (in orange and white, not red, white and blue). Today it looked as though a squirrel had gotten at it.

The squirrels are really hungry this fall - it could be a cold winter, they seem to think. They’re ravaging porch pumpkins all over town.

On Stoddard Street four well-gnawed jack-o’-lanterns stood on a front stoop, surrounding what appeared to be a classic Halloween black cat cutout - until the cutout twitched an ear. There’s a cat that knows a good pose.

Ellie Cook, a retired Gazette editor who wrote the monthly city column Walking the Beat, is a regular walker in the city. She continues her observations on GazetteNet.

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