Plan to move affordable housing out of Northampton’s Emerson Way on the rocks

  • The entrance to Emerson Way housing development off Burts Pit Road in Northampton, seen in 2014.  GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/Kevin Gutting

Staff Writer
Published: 9/15/2018 12:08:57 AM

NORTHAMPTON – A controversial plan to relocate six affordable housing units from the Emerson Way development to a low-income Habitat for Humanity development may be dead.

The plan, which was approved with conditions by the Planning Board at its Aug. 9 meeting, would have removed the affordable housing restriction on three of Emerson Way’s lots, each of which previously were set to hold a two-family duplex. These six units would then be moved to the planned Burts Bog development, where there are already three planned Habitat for Humanity units. Instead of duplexes, Emerson Way LLC and Habitat for Humanity would partner, with Habitat building six affordable single-family houses and Emerson Way purchasing the land and paying for design work.

At the meeting, the Planning Board expressed discomfort with taking affordable units out of a mixed-income area, but ended up approving the plan because it would give an opportunity for the affordable units to be built. Since it was approved 15-years ago, none of the eight affordable units that are supposed to be built in Emerson Way have been built, although one affordable duplex is currently planned to be built there. Emerson Way LLC was not the project’s original developer.

Richard Madowitz, Emerson Way’s current developer, passionately argued for the plan at the Planning Board meeting, arguing that approval would allow the plan to be presented to Habitat for Humanity.

However, Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity’s board subsequently rejected the plan.

“The board did decide not to proceed further,” said Megan McDonough, executive director of Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity.

She said that there were a number of opinions about the project on the board, but ultimately the deciding factor was resource-based.

“There’s only so much we can do,” she said.

She did say, however, that Habitat is still committed to the construction of the three affordable units in Burts Bog.

The project has garnered opposition from a number of community members, some of whom spoke against it before the Planning Board and the City Council. The prominent complaint was taking affordable units out of what is supposed to be a mixed development.

Five community members also filed an appeal to Superior Court against the Planning Board’s decision, lead by computer programmer Barry Roth, whose property is located near Burts Bog.

Roth consulted with several attorneys when drafting the appeal, although he is not an attorney himself.

The complaint centers on three main points: That the residents near the proposed Burts Bog development were not given notice about the proposal to move the units there, that the cards mailed to abutters on Emerson Way were too vague and did not specify where the units would be move to, and that moving the units out of the development violated the city’s master plan and its encouragement of mixed income housing.

The city moved to dismiss the complaint because it does not name Emerson Way LLC as a defendant, a decision that Roth said was made because he had been informed by the city that Emerson Way LLC is no longer pursuing the project. However, Roth said that the appeal is still being pursued because he didn’t want the Planning Board’s actions to set a precedent.

“I don’t like the idea of it being on the books,” Roth said.

Roth said that the goal of the litigants is for the Planning Board to hold another hearing.

“It’s cheaper for everybody,” he said.

Northampton Director of Planning and Sustainability Wayne Feiden said that Emerson Way LLC is currently still obligated to construct the affordable units in the Emerson Way development.

“As of today, the units have to be done at Emerson Way,” he said.

Feiden said that if the affordable units were to be moved from Emerson Way to another location besides the Burts Bog development, it would have to get Planning Board approval. He also said that the current status of the Planning Board’s approval would hinge on Emerson Way LLC defending the appeal.

As for his future plans regarding the Emerson Way units, Madowitz did not reveal them

“At the present time Emerson Way is evaluating its options,” said Madowitz, who offered no further on-the-record comment.

Bera Dunau can be reached at

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