Easthampton planners approve safety, rescue business building for former Oxbow Sports site


Staff Writer

Published: 04-10-2023 5:07 PM

EASTHAMPTON — A Dover man is proposing to bring new life to a city property that hasn’t seen any activity in roughly two decades.

Blake Underhill, owner of Easthampton Holdings LLC, purchased 2 East St. in November with the hope of expanding his business Industrial Safety & Rescue into western Massachusetts.

This past week, the Planning Board approved — with conditions — Underhill’s special permit request to construct a new barn-like building on the East Street site that will house an office and garage for a second site of his Industrial Safety & Rescue business.

Established in 2012, the Westwood-based company provides standby rescue teams, or off-duty firefighters or EMTs, as well as training and preventive services to industries including construction, health care, education, and manufacturing. Two-person teams are placed on job sites to keep an eye on the safety of work crews and are able to perform rescues or provide first aid if needed.

In recent years, the company’s customer base has grown to include the University of Massachusetts, Amherst College, Coca-Cola, Smithfield Foods and Solenis.

“One of the issues we have is that coming from eastern Mass. to western Mass. we have to charge to travel because we don’t have assets out here,” Underhill told the Planning Board during his presentation. “It’s now a busy enough area for us. We want to park an asset out here, develop teams locally, and that way we won’t have to charge travel. It’s more cost-effective and hopefully continues our growth.”

He also noted that because his company’s teams are not on-call, they do not have sirens or flashing lights, and do not come and go in the same manner that an emergency department would.

The East Street building would house two vans, equipment storage and potential future office space, so that a manager could one day be at the Easthampton site.

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“As we develop the teams internally, we would be using it as training space as well,” said Underhill, adding that classes would likely be capped at four to five people.

Typically, techs will meet at the building, park their personal vehicles and take the van to their job site, he said.

The existing concrete masonry building on the East Street site was built around 1950 and was originally intended to be a gas station, he said. Tank remediation did follow.

Previous reports by the Gazette show that the building housed Oxbow Sports Inc., which was founded in 1969 by George O. Figgie. He maintained the business until his retirement in 1985, when Joe Sokoloski took over. A 2000 Gazette report states that Mary Powers and Joseph Leperle had planned to buy the convenience store and sports shop from Sokoloski, but it was unclear if that sale ever went through.

Reports about the business and property taper off from that point on.

“The building is in partial collapse,” Underhill said. “I don’t think I’m going to be surprising anybody by saying I think it’s a bit of an eyesore.”

Through a survey about two weeks ago, Underhill said some of the roofing materials and adhesive in the paneling inside the building were positive for asbestos.

As plans include demolishing the current building on site, Underhill said that they will be mindful of the asbestos-containing material and will remediate appropriately.

The new barn building will be constructed to match other barns on the road with a traditional red building and a black roof.

Planning Board members inquired about the potential traffic the site would produce and Underhill assured them it will include a few cars pulling up at around 6 a.m., staff members switching vehicles to take them to the job site and a return to the Easthampton site at around 7 p.m. to pick up their personal vehicles. The site is across the street from where 1,920-square-foot drive-thru Dunkin has been approved to be constructed.

“This (property) is really intended as a secure place to put assets that we can utilize throughout this area,” he said.

Because the building is over 50 years old, the Historical Commission will have to review plans to determine whether there is any historical significance to the structure before Underhill follows through with plans to demolish it. However, Assistant City Planner Eli Bloch said it was safe to say that the commissioners would not have an issue with demolishing the building.

The Zoning Board of Appeals will have to review the lot because it is non-conforming, which means that the structure is inherently non-conforming.

“So to alter, extend or change a non-conforming, nonresidential structure you need a special permit. So they’ll need to find that the change isn’t nonconforming, and that it’s not substantially more detrimental to the previous,” Bloch said.

Ultimately, the board approved the special permit under the conditions that curb cuts are less than 20 feet, stormwater is managed on site, the business’ trailer must be stored inside, and the Zoning Board of Appeals approves plans for the site as well.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.]]>