Editorial: A big week for ‘up-and-coming’ Easthampton

  • Homar Gomez and Margaret Conniff pictured on Election Night in 2017. A Welcoming Community Trust Ordinance the Easthampton city councilors introduced in February was approved by the council Wednesday night. gazette file photo

Published: 7/12/2019 6:00:18 PM
Modified: 7/12/2019 6:00:06 PM

We’ve heard Easthampton is an “up-and-coming city” for some time now, and two big developments this week further cemented that viewpoint.

First, on Wednesday, the City Council capped off two years of hearty discussion by unanimously adopting an ordinance that declares Easthampton a “welcoming community,” joining other communities across the region and nation to make a point of welcoming all residents regardless of immigration status.

Then a day later, some exciting news broke on the business front when River Valley Co-op, the successful Northampton-based shopper-owned grocery store, announced that it had raised more than $5 million toward development of its long-planned Easthampton store on busy Route 10.

These initiatives come on the heels of several other developments in this city of 16,000. Among those are plans to construct a long-overdue $109 million pre-kindergarten-through-8th grade school; a $45 million redevelopment of a 310,000-square-foot mill complex at 1 Ferry St. into 152 housing units and office space; adoption of a Community Relations Committee tasked with creating a greater sense of unity in the city; and creation of a strategic plan for downtown based on input from residents and business owners.

Easthampton should be especially proud of its Welcoming Community Trust Ordinance. In passing the measure on a 7-0 vote (two councilors were absent), councilors heard not one voice of dissension during public comment that drew about 50 people to Wednesday’s meeting. That’s significant given that a similar proposal was met with resistance when it first came up two years ago.

Introduced in February by councilors Margaret “Peg” Conniff and Homar Gomez, the new ordinance prohibits city officials from arbitrarily reviewing or inquiring about the immigration status of any member of the public unless required by law.

It also requires officials to refuse to arrest a person based on a detainer warrant issued by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, provide an ICE office with information pertaining to those detained or act in place of ICE.

The ordinance, as Gomez said earlier this year, is to make Easthampton welcoming for everyone. Part of this mission is to ensure that people, no matter where they come from or their immigration status, are comfortable calling the police without fear.

No federal laws are changed with the local ordinance, but officials are clearly sending a message that its employees in government and on the police force won’t do the work of federal authorities for them.

This is sound policy that in the long run will make Easthampton safer as immigrants, we hope, will feel safe in reporting crimes or cooperating in criminal investigations without fear of potential deportation. Without such safeguards in place, studies have shown that immigrants are far less likely to report crimes. A University of Illinois at Chicago survey found that 70 percent of undocumented immigrants reported they are less likely to contact law enforcement authorities if they were victims of a crime.

A nonprofit group called Welcoming America defines “Welcoming Cities” as those that are guided by the principles of inclusion and creating communities that prosper because everyone feels welcome, including immigrants and refugees. Easthampton’s adoption of the welcoming ordinance this week lays the groundwork to work toward that inspiring goal.

Meanwhile, River Valley Co-op’s plan to build a $17 million, 22,000-square-foot store at 228 Northampton St. received a huge boost from more than 300 co-op owners who pitched in $5.1 million in loans.

“It’s getting very real,” General Manager Rochelle Prunty told Gazette reporter Michael Connors Thursday, noting that the capital campaign will show other lenders community interest in the project.

Along with these loans, the co-op is looking to secure investment from local banks and economic development money through federal new market tax credits. If all goes as planned, construction could begin this fall and take a year to complete. When it opens, the store will hire 75 new employees, a total that could climb to 100 within three to five years. That will put River Valley among Easthampton’s largest employers.

The success of the Northampton store — sales were at $30 million in its 11th year, beating an estimate of $12 million in 10 years by its 10th year — shows the demand is there, especially for shoppers who live in the Hamptons — Northampton, Easthampton, Southampton and Westhampton — and beyond.

By all accounts, Easthampton is living up to its “up-and-coming” tag, though maybe it’s already arrived.

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

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Northampton, MA 01061


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