Northampton planners OK condos despite concerns 

  • Debbie Martin of Hinckley Street addresses the Planning Board during a public hearing on Thursday. —Amanda Drane

Published: 9/9/2016 3:50:38 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Despite dozens of residents expressing concerns about a condominium development proposed in the city’s Bay State neighborhood, the Planning Board approved a special permit for the project following a heated public hearing on Thursday.

Jonathan Wright, senior advisor of Wright Builders in Northampton and owner of New Harmony Properties, is behind “Hinckley Trace,” a zero-energy condo development that according to current plans would bring eight residential units to 121 Hinckley St.

While neighbors praised Wright’s work in sustainable construction and design, they asked the board to consider the precedent set by allowing such density in a neighborhood plagued by stormwater drainage issues.

Neighbors said they worry the development will add unwanted light, noise, flooding, and traffic to the street.

Some, like abutting neighbor Laura Reinhart, of 22 Nonotuck St., spoke to deeper issues.

“You’re setting up our neighborhood for a land grab,” she said, referencing how developers may now be able to tear down a house and put up eight units in its place. “You’re quickly going to edge out people like myself, because we won’t be able to afford these homes that you’re putting up.”

Reinhart, a sculptor, said while the development may be sustainable, it eats up green space and wildlife corridors.

Wright and his team told the panel that they heard neighbors’ concerns in a meeting earlier this summer and have adjusted their site plan accordingly.

By right, the city’s zoning allows Wright to develop the land for these purposes. He said he could have developed the lot with eight units and even more impermeable space, but noted that would have been antithetical to his sustainability targets and would be less aesthetically pleasing.

Some also spoke to how the street is virtually a one-lane street as it is, and to add more parking on the street would be bothersome and possibly dangerous.

“Jonathan Wright does a wonderful job, but he doesn’t live in my house,” said Joyce Snyder, of 130 Hinckley St. ”I’ve been here 18 years. I accept that it’s going to change but I’d like it to change as little as possible.”

Debin Bruce, chairman of the board, said it’s “painful” to make decisions like these.

The Department of Public Works, said Bruce, signed off on the site plan because Wright and his team were able to show them the project decreases stormwater runoff.

“I’m very concerned about what will happen if these plans on paper don’t work in reality,” said Reinhart, adding that her backyard already has a propensity for wetness.

Board member Dan Felten, who cast the sole dissenting vote, wasn’t buying the logic that the project’s rain gardens would improve the drainage issue. He said the board needs to be considering the impacts on neighbors.

“Zoning doesn’t account for a situation like this,” he said. “There’s a problem with our zoning.”

Bruce said she appreciated the net-zero aspects of the planned development, and board members discussed how change isn’t always easy.  

“A city is a living, breathing thing,” said John Lutz, board vice-chairman, shortly before voting in favor of the project’s special permit and site plan approval.

The project is scheduled to break ground this fall.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at



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