Hadley board backs affordable housing plans

Staff Writer
Published: 8/4/2022 8:56:55 PM
Modified: 8/4/2022 8:53:48 PM

HADLEY — A letter supporting Valley Community Development’s interest in converting the EconoLodge hotel on Route 9 into a 51-unit affordable housing complex will be issued by the Select Board.

Following extensive discussion with Laura Baker, real estate development director for Valley CDC, the board Wednesday voted 3-1, with member Amy Parsons voting against and member Joyce Chunglo abstaining, to have a support letter go to the state’s Department of Housing & Community Development’s Division of Housing Development and Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program.

“Hadley has limited affordable rental housing for low-wage workers. The proposed redevelopment can help address this need,” the letter in its draft form reads. “The proposed apartments will be affordable to workers who are essential to Hadley’s employers within walking distance to many of these businesses.”

Chairwoman Jane Nevinsmith and members Molly Keegan and Randy Izer voted in favor of the letter, pending edits that will be made by Planning Board Clerk William Dwyer, who serves on the town’s Housing and Economic Development Committee.

Baker explained that such a letter of support is necessary for the project, in which the 63-room hotel at 329 Russell St. would be converted into a mix of studio and one-bedroom apartments using a mix of state and federal funding.

“They really strongly prefer us to come in with municipal support,” Baker said.

The Select Board’s decision came after members raised questions about the project and its potential impact on the town’s tax base.

Izer said he would like to know if taking the parcel off the business rolls would affect property taxes for all residents, and also mean a loss of revenue from hotel room taxes.

“Does that decrease its tax value and therefore we lose out on the motel tax and the real estate tax, a certain percent?” Izer asked.

Baker said taxes would still be collected, but it is unknown if they will be higher or lower for Hadley. She also suggested that lodging taxes would possibly remain steady, by simply being diverted to other local hotels where occupancy rates would increase.

“Is it a net loss? It’s not a black-and-white question,” Baker said.

Assessor Dan Zdonek agreed that it will be difficult to tell what the real estate tax impact will be from the project, but he sees a likely decline in the motel tax.

Chunglo said her worry is that about half the rooms would be reserved for homeless individuals, and that could mean bringing drug issues and mental health problems to the property.

Baker, though, said anyone who would become a tenant has background and criminal offender registry checks, and that Valley CDC doesn’t rent to anyone on the sex offender registry list. She pointed to the proximity of one of its properties to the Bridge Street School in Northampton, where no issues have developed.

“We want the safety of all the tenants,” Baker said, adding that the tenant screening is supplemented by appropriate levels of management and staffing for services on site.

Keegan said the letter of support makes sense, as there is no guarantee that Hampshire Hosptality Group, which owns the hotel, will keep it as lodging. Hampshire Hospitality already has plans to demolish the nearby Howard Johnson motel to make way for a medical office building.

Keegan said it may also be more expensive in the future for the town if it doesn’t support bolstering the inventory of affordable housing now. Valley CDC is planning to file a so-called friendly Chapter 40B project with the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals for the project, using the state law that mandates towns have at least 10% of their housing stock be in the state’s subsidized affordable housing inventory.

Dwyer informed the board last month that Hadley is at 12.59% affordable housing, with, 277 affordable units in a town of about 2,200 dwelling units.

“Where we stand at the moment is a good place,” Dwyer said.

But Dwyer said Hadley could face risks in the future, in part because the 25 units at Mountain View Apartments could come off the subsidized housing inventory in March 2023, and the 80 units at Vesta Apartments near the Amherst town line are set to lose their affordability in 2032.

Fire Chief Michael Spanknebel said he would like to see Valley CDC help Hadley bolster its public safety resources, pointing out that emergency management was stressed last winter when dozens of senior citizens and several families were displaced from Vesta.

“It would be nice to see if there is any support on that side,” Spanknebel said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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