EconoLodge in Hadley eyed for affordable housing complex

  • EconoLodge hotel at 329 Russell St. in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/2/2022 4:07:11 PM

HADLEY — A Route 9 hotel could be converted into a 51-room affordable housing complex according to concepts presented to municipal boards this week.

At the Housing and Economic Development Committee Monday, and at a joint meeting of the Planning Board and the Affordable Housing Trust Fund Tuesday, Laura Baker, real estate development director for Valley Community Development, unveiled plans that would convert the EconoLodge hotel at 329 Russell St. into permanent rental housing.

Baker said the nonprofit organization has an agreement to acquire the 63-room hotel from J. Curtis Shumway, president of Hampshire Hospitality Group. Still, she cautioned, any development should be seen as being in the early planning stages.

“It’s what we call ‘site control,’ in our world,” Baker said of the possibility of buying the property, located in front of the Mountain Farms Mall.

Under the plans being considered, there would be 50 apartments, a mix of efficiencies and one-bedrooms, some of which will be subsidized. One apartment would be set aside for an on-site manager.

Baker also anticipates that while some of the apartments would be for people who have recently been homeless, many would be for those who work at the numerous stores, restaurants and service-based businesses that line the commercial corridor. Baker said these workers are among people unable to live in the region due to the pressures on the housing market.

Both Shumway, who has previously expressed concerns about the viability of the hospitality industry in bringing forward concepts for replacing the nearby Howard Johnson hotel with an office building, and state officials, who are pressing developers to pursue housing projects, are eager to see this housing project move forward, Baker said.

In fact, Baker said the state, in convincing nonprofits to act rapidly to increase housing, sees conversion of hotels as a good way to do so, observing that even in pre-pandemic times the occupancy rates were often insufficient.

The three-story EconoLodge opened in May 2003 at the site of the former Country Belle motel, a 1960s-era hotel that was demolished the previous fall.

After Baker explained that she wanted to see if such a project would be tolerated or accepted, and then become part of the subsidized housing inventory for the town, the Housing and Economic Development Committee voted unanimously to endorse the project.

More concerns came from some members of the Planning Board. Joseph Zgrodnik asked why Baker thinks affordable housing is needed when Hadley already exceeds the 10% threshold required by the state, while member Michael Sarsynski said there will be worry about the property becoming an undergraduate college student apartment.

Baker said the demand for affordable housing is real and that everyone will be screened to make sure college students aren’t able to rent. “We’re not allowed to rent to the kind of students you’re talking about,” Baker said.

Planning Board Chairman James Maksimoski said the project would need a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals to allow residential units at the industrially zoned site.

“On the surface, I think what you’re proposing is very nice, I like it,” Maksimoski said.

Then, permitting could come either through the state’s chapter 40A provisions, where it would be permitted by the building commissioner as a site with an educational component. That would include setting aside space for access to technology and some remote learning, perhaps offered by area community colleges.

If permitted under the state’s chapter 40B, though, that would require a more extensive hearing schedule, Baker said.

Other town decisions could include a request for Community Preservation Act money.

Meantime, Lynn Gray, general manager of Hampshire Mall, told the Housing and Economic Development Committee that the challenges of keeping space occupied in malls could lead management to pursue residential development on the site.

Gray said other Pyramid properties have successfully added housing components, including the 282-unit Alexans Kingston where luxury apartments replaced a Sears store, and similar projects are being pursued in New York, included in Glens Falls and Buffalo.

Doing these projects would allow the mall to stay ahead of a changing market.

But Hadley zoning might make this more challenging. Unlike the conversion of the EconoLodge hotel, the mall is in a commercial zone that would require rezoning by Town Meeting. Commercial sites can only have one dwelling unit, based on town zoning.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at
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