City planners approve Lynch School redevelopment plans

  • The John J. Lynch School at 1575 Northampton St. in Holyoke. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/25/2020 3:50:10 PM

HOLYOKE — After seven public hearings, a lawsuit and plenty of public argument, a developer is moving forward with plans to demolish the vacant John H. Lynch School and replace it with a shopping center and bank.

On Aug. 11, the city’s Planning Board approved a site plan and special permit for the development, allowing the developer, The Colvest Group, to proceed with finalizing the purchase of the property. The Planning Board had initially rejected Colvest’s site plan in December. However, Colvest sued, and in June the parties agreed to remand the decision back to the Planning Board. After two more public hearings, the Planning Board voted 4-0 last Tuesday to approve Colvest’s revised plans.

The decision brings a several-year process closer to completion after the City Council approved the $250,000 sale of the property in May 2018, pending necessary permits. The City Council and Planning Board also signed off on a zoning change for the property, making it a highway business zone.

However, as the Planning Board considered Colvest’s site plan and its request for a special permit to build a second building on the property, some board members raised concerns about traffic, safety and how the project would fit into the neighborhood. When the Planning Board rejected Colvest’s site plan in December, three board members voted against it: current members Mimi Panitch and Kate Kruckemeyer, and former member Gustavo Acosta.

Panitch and Kruckemeyer had continued to raise concerns about the project after Colvest sued and the decision was remanded back to the Planning Board. And when the board convened to vote on Colvest’s revised plan on Aug. 11, Panitch announced that she would be recusing herself from the process. She said her decision had nothing to do with her fellow board members, whom she respects.

“I have significant discomfort with the way this process has played out, and I just don’t have any confidence that whatever the result is will have the kind of transparency and integrity that the public can reasonably expect of us,” Panitch said.

Kruckemeyer ultimately voted to approve the site plan, though she requested that language be included that all windows on the building be real. The Planning Board also included conditions about what Colvest would do if demolition of the Lynch school is delayed, and the landscaping the developer would put on the site if construbtion is delayed.

The site plan approval lasts for three years. Colvest has received a special permit to have a drive-through bank on the site. The second special permit approved on Aug. 12 allows Colvest to build a second building, which will be used as a shopping center.

In an email to the Gazette, Marcos Marrero, Holyoke’s director of planning and economic development, wrote that the city is now working with Colvest on final details.

“We’re working with Colvest to finalize defining a few easements for existing utility infrastructure before closing, but expect closing on the sale this year, with demolition of the structure to happen likely early in 2021 and construction thereafter,” Marrero wrote.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Colvest President Frank Colaccino said that he is glad to be finished with the Planning Board process.

“Now that we’ve crossed over the Planning Board, we can start marketing the property,” he said. So far, though, he said there are no tenants to announce.

During the Planning Board process, some raised concerns about the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on brick-and-mortar retail. But Colaccino said he isn’t worried about COVID-19 affecting Colvest’s ability to secure tenants.

“There’s a lot of uses, even like the small grocery stores, that are still expanding,” he said. “Those uses are still out there. But what I have seen is the stores that are in, say, a big mall, those are much more affected than small neighborhood shops like ours.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

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