Seventh public hearing held on Lynch School project in Holyoke

  • John J. Lynch School, 1575 Northampton Street, Holyoke. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/30/2020 10:22:37 PM

HOLYOKE — The Planning Board is set to vote Aug. 11 on a site plan and special permit for a controversial development that would see the vacant John J. Lynch School demolished and replaced with a shopping center and bank.

The project’s developer, The Colvest Group, was back in front of the Planning Board to discuss the Lynch School development for a marathon seventh public hearing on Tuesday. The Planning Board initially rejected Colvest’s site plan and special permit application in December amid concerns over traffic, safety and neighborhood character. But Colvest subsequently sued, and last month the parties agreed to remand the decision back to the Planning Board.

Colvest had presented a revised site plan to the Planning Board on July 14, but that public hearing was continued in part due to the fact that Colvest submitted changes to the project shortly before that hearing.

The Lynch School is located at 1575 Northampton St. The City Council approved the $250,000 sale of the property — pending necessary permits — in May 2018, and the City Council and Planning Board have signed off on a zoning change for the property, making it a highway business zone.

Colvest’s proposed development of the property features a drive-through bank, for which Colvest received a special permit, and a second building meant to be a shopping center, for which Colvest needs another special permit from the Planning Board.

Tuesday’s four-hour hearing was likely the last after board members voted 4-1 to close the hearing, with Mimi Panitch casting the lone vote against closing. And like previous hearings on the project, Tuesday’s meeting drew plenty of public comment, both in support and opposition of the project. 

Colvest began the meeting by reviewing changes it made to the site plan, including additional pedestrian access, revised traffic control measures, both inside the project and exiting and entering, moved dumpsters to hide them, architectural improvements, and more green space, landscaping and trees.

Colvest’s attorney, John Driscoll, said that the developer feels the project fits in well with the character of the neighborhood, and that Colvest has met every design criteria and request the city has made.

“We are hoping that this Planning Board agrees with that assessment and allows this development, which the city of Holyoke really desperately needs, especially in these times to create tax revenue that we estimate to be anywhere from $100,000 to $150,000,” he said.

However, some board members expressed further concerns about the project.

Kate Kruckemeyer, for example, said the non-functional windows and doors facing outward from the project’s buildings remain a sticking point for her. Mimi Panitch said the phased nature of the development — that the second building may only be built when, and if, tenants are secured — ought to be considered, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on brick-and-mortar businesses.

Kruckemeyer and Panitch were two of the three members of the five-person Planning Board who previously voted against Colvest’s site plan in December. Gustavo Acosta, the third “no” vote in December, is no longer on the Planning Board. Site plan reviews require a four-vote supermajority for approval.

Many city residents weighed in on the project. Those opposed to the project said it didn’t fit into the neighborhood, that it would worsen traffic and pedestrian safety issues in the area, and that the city doesn’t need another strip mall.

Plenty of supporters of the project also spoke, including several city councilors. They said traffic safety won’t be an issue, that the project will bring in much-needed tax revenue and that it will give an economic “kickstart” to the neighborhood.

After public comment, much of the discussion revolved around what Colvest would do on the site of the second building if tenants are not found. Panitch wanted to keep the public hearing open in order to receive an adequate landscaping plan from Colvest in case the building is not built, whereas others thought landscaping plans should be added as a condition to the approvals.

Ultimately, the public hearing was closed, setting up a vote on the project’s site plan and special permit on Aug. 11.

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

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