Holyoke residents weigh in on shopping center plans

  • The former John J. Lynch School building in Holyoke on Northampton Street, as shown in a screenshot of Google Maps. GOOGLE MAPS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/26/2019 11:49:02 PM

HOLYOKE — The Planning Board held a marathon public hearing on Tuesday evening on a proposal put forth to demolish the former John J. Lynch School to build two commercial buildings.

The 3½-hour meeting was to review changes that The Colvest Group of Springfield made to its plans for the site in response to an independent traffic study commissioned by the city. Colvest has agreed to purchase the property from the city for $250,000, pending city review, to build a shopping center.

Some residents of the neighborhood have expressed concerns over the impact the project will have on the area, including on traffic. The Planning Board had requested that a separate, independent traffic study be completed, in addition to Colvest’s own traffic study.

“Colvest has been very open to listening to what the other engineer has to say,” Planning Board Chairwoman Eileen Regan said at Tuesday’s hearing.

Changes to the plan include the elimination of a driveway onto Anniversary Road and of eight parking spaces, with seven more spaces kept green unless they are needed in the future. 

Paul Furgal of the transportation engineering firm McMahon Associates — the firm behind the independent traffic study — said his firm’s conclusions were largely in line with Colvest’s study, though he did detail some suggested changes that were reflected in the new plans Colvest presented Tuesday.

The changes to the previous plan include a narrowing of an entrance from Easthampton Road so that cars will have to slow down to enter the property, decreasing risk to pedestrians. And the updated plan included more traffic signs to, for example, discourage cars from exiting the wrong way onto Easthampton Road.

Members of the board and audience went deep into the details of the respective traffic studies, discussing, among other topics, whether the studies adequately considered the dangers of traffic merging onto Easthampton Road ahead of the proposed entrance to the property, what crash data says about the area, how local and state crash crash data might differ and what percentage of traffic is projected to enter the parking lot from Easthampton Road and Northampton Street.

The discussion was then opened to members of the public, who shared a wide range of opinions on the project, from a desire to see more business come to Holyoke to frustration that “another strip mall” will be built on the site.

Diane Thurston, a resident of the neighborhood, said she took issue with the fact that traffic studies projected only 25 percent of cars will be entering the parking lot from Easthampton Road. She contrasted that statement with Peter Lapointe, a Colvest project manager, who said traffic entering from Interstate 91 was the only way to make the property attractive to possible commercial tenants.

“I think it’s extremely dangerous,” she said of adding an entrance driveway to Easthampton Road. “I just think this is a frightening prospect.”

Eileen Bresnahan, another resident, said she just wanted to thank a company for “finally bringing business into Holyoke.

“Let’s hope we have a problem with traffic,” she said. “You need traffic to get business.”

Because the project would include demolishing Lynch School, which closed in 2009, many of the public comments touched on the city’s recent vote to oppose a debt-exclusion override to build two new middle schools.

Kevin Jourdain, the former City Council president and leader of the campaign against the middle schools project, railed against Colvest’s proposal. He suggested that the purchase-and-sale agreement should be canceled, or that the city should retake the property by eminent domain, in order to possibly use the Lynch building as a school again.

“This is what we have heard from the people of this community,” Jourdain said, referring to the recent vote. He suggested that voters had rejected the building of two new middle schools, and that renovating Lynch should be considered instead.

Jourdain was followed by At-Large City Councilor Mike Sullivan, who said Jourdain was incorrect. Voters only rejected a debt-exclusion override to pay for building the new schools, Sullivan said. He also noted that an independent 2016 audit of the district’s infrastructure rated Lynch worst among all of the district’s buildings.

“It will never be a school again, we all know that,” At-Large City Councilor Joe McGiverin said, noting that the development will bring in needed tax revenue to the city, particularly from Interstate 91.

Audience members began to file out of the room as board member Kate Kruckemeyer asked questions about some concerns she had, including how visible the dumpsters were on the property.

After around 270 minutes, the board closed the public hearing. A vote on the site plan, as well as a special permit to build two buildings on the property, will be on the Planning Board’s agenda at its next meeting on Dec .10.

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

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