Holyoke planners chart how best to permit motorcycle dealership/restaurant at church

  • Originally the First Congregational Church, with an 1893 cornerstone, the former Grace United Church of Christ building at 474 Pleasant Street in Holyoke is owned by the United Congregational Church of Holyoke. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/27/2022 5:02:18 PM

HOLYOKE — City planners continue to discuss the best way forward to ensure that an area businessman can buy a historic Highlands church on the corner of Pleasant and Hampden streets and turn it into a museum, restaurant and motorcycle dealership.

The City Council’s Ordinance Committee and the Planning Board held a joint meeting Tuesday evening, where among other agenda items they continued to discuss the proposal by Dennis Bolduc, the owner of the Westfield-based dealership Indian Motorcycle of Springfield. Bolduc has agreed to purchase the United Congregational Church of Holyoke’s brick and brownstone Romanesque Revival church, but first wants the parcel’s zoning changed from residential to business-highway.

Business-highway zoning allows for “very high intensity use,” Planning Board Chair Mimi Panitch explained, compared to other business zones such as business general and business limited.

For that reason, some city councilors and Planning Board members, despite supporting Bolduc’s proposal, are hesitant to change the zone, lest Bolduc’s project falls through, allowing another business to buy the property and not have the same commitment to preserving the 1894 church and operating a similar business.

Some have suggested that city officials could help Bolduc by allowing his project — which during several public meetings has received wide support from the church community, elected officials and city residents — by giving him a special permit.

Panitch suggested such an option: creating a special permit for, for example, those seeking to save historic buildings with uses not allowed under that building’s current zoning. That way, she said, if a desired project fell through, it wouldn’t then allow an undesirable project to move forward in the same location.

“We would not be opening up that corner up to something like a fast-food drive-thru,” Panitch said.

Planning Board members and city councilors were interested whether changing the parcel to business-highway zoning would be considered a “spot zone,” which is where a particular parcel is singled out and given special treatment with a zone change that doesn’t apply to similar neighboring parcels.

Currently, there is a business-highway parcel down the street from the church, as well as other business-zoned parcels adjacent.

Planning Board member Kate Kruckmeyer noted that neither business-limited or business-general zoning would be considered a “spot zone,” and that it would be simple to grant Bolduc a special permit under those zones so that he could operate his dealership. Kruckmeyer suggested that somebody could file an order to extend the city’s special permit for vehicle sales to those zones in case that becomes necessary.

Bolduc would need a special permit from the City Council anyway in order to have a vehicle dealership.

However, the application currently before the officials is to change the parcel to business-highway zoning. Other city councilors said they were ready to vote yes to changing the parcel to business highway. Ward 4 Councilor and At-large Councilor Jose Maldonado Velez both said that they didn’t think business highway would be a spot zone, and that they were ready to vote in favor.

“I don’t think anyone is against this project at all,” Maldonado Velez said, echoing the thoughts of others. “We just want to make sure we’re doing it right.”

The Planning Board and Ordinance Committee ultimately closed their public hearing on the issue, and will be discussing the issue at their next meeting after getting more information about spot zoning from the city’s attorneys.

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify that Planning Board member Kate Kruckmeyer suggested that a city councilor could could file an order to extend the city’s special permit for vehicle sales to other business zones.

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