South Hadley Planning Board backs mixed-use zoning change

South Hadley Town Hall

South Hadley Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO


Staff Writer

Published: 03-11-2024 4:28 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — The Planning Board has endorsed a zoning amendment that will head to Town Meeting in May permitting mixed-use multifamily residential development in a district that currently doesn’t allow it. 

Himanshu Patel, owner of Liquor Town, submitted the petition for the amendment in hopes of adding apartments at the back of his property. Patel’s business is located in the Business A-1 District on Granby Road. 

Residents who spoke at a March 4 public hearing expressed disappointment that the amendment did not require any affordable housing given the Planning Board’s efforts in the last few years to get South Hadley’s affordable housing inventory to the state-mandated 10% of its housing stock. The board voted 4-1 to recommend the amendment for approval at Town Meeting despite public criticism.

“Things take a long long time and we’ve been trying to expand housing in town for a quite a while, and if we have someone who’s prepared to put money to begin to make some of this possible, I think we should take advantage of it,” Planning Board Vice-Chair Nate Therien said. 

Richard Harris, who represented Patel during the March 4 public hearing, outlined the requirements in the amendment for  mixed-use residential housing in Business A-1, including a minimum parcel size of 2.5 acres where 50% of the property remains open space, density limits are set at 12 units per acre and must be located on a major street like Route 33, Route 202, Route 47 or Route 103. In addition, a commercial business must already exist on a parcel before apartments get added.

Harris said he drafted the conditions with the goal of changing Business A-1 into what he described as a “transitionary zone” between Residence C, the densest housing district in town, and Business A zones. Harris said he was surprised to learn that of the 88 parcels in the Business A-1 District, only six properties along Granby Road qualify for mixed-use multifamily residential housing under the conditions he outlined. 

“Excluding the other properties wasn’t intentional. I actually developed the criteria first and then looked at the properties to see who qualified,” Harris said. “I actually was a bit surprised that it came out the way it did.”

The amendment, according to Harris, would help establish the “missing middle” housing, residential housing styles in between single-family houses and mid-rise apartment buildings, that the Housing Production Plan encourages. 

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“(My client) is not going to be seeking a tax credit or any type of subsidy (for affordable housing). He doesn’t want to build the ones that we have to have a $500,000 income to afford,” Harris said. “He wants to build those that people at his store, that people work at Town Hall can afford.” 

However, many residents who spoke during the public comment period pointed out that the entire purpose of the Housing Production Plan is to get South Hadley’s affordable housing inventory to state-mandated levels, which the amendment fails to do. 

“Nothing in the proposed amendment would help create the 312 deed restricted affordable housing units that Massachusetts law requires of South Hadley,” Linda Sacks said, “Nor would the amendment guarantee housing that has been within the reach of moderate income households, yet it is those very two categories that the Housing Production Plan has identified as necessary for South Hadley.” 

Sacks, as well as town residents Linda Young and MP Chevy Cevrette, said they support the Route 202/33 corridor study currently in process rather than the proposed amendment. The Planning Board will soon hire a consultant to work with an advisory committee to draft zoning change recommendations, to design criteria recommendations and to implement the study. In their opinion, the zoning amendment jumps the gun.

“I’ve always said if the process is good, the results would be good, but here I think the process is flawed because we have another process in process, and that’s the 202/33 corridor study,” Cevrette said.

In response to the public’s concerns, Harris said the Planning Board can introduce an inclusionary affordable housing bylaw that applies to all residential developments in town at a later date. The amendment calls for a nine-month moratorium on Patel’s project so the Planning Board can develop a design review process and define design criteria. Harris said the moratorium protects the town from design changes, but also to prevent the board from stalling the project until the 202/33 corridor study is complete. 

Planning Board member Joanna Brown, however, was not convinced. A strong supporter of the current corridor study process, Brown said the draft language indicates the applicant can bypass the design criteria and continue with his application if the board has not completed a design review process by March 2025.

“They essentially become grandfathered in to do much more of what they want rather than being held to new design criteria,” she said.

While some Planning Board members were concerned about adding a time-sensitive zoning change, others saw no reason to vote against the amendment just because another zoning change process is in the works. Brad Hutchison said all residents have the right to apply for zoning amendments, and he cannot judge this proposal based on another process with an unknown outcome.

“I’ve been on the board long enough to see enough of our work product, well-intentioned or not, go down at Town Meeting,” he said. “The argument that we shouldn’t consider this on its merits because of some other process that we don’t know how it’s going to turn out, I’m not one to subscribe to that argument.”

The zoning amendment will be on the warrant at the annual Town Meeting in May. 

Emilee Klein can be reached at