Redevelopment of Village Barn Shops in Hadley may hinge on adoption of ‘smart growth’ zoning

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 07-06-2023 12:39 PM

HADLEY — A proposed project to redevelop a portion of the Village Barn Shops on Route 9 with apartments for people age 55 and over may hinge on the town adopting a smart-growth zoning and housing production district.

While the Housing and Economic Development Committee at a meeting two weeks ago informed Shardool Parmar, owner of the Pioneer Valley Hotel Group, that he should continue refining development plans for a three-story, 60,000-square-foot project that would have 56 apartments for seniors, with a quarter of the homes for those earning at or below 80% of the area median income, members cautioned that Town Meeting adopting a Chapter 40R smart growth zoning and housing production act next spring would likely be necessary.

Planning Board Clerk William Dwyer, who serves on the advisory committee, said that Chapter 40R would create options for development in a town where zoning typically limits projects to one dwelling per lot, with certain exceptions, such as with accessory apartments and in the senior living overlay district.

“Under 40R, we could basically create a district that would accommodate (something) larger, an apartment house or townhouses, with a requirement that a portion of them be affordable,” Dwyer said.

According to state law, Chapter 40R “encourages communities to create dense residential or mixed-use smart growth zoning districts, including a high percentage of affordable housing units, to be located near transit stations, in areas of concentrated development such as existing city and town centers, and in other highly suitable locations.”

“It’s promising on several levels,” Dwyer added.

Under the current plans for 41 Russell St., Parmar said the project would have 1,000-square-foot apartments, each with two bedrooms, at the northeast corner of the site.

“One of the best options for us to get the density and activity we need is over 55 housing, which would be apartments,” Parmar said. “It’s a good and easy fit for us.”

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Besides town zoning not allowing multiple units on a property, the project would also be too large for the zoning in the historic overlay district, which limits projects to a 12,500-square-foot footprint. The site’s Hampton Inn is currently the biggest structure that can be built in the district, which stretches along the Route 9 corridor from the Coolidge Bridge east to where the Norwottuck Rail Trail crosses, near Mill Valley Road.

Parmar said he would likely seek Community Preservation Act money to subsidize the construction of the 14 affordable apartments at $50,000 each. That means a request of $700,000.

Both the Hampton Inn and the Manny’s Appliances building would remain long term, but Parmar would also like to demolish the remaining buildings, most of which date to the 1960s and 1970s, making them both old and hard to market.

“They’re just very difficult and not just very marketable to what the needs are today for most tenants and really any other uses,” Parmar said.

His ideal circumstance would be to build next spring and then follow that with more housing projects in the future.

Select Board member Molly Keegan, who also serves on the committee, said repurposing pavement and an already developed site is sensible, especially one on bus routes that make Northampton and South Hadley easy to get to.

While Hadley currently meets the state’s minimum 10% threshold for the subsidized housing inventory, meaning that it is protected from being forced to accept affordable housing projects, Keegan said its percentage is dropping.

Dwyer said the Planning Board has been exploring Chapter 40R as an alternative after the Zoning Board of Appeals decision denying the Chapter 40B project for Valley Community Development to convert the EconoLodge hotel into affordable housing.

State regulations create an incentive to adopt Chapter 40R, and could cure the problem of the rejected 40B permit, Dwyer said.

“If we’re going to do it we’re going to do it on a larger scale, and not just create an ad hoc response to the EconoLodge situation,” Dwyer said.

“This is not a quick fix,” Dwyer said, noting that next spring would be as early as possible to get the new zoning in place.

Reyelt told the Planning Board that under Chapter 40R, minimum residential densities have to be allowed by right through site plan approval, though design standards can be imposed. Statewide, 48 communities have adopted such districts that allow different densities and housing types.

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