Hadley Planning Board backs motel conversion to affordable housing with conditions

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 03-16-2023 7:25 PM

HADLEY — The Planning Board is supporting conversion of a Route 9 hotel into affordable housing for up to 63 individuals, though its recommendation asks that preference be given to both current residents and senior citizens, should the project move forward.

The Planning Board voted unanimously Tuesday to back the Valley Community Development project that would change the EconoLodge hotel at 329 Russell St. into 50 supportive affordable apartments for low- and moderate-income individuals, with an additional apartment set aside for an on-site manager.

While a decision on the project, filed under the state’s Chapter 40B affordable housing law that allows developers to skirt certain municipal zoning regulations, will be made by the three-member Zoning Board of Appeals, the Planning Board’s endorsement follows previous support from the Hadley Select Board.

Planning Board Chairman James Maksimoski told Laura Baker, real estate development director for Valley CDC, that the board’s support is based on requirements it would like to see the agency follow. “It needs some additional conditions,” Maksimoski said.

Those conditions include that the property remain affordable in perpetuity, rather than becoming market rate at some point; that preference be given to local residents and seniors, rather than having applicants be selected randomly as part of a lottery; and that all recordkeeping be under Valley CDC’s purview.

The board’s recommendation will go to the Zoning Board of Appeals, which continues its hearing on March 20.

Planning Board Clerk William Dwyer said because the town is above the 10% baseline of housing stock being affordable, a threshold set by the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, Hadley is likely in safe harbor from Chapter 40B projects. It thus could turn down the project as violating town zoning, specifically rules prohibiting multiple residential units on commercial parcels.

But the hotel, having already gone through the site plan review process, is a simple enough way to stay ahead of the curve on affordable housing, Dwyer said, with the rules potentially changing under a new governor.

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Baker said the “friendly” Chapter 40B filing means that Valley CDC wants to work with the town. “I always see it as a negotiated process with the community,” Baker said.

Baker said the proposal is consistent with the town’s housing production plan to offer more housing options.

Planning Board member Mark Dunn, who is also on the Committee for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, said that committee is not supporting giving housing application preference to local residents, since the project would be a way to bring more racial and ethnic diversity to town. But Dunn supported the local preference condition to have more affordable housing in Hadley.

Fellow board member Michael Sarsynski said a troubling aspect of the project is that some have suggested the new apartments would be set aside for people employed at the nearby malls and shopping plazas.

“They need workers, so we’re going to fill this place up with people who work low-income jobs?” Sarsynski said. “It’s almost insulting.”

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