Hadley Planning Board: Proposed ‘smart-growth’ district is too large

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 09-14-2023 11:13 AM

HADLEY — A map showing an expansive smart-growth zoning and housing production district along Route 9 and North and South Maple streets should be scaled back before residents vote on the concept at Town Meeting, according to town planners.

At a Planning Board meeting Tuesday, members informed Ken Comia, deputy director of land use and development for the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, that the 40R new smart-growth district shown on preliminary maps associated with adopting the state’s Chapter 40R act needs to be more confined to win support from voters. The maps were developed in consultation with William Reyelt, principal planner for the Smart Growth Programs at the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities.

Chapter 40R is a state program that “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.”

Planning Board member Michael Sarsynski said his concern is that he doesn’t want 40R to be a “Trojan horse” for Hadley to allow apartment complexes. Current zoning generally prohibits multiple residential dwellings on a property.

“We don’t want to open up ourselves to the possibility of Hadley’s population increasing 25% in three or four years because of this,” Sarsynski said.

Comia explained that Reyelt looked Hadley holistically, using the Hampshire Mall and other properties to create the boundaries. But it could be too large.

“The state is taking a drastic approach here,” Sarsynski said.

Planning Board member Joseph Zgrodnik said there needs to be a more reasonable approach and that it’s a “quantum leap” to assume Hadley residents are interested in having apartment complexes dot the landscape.

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But planners are interested in the possibility of rezoning the former EconoLodge hotel on Route 9, which Valley Community Development would like to convert into housing for up to 63 low- and moderate-income individuals. There is also a possibility of using Chapter 40R at the Village Barn Shops, where the Pioneer Valley Hotel Group is exploring a 55-and-over apartment complex.

At the Hampshire Mall, too, there has been discussion about whether making that a mixed-use property may confront the challenges of retail, and there is also a 232-unit multi-family apartment project proposed on 45 acres between Rocky Hill Road and North Maple Street that could be suitable for Chapter 40R.

Planning Board member Mark Dunn said an overlay district may be too much, suggesting the town might prefer spot zoning, instead. With more than 10% of the housing stock considered affordable in town, planners are not obligated to pursue Chapter 40R zoning, with and the town protected from Chapter 40B projects in which developers can get around local zoning protections.

Comia agreed that what was drawn up by the state office may go beyond what Hadley is looking for.

“I think the map is quite expansive with the boundary. At the same time, there is no housing development there,” Comia said.

Adopting Chapter 40R requires support from a simple majority at Town Meeting, rather than two-thirds as is customary for zoning changes.

Comia said for the application to go forward, though, the town will need to agree to conditions set by the state.

“This is a voluntary approach by the town to examine opportunities for affordable housing and get a smart-growth payment by the state that goes into your coffers,” Comia said.

Some developments would be by right, some would require approval of site plan review, and decisions could be based on planning documents and the town’s master plan.

Still, Planning Board Chairman James Maksimoski said using Chapter 40R would mean giving up much of the board’s oversight and control.

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