Affordable housing plan for former Hadley Route 9 motel shot down

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 03-23-2023 7:38 PM

HADLEY — The planned conversion of a Route 9 hotel into affordable housing is being rejected by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

In a unanimous decision Monday, the three-member panel voted down a request by Valley Community Development to use the state’s Chapter 40B law to turn the EconoLodge at 329 Russell St. into 51 apartments for up to 63 low- and moderate-income individuals. The state law allows a developer to override certain aspects of town zoning, such as those in Hadley that generally prohibit multiple dwellings on one lot.

Chairman Andrew Bombardier cited feedback both for and against the project at the initial meeting earlier in March, and said a decision so consequential for the town should not be made by those not elected to their positions.

“We’re an appointed board,” Bombardier said. “We don’t have an ability to suss out the wants of the town.”

The meeting took less than an hour and no additional public comment occurred.

The decision appears to put an end to the plans to repurpose the former hotel, at least for now. The decision could be appealed, or the requested rezoning of the site could be brought to Town Meeting.

Valley CDC Executive Director Alexis Breiteneicher said it was unfortunate that the outcome appeared predetermined and no more input could be made.

“We are disappointed that the ZBA did not allow public comment last night and it seemed clear that they had made their decision prior to the meeting,” Breiteneicher said. “This development could make a real impact in the affordable housing shortage that our region, including Hadley, faces.”

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Breiteneicher also said Hadley would be positively affected with the project.

“Hadley’s own recently developed Housing Production Plan calls for the creation of at least 11 additional affordable housing units in the next year and identifies the greatest need as affordable housing for seniors and lower-income residents,” Breiteneicher said. “The EconoLodge redevelopment would address both those needs.”

The ZBA decision came despite support from a majority of the Select Board and the Planning Board, though the Finance Committee brought forward questions about the financial impacts on the town. A petition signed by 45 residents also encouraged the Zoning Board to turn down the application.

“I’m personally very disappointed,” said Select Board Chairwoman Jane Nevinsmith. Nevinsmith said the Zoning Board of Appeals decision will be discussed when the board next meets on April 5.

Valley CDC purchased the three-story, 29,230-square-foot hotel from Hampshire Hospitality Group, using $4.1M in funding from the Community Economic Development Assistance Corp. The hotel, constructed in 2003, was used last fall to house transfer students at the University of Massachusetts.

Laura Baker, Valley’s real estate development director, gave an overview of the benefits of the project, from meeting the goals of the town’s Housing Production Plan, adding to affordable housing using an already developed property, protecting open space elsewhere, and providing for workers employed at stores along Route 9.

The plans for development showed studio apartments of 257 square feet and one-bedroom units of 514 square feet. Thirty-three apartments would be reserved for extremely low-income people, 25 of them for those currently unhoused, and 17 apartments would be reserved or moderate and working-wage, or low-wage, workers.

Middle-tier rents would be set at $988 a month for efficiencies, including all utilities, such as heat, air conditioning, electricity and Wi-Fi, and $1,059 a month for one-bedrooms. The operating budget will be based on rents and subsidies.

At the previous meeting, the ZBA had cited safe harbor under the state’s inclusionary housing law. The provisions of that give any community with more than 10% of its housing stock deemed affordable the right to accept or decline affordable housing projects that may not comply with municipal zoning. Hadley is believed to have in excess of 12% affordable housing.

Felicity Hardee, the lawyer for Valley, said the Zoning Board would have the right to condition the permit for the project in the way it deemed fit, something it couldn’t do if the site were rezoned to allow apartments by right.

Jay Talerman, the town attorney with Mead, Talerman and Costa, will have 40 days to write up and issue the decision. Then, should Valley CDC wish to appeal, it could do so.

Members of the ZBA suggested that they would be amenable to reconsidering the project should Town Meeting adopt an overlay district where apartments are allowed. Otherwise, they said, this project appeared to be spot zoning.

ZBA member Jason Galvin said he didn’t want to override the will of residents and that townspeople should collectively decide whether they want the zoning changed in the commercial district.

Bombardier agreed. “I just think it should be decided by the town,” Bombardier said.

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