On March 1, Hospital Hill Development, LLC, submitted a “Notice of Project Change” to the state Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, asking OEEA Secretary Ian Bowles to find that the recent changes made to the Village Hill development plans outlined in the report are “insignificant” and do not require further review of the impact on the surrounding environment.
The plan will add more than a hundred new housing units to what is currently open space and woodlands near the Mill River. Should Bowles deem the changes “insignificant,” developers will be allowed to bypass a thorough state review of the changes and eliminate the opportunity for public comment on the finalized plan.
MassDevelopment, in partnership with Springfield-based Community Builders, has been working over the last decade to turn the site of the former Northampton State Hospital into a development that includes housing, offices, retail, and light industry. A local Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC) is charged with overseeing the project.
The CAC’s original master plan was reviewed by the OEEA for its environmental impact in 2003. Since then, the plan has changed three times. In 2007, many of the historical buildings were demolished, though the original plan envisioned saving as many as possible. In 2008, high-tech optics manufacturer Kollmorgen was approved to take over the bulk of the southern campus—as opposed to a “village” of smaller buildings that had been planned. In both instances, it was decided that the changes did not warrant a new environment impact study. Last year, after a series of lengthy meetings, some involving contentious public input, the CAC voted to permit the builders to add 120 housing units to the site (from 207 originally planned to 327 in the revised plan). Under the current plan proposed by developers and approved by the CAC, the additional housing units will occupy space that was left empty or lightly impacted in the original plan.
Instead of a mixed-use village as originally proposed, the new plan reduces the amount of square feet for retail, office and child care substantially; the space designated for light industrial use is nearly doubled.
And though Hospital Hill Development’s Notice of Project Change estimates the total number of parking spaces on the site will be increased from 910 to 1,209, it states that the number of daily vehicle trips will decline from 8,616 to 6,417.
The Notice erroneously states that on March 4, 2009, the CAC “voted unanimously to approve the revised Master Plan.” In fact, Harriet Diamond, one of the two CAC members who live near the development, voted against the revisions. Also, four members of the CAC failed to attend the March 4 meeting and did not cast votes.
Bowles is scheduled to submit his finding on the significance of the changes and the necessity for further environmental review by March 10. If he finds that further review is required, the public will have a chance to comment on the proposed changes by mail to the state OEEA, between March 10 and March 30.