A public comment period is open now–until March 30–for those interested in responding to proposed changes made to the master plan for the development on Northampton’s Hospital Hill. The public comment period follows the filing of a Notice of Project Change with the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs by Hospital Hill Development, LLC on March 1. EOEEA Secretary Ian Bowles is scheduled to rule by April 9 on whether the proposed changes require further environmental study.
The formal filing of the notice comes nearly a year after the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) overseeing the project approved a request from developers to add over a hundred housing units to the original plan, diminishing the square footage allotted for office, commercial and community space. While the total site acreage remains the same (124 acres), the acres of land altered from current woodlands and fields expands from 44.8 acres in the original plan to 62 acres.
The original master plan was reviewed and approved by the state in 2003 under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA). Subsequent alterations to the plan need to be evaluated to determine whether they warrant further MEPA review. When the original plans for a mixed-use, village-like approach for the site’s southern campus were changed to accommodate the development of Kollmorgen Electro-Optical’s new manufacturing facility, MEPA analysts determined the changes weren’t sufficient to require a re-evaluation of the original approval.
Because the recent Notice of Project Change was filed so long after the CAC approved the changes in March, 2009, Northampton’s economic development director, Teri Anderson, issued a statement in an effort to clear up any possible confusion: “I just wanted to clarify that this [Notice of Project Change] is in followup to the master plan change that the CAC approved last year for the north campus. There are no new changes proposed. [Planning Director] Wayne [Feiden] is preparing a letter to MEPA from Mayor [Clare] Higgins explaining the process that the developer, CAC, and City followed to amend the master plan.”
While Feiden’s letter, signed by the mayor, flatly notes that the CAC, after holding public meetings, “approved the project proponent’s requests,” it fails to describe what was a largely contentious process in which residents abutting the site and CAC members from neighborhoods near the development repeatedly voiced concerns about the proposal to increase the number of housing units on Hospital Hill.
According to Lisa Capone, a spokesperson for Secretary Bowles, the public can view the Notice of Project Change and submit comments through the state’s MEPA Office website at http://www.env.state.ma.us/mepa/emonitor.aspx.