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Morse calls for 'comprehensive plan' for Lyman Terrace

Date: 9/12/2012

By Chris Maza

HOLYOKE — Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse reiterated his intentions to replace or renovate the Lyman Terrace housing project despite the fact that he has put a demolition review request on hold.

Morse told Reminder Publications that the temporary hold on the project does not reflect a change in his desire to see improvement to one of the city's major urban developments.

"I've said since before I took office that the status quo at Lyman Terrace is unacceptable. It's unacceptable for the tenants, it's unacceptable for the city, [and] it's unacceptable for the downtown. No matter what, something needs to be done with Lyman Terrace," he said.

However, he added, any action should not be at the detriment of the residents of Holyoke that call the property, which was built in 1939, home and a more complete plan was needed.

"We may very well be in a few months from now in a position where we can say that we're going to demolish the entire site or maybe there will be a partial demolition. Then we can go back to HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] and re-apply for those permissions, but we shouldn't be doing that until we have finished our comprehensive plan for Lyman Terrace and the surrounding neighborhood," he said

On Aug. 29, Morse asked that HUD suspend a request for demolition review by the Holyoke Housing Authority (HHA) because of concerns surrounding proposals received by contractors and the HHA's general plan, or lack thereof.

"It wasn't so much the proposals themselves that made me step back. It was the realization that there was no concrete plan both for the re-use of the site or for the tenants who currently live in the Lyman Terrace project," he said. "In my eyes, it looked like a rushed process. The Housing Authority had asked for approval to demolish the site without having a plan on what might go there first."

Morse said his primary concern was the lack of adequate strategy for relocating Lyman Terrace tenants into new housing that would allow them to remain in the city.

"I don't think I have done enough to respond to the concerns of the tenants that they would have a right of return for the development of Lyman Terrace and that there would be other code-compliant units in the city so that folks wouldn't be forced to move out of the city of Holyoke," he said. "I think there had to be more protection for the tenants before we moved forward with a plan on that site."

Morse also explained that two proposed plans the HHA received from developers in response to a request for proposals (RFP) that was released in recent months included far too much uncertainty.

"Both proposals lacked a substantial amount of money from the developers. They made a lot of assumptions about getting 9 percent tax credits from the state and relied on incentives from the city," he said. "We want someone who has the money to re-develop the project and both of the proposals relied on too many assumptions, too many grants and funding opportunities from the state and federal government."

Elements of timing in both proposals were also problematic, Morse added.

"They were also just too slow. They would have taken at least a decade to do anything with that site," he said.

Morse emphasized that he hoped to use the Churchill Homes project, which was developed thanks to a federal grant in the mid-1990s, as a model for new development at Lyman Terrace.

"It's a mixed use of home ownership, subsidized low-income and combination market-rate housing," he said. "It's important that the people in Lyman Terrace are proud of where they live and that the property management is taking care of the property."

Morse also announced on Aug. 29 a partnership between Massachusetts Development Finance Agency, the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, and the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development and the city had been struck. When speaking to Reminder Publications, he explained that the Massachusetts Housing Partnership would be committing resources to study the site and will complete an analysis of the potential re-use of the site, including whether to completely demolish the structures or maintain certain elements.

"Those conversations haven't been happening but they will now be happening because we are taking advantage of resources from the state to develop a plan," he said. "We will be signing a specific scope of services with Mass. Development in the next couple of weeks."

Morse said that if feasible, he would like to maintain aspects of the current structures, but would not be opposed to a complete demolition of the area.

"The structures of Lyman Terrace are nice. They are architecturally appealing. They have history," he said. "So obviously, we would like to preserve them if we can, but we have to create a good environment for the tenants, the local business community and other folks in the neighborhood."

A call to the HHA requesting comment was not returned as of press time.