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Hampden man must develop new use for building

Date: 4/25/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — The owner of the former nursing home at 149-165 Mill St. said he would now work with the Maple High Six Corners Neighborhood Council in finding a new use of the building.

The City Council denied Michael Goldberg of Hampden an extension of the special permit he had for the building originally authorized its use as a lodging house specifically for foreign workers employed at Six Flags New England. He bought the structure 11 years ago, several years after it has ceased operations as a nursing home.

Resident after resident told the council about problems with the property that ranged from crime issues to trash to not being used for the purposes defined by the special permit.

No one from the neighborhood spoke in favor of the extension.

Goldberg explained to the council that Six Flags had broken the contract with him and subsequently the building was used for a program operated by Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe. When the funding for that program ended, Goldberg said he decided to operate a sober living facility and he admitted he did not have the training to do so.

Goldberg wanted the council to withdraw his application so he could meet with the neighborhood council, but that request was denied.

Stating that he was "naïve," Goldberg said, "I went about this wrong. I should have gone to the neighborhood council ... I try at every turn to help the neighborhood."

Goldberg's principal support on the council was Councilor Kateri Walsh who said she knew him personally and spoke of his character. She called him "an honorable gentlemen," but added she didn't know much about his business practices.

Councilor Melvin Edwards, the councilor for the neighborhood, said, "We know this gentlemen well. He has lied to us."

For the last three years, Goldberg has been operating a sober living residential business at the former 250 room nursing room. He said that he patterned it after what he saw the Sheriff's Department personnel did, but he said he does not have an on-site manager for the property nor does he have the same security arrangement the other program had. Currently he said he has 16 or 17 people living there.

Councilor Bud Williams told Goldberg there had to be "a safeguard in place" and he replied the residents police themselves. Goldberg added that for many of them this is their only housing alternative. He charges his tenants $300 a month.

Goldberg said that if he were denied the permit, he would be forced to walk away from the building. He said that he is not making money with the building.

Residents brought up the fact that home ownership in the neighborhood is at only 19 percent and it has the largest number of group homes in the city. The neighborhood is still struggling to rebuild after it was hit by the tornado on June 1, 2011, several also noted.

After a long line of residents spoke, Goldberg said, "Ah, wow, that's all I can say . I couldn't agree with you more what what they were saying. The neighborhood doesn't need any more group homes, but that's not what this is."

He stated that he would be happy to sit down with the neighborhood council to try to work out a use for the building that would be approved by the residents.

"I apologize to my neighbors and if I had known how they felt I would have done something," Goldberg said.

Still one member of the neighborhood council wasn't convinced. Jim Barlett said, "He's been to our meetings and he knows our concerns."

Edwards also expressed skepticism by saying "An alternative use sounds reasonable but this gentlemen has no creditability in my neighborhood."