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New Mini-Mall proposed by City

By Erin O'Connor

Staff Writer

WESTFIELD " I would like to go on the record that I am against this project for a number of reasons," said Jason Russell, city councilor for Ward Six, the location of proposed mini-mall.

Members of the Massachusetts Environmental Protection Agency (MEPA) came to the City Hall on June 19 to discuss with the National Reality and Development Corporation (NRDC) their plans with co-proponent the City of Westfield for erecting a mini-mall for big box retailers located at the east of Barnes Airport.

The project involves the construction of an approximately 812,990 s.f. retail and commercial space and an access road, including a bridge over the Massachusetts Turnpike.

The land for the proposed mini-mall currently houses a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) designated Zone II for Westfield public water supply wells, the aquifer, an underground layer of earth that yields water and 217 acres of primarily undeveloped wetlands that encompasses Pond Brook (a perennial stream) bisecting the property.

The property is surrounded by Barnes Airport and the State Police Barracks and access to the site is currently provided by an 18-foot wide road referred to as Sergeant T.M. Dion Way (formerly Owen District Road).

"There are two primary components to this project said, NRDC spokesman "One is the development of the property itself, 50% to be utilized and second is for providing access to site for customers and patrons to property."

"The best alternative," he said, "is to provide a route to the property coming off of the Mass. Pike and through the intersection then following a left and to do this with constructing a new bridge over the Mass Pike."

Developers said the mini-mall would house big box retailers such as WalMart, Home Depot, Target, Applebees, Chili's and some local retailers that would like to be involved in the project.

"We are trying to revitalize our downtown area and the economic impact of this project would pull money out of downtown,"said Russell.

MEPA had questions about the project in regards to where waste would be drained into; and since its location is next to an airport if this would further aggravate air quality; how it would effect traffic flow; if there are any rare species and archeological resources in the area.

Briony Angus, representative for MEPA said, "At this point, no archeological survey has been conducted."

Angus said the property is surrounded by archeological land but the National Heritage has okayed the project as far as rare species are concerned as long as there is a buffer provided for the species.

In 2004 the National Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) had reviewed the area for the Owen District Road Development proposal and said,

"Portions of this project site are located within Priority Habitat drawn for the Upland Sandpiper (bartramia longicuada), Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum) and Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus), the Grasshopper Sparrow and Vesper Sparrows are state listed as 'Threatened' species and the Upland Sandpiper is listed as 'Endangered'. The NHESP has determined that no review of this project under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act is required, provided that all proposed buildings are located greater than 300 feet away from managed grasslands," said Dr. Scott Melvin of the NHESP.

"We are only 10% into the design of the project," said NRDC spokesman.

MEPA stated that this meeting would be their only public meeting and any further meetings would be presented through the City.

Deadline for comments on the project was June 27, the notification of the commenting period was to last 20 days long and began June 7 through a notification in the Environmental Monitor.

On July 7 a report of MEPA's findings is available through the library.

Two previous attempts had been made in developing the site. One was by a distribution facility and the other was for a hotel warehouse facility. Both previous requests had failed to go forward for reasons that were not disclosed.

"The city did not think these were uses for the site that were interesting to the city," said one developer in offering an explanation.

Angus asked if there was a spill during construction were there any measures present to prevent contamination to the City's wells

Spokespersons for the Reality Group said this was something that would be looked into. .

Russell spoke about how the project was in the middle between the Holyoke Mall and the Lee outlets and was therefore not needed.

"East Main Street has lots of room available for Big Box realtors," said Russell, "and as a scientists who has a bachelor's degree in chemistry this is like robbing Peter to pay Paul," he said in referring to the location of the mini-mall.

"Eventually this shopping mall will become an empty parking lot," said Russell.

Members of the community raised their concerns about the mini- mall proposal,

"There are four school systems in this area. Are you going to put an air quality monitoring system in the schools? Kids should be considered in this project," said Jean Carpenter, of the area.

Angus said she is not sure what would happen because this is a unique situation due to the impact of airport emissions combined with the new emissions, drinking water and schools.

One member of the audience asked why Westfield was not able to vote on an issue like this when members of the city of Agawam could. The response was that there are only so many items that could go to a vote annually.

"We live by the turnpike and the traffic is a nightmare now," said Louise Moran of the area, "If they want to put this in then I won't even get out of my driveway."

"Besides providing shopping opportunities also through this infrastructure it will reduce traffic problems, jobs and taxes," said Jerry Bermingham of National Reality and Development Corporation out of New York.

The mini-mall, in a low end estimate is estimated at creating 26,500 new daily trips and requiring a minimum of 4700 parking spaces.

Mayer Sullivan's Reaction

"I think this is an opportunity that we as a community really need to look into. We can't really get these big name realtors into downtown area due to zoning rights and we don't have another place to put them. We are always weighing the positives in this which are upwards of $3,000,000 in new tax money and more jobs.

As far as traffic concerns there cannot be an entrance off of East Mountain Road, that has been established and there is proposal of building a bridge over the Turnpike.

As far as environmental concerns for the Aquifer we must see what best practices would be employed. It is still very early in the Project."

Following permit approvals then the estimated commencement date for construction is September 2007 and completion date September 2008.