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Officials refuse to slow economic development

Date: 7/14/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM -- Town officials refuse to slow development ventures just because of the nation's poor economy.

Over 22,000 square feet of new commercial and industrial space has been approved for construction since January, according to Deborah Dachos, director of Planning and Community Development, and this December's economic development study will identify additional sites.

"Agawam certainly has not been insulated from the financial crisis that has rocked the nation," Mayor Susan Dawson said. "Regrettably, some Agawam businesses have closed their doors and others have been forced to downsize. Still others have seized the opportunity to take advantage of lower interest rates, supply costs and project costs and have moved forward with expansion plans."

She added that Easthampton Savings Bank purchased town-owned land on Main Street last month with plans to build a 3,600 square foot branch.

"Obviously it's more difficult [in this economy to entice developers] ... there is a hesitancy from the business community before [committing to] any new growth," Dachos said. "We have some vacant space that we'd like to fill but it's very tough at this time to do that. We're being pro-active [with the economic development study] because it's not only Agawam facing the challenges of the current economy."

Dachos explained that once the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) completes its 18-month economic development study this December, additional parcels of unused or underutilized land will be identified for developers.

Jessica Allan, senior planner at the PVPC, said five "priority areas" will be noted in the study including Walnut Street Extension. She explained that the study will also include a preliminary development strategy, site analysis and traffic impact analysis.

Allan said results from the community survey, specifically calling for retail growth, are also under consideration.

"We're currently meeting with several developers that want to help us to bring more retail to Agawam and in doing so we make it so our own money stays in our community," Dawson said. "It's a vision for the future to help our community maintain control over what development goes into our town."

Allan noted that a second visioning study seeking additional community input will take place this fall, prior to the completion of the economic development study.