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City ponders apartments or school at Longhill

Date: 6/9/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- Some people in Forest Park have supported the redevelopment of the former condo project at Longhill Gardens as low-income housing. Others had advocated for the property to be used as the site of a new Forest Park Middle School.

Which project is the Sarno Administration backing? For the time being, both or neither, depending upon one's perspective.

City Solicitor Edward Pikula explained to Reminder Publications last week the city is pursuing both options for the property. He described what the city is doing as a "methodical process."

The Boston office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) confirmed last week that federal HOME funds for the low-income housing project have been released to both the state and to the city.

The state funds were released on April 8, while the city funds were designated on May 6.

On May 26, HUD rejected the objections to the release of funds that had been made by Springfield Forward, a resident's group that has opposed the low-income apartment project.

Pikula contended though that the release of $550,000 to the city does not commit the Sarno Administration to the apartment development. He said the release of funds has created a series of activities at the city level further evaluating the apartment project.

He said the state has allowed the city to alter the plans for the project. Mayor Domenic Sarno had requested that 40 percent of the apartment units be "market rate," and Pikula said the state approved a level of 20 percent.

He added that in the past funds that have not been spent for a particular project have been "re-programmed."

Pikula said that while Winn Development, which owns the property, continues with its plans, the city is close to completing a study about the location for the new Forest Park Middle School.

If the city chooses the Longhill site for the school, the city will have to "consider how to pay for [the property,]" he said.