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Elm Street Development plan awaiting approval

Date: 7/26/2013

By Carley Dangona

WESTFIELD – The Elm Street Urban Renewal Plan (URP) is on hold, pending approval from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).

The plan was sent to the DHCD after the City Council voted in favor of the submission in May. Representatives from the Westfield Business Improvement District, Westfield on Weekends Inc. and the Westfield Redevelopment Authority spoke in favor of the plan at that meeting.

The conceptual design of the URP includes a six-story, 130,000 square-foot commercial building; a 1,800 square-foot, one-story Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) shelter; and a 500-space parking garage. The commercial building would have available retail space on the main floor while subsequent floors would offer office space. The top floor could possibly offer residential space.

In an interview with Reminder Publications last week, Jeff Daley, Westfield city advancement officer, said, “The DHCD has not completed its review yet. I have spoken to the department and it is moving through the review process – I wouldn’t expect it taking much longer. The next step is to wait until the DHCD provides approval. Then we begin the implementation of it, basically the pre-development work.”

According to the master plan report for the project, the estimated cost based upon the HDR Architecture Inc. design is estimated from $25 million to $50 million, depending upon the size of the project. The report also projected the URP could generate up to $430,000 in property tax revenue and an additional $340,000 in state sales tax revenue.

In May, Daley addressed the cost with the council. He said, “We will not build larger than we need to, but we will build for the future.”

Daley explained the project would be paid for through the use of federal and state funding. “I’m anticipating we won’t have to come back to the council for additional money [to fund the project],” he said.

Daley stated $600,000 was available for the parking garage because the state specifically earmarks funds for the construction of such facilities. He said an additional $1.7 million was already accessible through the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act for the commercial development. Daley added toll revenues would fund the PVTA hub.

The report also defines the URP boundaries: “The project area comprises 4.88 acres in a two-block area located in the heart of downtown Westfield. The project area runs along both sides of Elm Street (the city’s main commercial thoroughfare), approximately from Arnold Street on the north to Church Street on the south. It includes properties on the west side of Elm Street as well as certain properties fronting on Elm Street on its east side. As part of this Elm Street URP, Summer Street will be extended and will become the western edge of the project site.”

At the May council meeting, Daley described the URP as “the talk of the town for the last 27 years; a long overdue project.” He also clarified that the PVTA shelter would not be a mere bus stop but an intermodal transportation hub for all residents, including racks for cyclists to store their bicycles while they spend time downtown.

While he would not disclose names, Daley stated that some regional companies had already expressed interest in moving into the downtown upon completion of the URP.

The objectives of the Elm Street URP as defined in the master plan outline:

• “To promote the development of high-quality retail, office and residential land uses in the heart of downtown Westfield;

• “To undertake investment in public streetscapes, transportation facilities, recreation and open space that complement new private and public development;

• “To eliminate blight and the underutilization of strategically situated property;

• “To create viable development sites that will attract private and public investment and be a catalyst for future downtown revitalization projects;

• “To promote private development that will create jobs and expand Westfield’s tax base;

• “To stimulate the rehabilitation of existing buildings along the east side of Elm Street to preserve the character and historic assets of downtown Westfield;

• “To plan, design and construct transportation facilities that will enhance the city’s livability;

• “To construct site improvements that will beautify downtown Westfield;

• “To provide efficient, safe and pedestrian-friendly streets and open spaces;

• “To undertake public improvements, including the development of expanded off-street parking in concert with proposed private development;

• “To improve and retain existing businesses and to attract new businesses; and

• “To stimulate the revitalization of downtown Westfield as an essential ingredient in efforts to create a vibrant, active, sustainable and accessible community.”