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Belchertown Voters Approve New Zoning District Meant to Speed Development at Former State School Property

December 2, 2014 : The Republican, by Jim Russell

BELCHERTOWN – By a wide margin town meeting on Monday said ‘yes’ to creation of a new zoning district at the former Belchertown State School grounds advocates say will streamline economic development.

The approval of the Business Neighborhood District will speed up the permitting process, maximize land use potential, and provide more flexibility to potential developers, according to local and state officials involved with crafting the article’s language.

The Planning Board, as well as the landowner, Belchertown Economic Development Industrial Corporation, a selectmen-created panel, and the MassDevelopment, the state agency assisting with transforming the property for re-use collaborated on the zoning amendment that town meeting approved.

Last month, the state announced that remediation would finally begin on Dec. 1, on parcels currently unfit for development – due to pollution. And more than half a dozen old buildings must be removed.

Gov. Deval Patrick ordered the release of $4 million towards that end, in July. The money is part of a $10 million bond legislators approved especially for a comprehensive cleanup at the state institution that closed down a generation ago.

Town officials say they expect that $1 million would be used right away and if there is adequate progress on the clean up, $3 million would be dispensed next year.

A draft report issued by the state department of Energy and Environmental Affairs over the summer said a massive amount of work is required.

Phase I activities at the 93-acre site include demolishing “up to nine existing building” to make way for a 120,000-square-foot, 120-bed assisted living facility built on a 17.2 acre parcel, the report says. “All of these buildings contain asbestos, which will require removal prior to demolition. Temporary noise and air quality impacts are associated with the construction period.”

In other business, Karol G. Coffin was introduced as the new school superintendent. She will officially start work Jan. 1, according to the school board chairman, Rick Fritsch. He said Coffin and the committee agreed to a 3.5 year contract. Her salary is $138,000, the chairman said.

Coffin briefly addressed the assembly. In an interview, she said: “It is very important to listen, and learn. That is why I’m here tonight.”

State Rep. Denise Andrews, D-Orange attended the meeting and presented town administrator Gary Brougham with an achievement award from the state legislators.

“His work ethic is unbelievable,” she said. Brougham thanked town employees for their hard work.

© Copyright 2014 The Republican.