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Commercial, Assisted Living Projects in Works at Village Hill Northampton

September 1, 2012 : Daily Hampshire Gazette, by Chad Cain

NORTHAMPTON - Plans are afoot for the first commercial building and a new assisted living facility on Village Hill Northampton's north campus, significant developments that officials hope will kick-start investment in other commercial projects on the former state hospital grounds.

"I feel like there is some really good momentum right now," Mayor David J. Narkewicz said Friday.

The mayor said a company called Christopher Heights, which operates four assisted living facilities in the state, is making plans to add a fifth community to its portfolio at a yet-to-be-determined site on Village Hill's north campus.

While that project is still in the discussion phase, construction of the new office building could begin as soon as October.

Wright Builders Inc., which has developed many of the homes on the north campus, recently filed plans with the city under the name New Harmony Properties LLC to construct the two-story building at the northeast corner of Route 66 and Village Hill Road.

CEO Jonathan Wright said he's been working on the project for the last two years. Now that it's moving forward, he's hopeful it will spur commercial development elsewhere on Village Hill.

"We're pretty excited," Wright said. "We've had a keen interest in getting Village Hill to the tipping point. The missing piece has been mixed-use commercial."

New Harmony will develop the property and sell it to a limited liability company under the direction of the Opal Real Estate Group, the Springfield company that is also redeveloping most of the Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech campus off Round Hill Road.

Opal will then lease about three-fourths of the 16,300 square feet of space in the building to Fazzi Associates, a national home care consulting firm based in Northampton. The 50-employee firm would relocate from the Potpourri Plaza on King Street.

The remaining space in the new building would be leased to retail, office or food service businesses, Wright said.

Narkewicz said the project is important on two fronts. Not only will it help generate buzz in commercial development at Village Hill, but it also enables the city to keep a significant employer within its borders. Fazzi Associates had been actively looking for space to expand, he said.

"We are going to be retaining a growing Northampton company and having them relocate to Village Hill so they can expand," the mayor said. "We're very pleased."

The mixed-use Greek revival building, to be called The Gatehouse, would be the first to be constructed at what planners have long thought would serve as the development's "gateway entrance."

MassDevelopment, the quasi-public agency in charge of redeveloping the 126-acre campus, envisions that three commercial buildings eventually will be sited at the intersection, two on the north campus and one on the south campus.

Wright is scheduled to go before the Planning Board for major site plan review Sept. 13 at 7:15 p.m.

Assisted living

Narkewicz said plans for the assisted living facility are still being ironed out. Officials from the Grantham Group, which operates Christopher Heights communities in Worcester, Webster, Attleboro and Marlborough, have toured Village Hill and are in discussions with MassDevelopment for a suitable site.

The development's master plan shows an assisted living facility on the north campus along Route 66, but Narkewicz said the group is eyeing a different parcel within the development, possibly at the southwest corner of Village Hill Road and Moser Street.

"They are doing their due diligence at this point," Narkewicz said.

The mayor has scheduled a meeting for Tuesday, Sept. 11, to introduce the company to the community. The meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the Senior Center, 67 Conz St., and will include city councilors, members of the Council on Aging, Housing Partnership, Citizens Advisory Committee and others.

Christopher Heights facilities typically have about 80 units and include an affordable housing element.

Commercial outlook

Long planned to be a "village" that mixed residents and businesses, activity on the north side of Village Hill has focused on residences in the last few years. More than 100 single-family and apartment-style homes have been constructed or are in the works on that part of the development.

All of the commercial activity has taken place on the south campus in the form of new headquarters for both Kollmorgen Electro-Optical and high-end furniture-maker VCA Inc. Two more lots are for sale on the south campus, one for offices in front of Kollmorgen and another for light industrial along Earle Street not far from VCA.

A number of lots on the north campus are still up for grabs, including the former Coach House in the middle of campus. That 5,000-square-foot space will likely be leased to an office tenant. Additionally, new live-work space is being eyed for the former male attendants' building and along Moser Street.

© Copyright 2012 Daily Hampshire Gazette.