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Kollmorgen HQ Project at Village Hill Approved

June 12, 2009 : Daily Hampshire Gazette, by Owen Boss

NORTHAMPTON – Kollmorgen Electro-Optical Corp., the city’s largest manufacturer, won Planning Board approval Thursday for its new 140,000-square-foot headquarters on the grounds of the former state hospital.

Once the two-story manufacturing and office facility in the middle of a 13.6-acre site along Chapel and Prince streets is completed, the company and its 366 employees will leave their current 5-acre location on King Street.

Before the plans were approved, however, a lengthy public comment session attended by about 20 people revealed that many were unhappy with a decision made in May to realign the south campus’s multi-use bike path away from the new building rather than having it wind through the site.

When O’Connell Development Group, the site development company, originally brought plans before the board in late May, members requested that they return with a representation of what the building would look like from Laurel Street to the south and southwest, along with answers to questions about snow storage, the amount of lighting used at night and increases in traffic levels.

All of these they had prepared for Thursday’s meeting.

Francesca Maltese, development director for O’Connell, said lighting would be kept to one foot-candle over the entire site, which is much lower than the standard four foot-candles traditionally used at retail locations. She said that snow gathered would be stored in two designated areas on the northern end of the site’s 485-space parking lot. Also, Maltese said, residents should not fear swells of commuter traffic to the site because the company staggers the arrival and departure times for its employees.

“There was a traffic study done this year that found that the weekday peak morning traffic for Kollmorgen employees would be 141 vehicles as opposed to the previously approved 317 vehicles,” Maltese said.

To ensure that the company adheres to the requests of the building’s abutters, board members wrote in a number of conditions before approving the plans. Included in the conditions were that O’Connell provide stamped engineering documents indicating that light levels meet those on the plans; that the site’s eastern fence contains no slats; and that no parking lot is located closer to Prince Street than shown on the plans.

Also, four more shade trees must be planted to the south of the building if deemed necessary by the board; six months after receiving an occupancy certificate O’Connell must submit a statement from a sound engineer that sound created by the loading dock meets the ordinance; and only two parking lot poles per lot may stay on after 10 p.m., while lights within 20 feet of the building may remain on.

Kollmorgen, which makes optical and imaging systems for submarines, surface ships and combat vehicles, expects the project to cost $18 million and to create an additional 30 jobs.

Although the board OK’d the site plans in a 5:1 vote, with Kenneth Jodrie the lone dissenter, disapproval of the redesigned bike path was a consistent theme among speakers. Rust Avenue resident Benjamin Spencer, who spoke a number of times at the meeting, said he thought changes to the bike path made it unsafe for children and that the company’s claim that a bike path would cause a security problem was insincere.

“I find it hard to believe that the Kollmorgen company, which has had a sidewalk no more than 20 feet from its front door, can say that a bike path is completely out of the question.” Spencer said. “It seems reasonable to ask Kollmorgen to agree to this bike route as a demonstration of their willingness to be good neighbors and to help retain the original vision of a mixed-use village open to everyone.”

Defending the site plans was Teri Anderson, the city’s economic development coordinator, who said the site was the only location in the city that could house such a large building. She said the plans suit the original goal of creating affordable housing through an economic development that both retains and creates jobs and uses existing infrastructure to create a connection with downtown businesses.

“This is a project that I think, as scary as it is to say in this crowd, is something that the community can still be proud of,” Anderson said.

Developers say the building is situated in such a way that views of the mountain ridge line to the south and east from Village Hill Road will remain, and existing and newly planted trees will limit views of the office building from the street.

© Copyright 2009 Daily Hampshire Gazette.