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Kollmorgen Plans Move Ahead

March 4, 2009 : Springfield Republican, by Fred Contrada

NORTHAMPTON – In January of 2005, MassDevelopment presented the Planning Board an artist’s conception of what the commercial portion of Village Hill Northampton could look like along Route 66. The drawing showed three three-story buildings up close to the street with awnings overhanging the sidewalk. One board member called the concept “sterile” and it was agreed that more trees would make the scene more pedestrian friendly.

No one yet knows what that stretch of road will look like once Kollmorgen Corp., a manufacturer of optical equipment, builds its new 130,000-square-foot facility on the site, but it is certain it won’t look anything the drawing of four years ago.

Despite some discontent about aesthetics, the Planning Board granted Kollmorgen a special permit last week to relocate on the south side of the former Northampton State Hospital complex. That portion was targeted for commercial and industrial development as part of the massive project that came to be branded Village Hill Northampton.

Work on the residential part of the campus north of Route 66 has progressed dramatically over the last year as several single-family homes and two blocks of apartments have gone up. The south side has been slower to develop, however.

After reviewing the sketch in 2005, the Planning Board gave MassDevelopment, the quasi-public organization charged with developing the project, the go-ahead to seek commercial and industrial tenants. In the four years since, only VCA, Inc., a high-end woodworking company, has moved onto the campus. When Kollmorgen expressed interest in relocating there from its present site on King Street, the city and the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Hospital Hill project quickly threw their support behind the move.

Although the city had originally hoped that new development at Village Hill would create up to 800 jobs, the Kollmorgen move would involve the transfer of its 330 existing employees to the new site, with the potential of expanding to 600 jobs. The campus will also have a dramatically different look, with a single Kollmorgen building and parking lot occupying a space where 11 lots had been laid out.

In amending the permit for Kollmorgen, some Planning Board members expressed misgivings about abandoning the 25-page book of guidelines the board developed with input from MassDevelopment and the public.

“I felt we needed more discussion about the modifications to the design guidelines,” Said Kenneth Jodrie, who cast the sole vote against the special permit. “We weren’t willing to throw it all out the window.”

Kollmorgen must return to the board for site plan approval, at which time it will have to display some architectural drawings. According to Planning Board Chairman Francis Johnson, representatives for the company have told the board they believe many of the existing guidelines do not apply to an industrial building. Nonetheless, the Planning Board would like to see at least some external conformity to the village feel it has been trying to create on Hospital Hill.

Under the Kollmorgen plan, a road through the south campus would be eliminated and the bike path alongside it would have to be relocated. Senior Land Use Planner Carolyn S. Misch said that Kollmorgen, which is in line to receive $1.2 million in federal funds for work on an imaging sensor for Navy submarines, has security needs that could restrict pedestrian access. Misch expects Kollmorgen to come before the Planning Board for site plan approval sometime this spring.

© Copyright 2009 Springfield Republican.