Public To Weigh In On Village Hill

October 24, 2008 : Daily Hampshire Gazette, by Staff Writer

NORTHAMPTON – The Citizens Advisory Committee that oversees development of Village Hill Northampton postponed a decision Wednesday on allowing 100 additional housing units until it hears from the public next month.

The committee did, however, unanimously endorse a motion to relocate a new road called Ford Crossing to the north behind the former coach house and the construction of a loop of bungalows to the north of the Community Garden, as shown in the original plans.

Developers urged the committee to pass the motion so they will have enough time to use $2.7 million in federal and state grant money for infrastructure improvements. The grants are set to expire next June. The money will also be used for sidewalk improvements and traffic-calming measures on several neighborhood streets in the south campus area.

After the meeting, Mayor Clare Higgins said the committee continued its vote because it wanted to hear from the public. “The committee still had a few remaining questions after this meeting, and we wanted to give the public the chance to come in and have their opinion heard,” she said.

Elizabeth Murphy, MassDevelopment vice president of real estate and project manager, presented the plans for additional units in the north campus (the section on the north side of Route 66, Prince Street and Burts Pit Road).

“We want to create a compact, walkable community that takes full advantage of the site and its amenities,” said Murphy. “We wanted this to be an integrated community with a lot of different kinds of housing types.”

Murphy said permission to build an additional 100 housing units, bringing the total to 327, wouldn’t necessarily mean they would all be built.

“The 100 units is really just a ceiling … It just means that number would be the maximum number of units we would ever want to build,” she said.

Among the committee’s primary concerns with the plan were the number of accessible parks and how evenly the housing types and Department of Mental Health clients would be distributed.

The original plans required that 15 percent of the homes would be occupied by DMH clients, a percentage that Murphy said would hold in any increase. However, committee members worried that because many would be in subsidized housing, they might be forced into a corner of the development.

“We are working with the Department of Mental Health to place these clients into units as they become available,” Murphy said.

Harriet Diamond, a representative from nearby Grove Street, said she is concerned that park space in the new proposal wasn’t adequate for many more residents, and suggested a larger community park in the middle of the development.

In response, Laurence Spang, of Arrowstreet Associates, who assisted in the presentation, said the primary park space had been chosen because of its proximity within the community.

“A park right in the middle of everything felt inaccessible to most people and it really didn’t seem to flow with the space we have here,” he said.

Spang spoke at length about how the developers focused on preserving open space. Village Hill Northampton would take up 126 acres of the former state hospital complex’s original 536 acres. The remaining 410 acres are being preserved as open space.

The new proposal, he said, has 5.4 acres of parks and 30.75 acres of open land both inside the development and along the periphery, designating 60 percent of the property as “open space”; as well as 2½ miles of multi-use pathways connecting the parks.

About 120 of the approved 207 homes have already been built or are under construction. MassDevelopment can build an additional 20 units without seeking a change in its master plan, but needs approval for the 100-unit expansion.

The Citizens Advisory Committee will hold a public meeting Monday, Nov.10, at 7 p.m., at JFK Middle School.

© Copyright 2008 Daily Hampshire Gazette.