LONGMEADOW – A representative from the Longmeadow Shops recently appeared before the Select Board expressing interest in expanding the current building.
Matthew Wittmer, principal at Phase Zero Design, recently presented plans for expansion of the Longmeadow Shops. In order for the expansion to take place, a parcel of land between the current shops and the First Church of Christ Scientist would have to be rezoned from A1 residential to a business zone.
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Matthew Wittmer, principal at Phase Zero Design in Springfield, spoke to the board as a representative of Grove Properties, which owns the building, explaining their intentions to seek a zoning change that would allow the expansion.
“We know that certainly starting this process is a lengthy process [and] it is a collaborative process with the town,” he said.
The proposed zoning change would change the zoning of a two-acre parcel located to the east of the shops between the shopping complex and the First Church of Christ Scientist from A1 residential to a business zone. Grove Properties currently owns the parcel.
The expansion, if approved, would measure 21,096 square feet.
“An expansion such as this would not only provide more jobs to the community, but there’s also probably between $70,000 and $80,000 in additional taxes to the town on an annual basis,” Wittmer said.
Wittmer referred to the Longmeadow Shops as a “lifestyle center” that had “a great synergy of both national and regional tenants as well as some local mom and pops” and Grove Properties has done well in attracting tenants in approximately 20 years of ownership through interior and exterior improvements.
“It’s unique to see a development like this be so successful. That has to do, certainly, with Longmeadow itself,” he said. “We think the shops has become a real anchor to the community and something that’s certainly beneficial to the town itself.”
However, Wittmer explained, the development had become a “victim of its own success.” He explained Grove Properties was approached by a number of popular, high-ticket national retailers that wanted to break into the western Massachusetts market, but with 100 percent occupancy, the Longmeadow Shops could not welcome those retailers without eliminating the balance between local and larger retailers.
“We want to maintain that, but want to expand that and some of that thinking is to come forward an expansion that would allow these nationals to be accommodated and maintain the tenants that are there now,” he said.
Wittmer said the concern was if an expansion did not occur, developments in other communities could be built to accommodate the national retailers interested in the area, which could prompt current Longmeadow Shops tenants to move as well.
He added that the expansion could help clear up some access and vehicular circulation issues that currently exist at the Longmeadow Shops.
Part of the area in question is currently utilized for parking and the weekly farmers’ market also takes place there, while the rest of it is open field. With the expansion, the farmers’ market would move to the other side of the parking lot.
Among the building concepts currently being considered is one that would relocate the CVS Pharmacy, Wittmer said. He explained the CVS was of particular concern because it was not currently of proper size to serve the local community and the parking field did not allow for direct access to it. A new design would alleviate those issues and would include a drive through pharmacy window. The redesign would also create room for new tenants and increase the parking count.
Selectman Mark Gold raised questions about additional traffic through town, noting recent concerns rose during casino mitigation discussions and negotiations. He asked for clarification on Wittmer’s estimate of an additional 106 vehicles visiting the shops and 48 additional spaces.
Wittmer said a traffic study has not yet been performed, however, it was planned as the process moves forward, however, he added he did not feel the expansion would be a major traffic generator.
Gold also noted that the residential zoning for that parcel was intended to create a buffer between the shops and the surrounding neighborhood and expressed his concerns in that matter. He said the shops had been “a less than perfect neighbor” with issues specifically raised from abutters behind the property on Pinewood Drive.
“Every time the Longmeadow Shops has been given a change or given a variance and it’s impacted the neighborhood it’s been negatively and the response has been almost universally, ‘We’re bigger than you are, we’re too big to fail and look how many taxes we pay.’”
He expressed further doubts about the project by saying the town had been the victim of a “bait and switch” with regard to a previous zoning change on the other side of the shops.
“I can’t imagine the people in town being fooled twice,” he said. “We were promised something and we got something different. That was a whole different group of owners and managers, but it significantly changed the view of that area and I think it went way beyond what was being promised at the Town Meeting.”
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