By G. Michael Dobbs
HOLYOKE – Mayor Alex Morse said he would not stop either of the proposed buyers for the property owned by Holyoke Gas & Electric (HG&E) on Whiting Farms Road, but neighbors who live near the site are calling a meeting at 6 p.m. on May 16 at the Donahue School to discuss their opposition.
Morse explained to Reminder Publications that two Holyoke businesses replied to a Request for Proposals sent out by HG&E: Marcotte Ford and Gary Rome Nissan.
After the HG&E board picks a developer, there would have to be a zone change and approval by the City Council, Morse said.
Morse said he is committed to retaining jobs and tax revenue in the city.
At the last joint meeting of the Zoning Board and City Council ordinance Committee, the neighbors discussed a “smart” zoning proposal that would allow a mix of office space, housing and retail. Morse said, “The city can sit on a vacant parcel until we get the exact project some people want.”
The city is in “dire need” of more jobs and tax revenue, he said.
He pointed out that Whiting Farms Road is the home of light industry and retail as well as residents and said the site in question does not abut homes. The city has few parcels left that can be redeveloped he added and the Whiting Farms location is a greenfield site with no environmental issues.
“It’s not just a residential neighborhood,” he said.
“We can’t continue to oppose development on Whiting Farms Road,” he said. Morse added that Marcotte Ford wants to expand its operations and would maintain its present Main Street location if it developed a new location on Whiting Farms Road. Morse is concerned the long-time Holyoke car retailer would leave the city if it can’t find additional space in Holyoke.
A new Marcotte facility would add 30 new jobs, he said.
Gary Rome Hyundai is also in need of additional space, Morse said.
Morse believes a car dealership would be a much more “passive” use of the property than a retail outlet such as Wal-Mart or Lowe’s, both of which have considered the property in the past.
The suggestion of using the property for a car dealership has not been well received by Holyoke First group. In an email dated May 9 to that group and the press, resident Gayle Keith wrote, “During the Wal-Mart fight, Holyoke First began the process of petitioning for a zone change on the property so as to keep yet another big box from trying to buy it. This also included discussions about what we would like to see there instead. We have had several meetings with the combined planning board and ordnance committees and have come up with some really good ideas.
“Meanwhile, however, things have once again been going on in City Hall, behind closed doors. It now appears that we are to have a car dealership on the lot. This would require a zone change to ‘highway business.’ We are not a highway!
“This once again puts us in a bad spot. We are again looking at a use that is inharmonious with a family neighborhood; it once again lands our neighborhood smack dab in the middle of a Riverdale Road equivalent. Who wants to live in between a large mall and an auto dealership? And what ever happened to the neighborhood being kept informed?”