Dwight Road project developer meets with Selectmen

Feb. 10, 2017 | Chris Goudreau

LONGMEADOW – Residents at Town Meeting might decide the fate of a campus-style medical development on a 20-acre parcel that crosses town lines into East Longmeadow this spring.

At its Feb. 6 meeting the Select Board discussed the project in relation to the creation of a District Improvement Financing (DIF), which would grant tax revenue from for profit companies at the development for a 20-year period for the sole purpose remodeling traffic intersections along Dwight Road.

A DIF designation for the area would need Town Meeting approval. Developers met with the board to propose placing an article on the Town Meeting warrant.

Michael Crowley, principal with Middle Franklin Development Group, originally pitched the idea during a joint East Longmeadow and Longmeadow Planning Board meeting in June 2016. The development would include four buildings – a two-story 50,000-square-foot medical office building in which Baystate Health would the tenant, a two-story 25,000-quare-foot conventional office building, Two additional buildings would be associated with Berkshire Health, including a 131-bed skilled nursing facility to replace the existing 119-bed facility at 305 Maple St. in East Longmeadow, and an assisted living facility.

Robinson Donovan Attorney James Martin, who represents Crowley, told the selectmen the increased costs of restructuring traffic in the area would have made the project “unattractive” from a financial standpoint until the idea to create a DIF was proposed.

“It was regulated under a statute and was administered by the state until March of 2016, when control was turned over to municipalities,” he explained. “Basically it allows growth to fund growth and it will allow the tax revenue from a parcel that is now empty and owned by a nonprofit and paying no taxes to have a for profit enterprise on it – the taxes of which would be used to fund the improvements in the intersection. An integral part of this is that there is potential for future development for the site.”

Jeffery Daley, principal with Westfield-based CJC Development Advisors, said the DIF utilizes incremental tax dollars as a financing mechanism.

“The baseline assessment is done once the DIF is approved and from there the new incremental tax dollars that come in from the new project development would pay for the bond,” he explained. “The new tax dollars would never [be less than] the bond payment for those 20 [to] 25 years – whatever the bond goes out to.”

Stephen Savaria, senior project manager for the development with Fuss & O’Neill, said the existing Dwight Road is three lanes wide and if the DIF is approved the road would be widened to include five lanes.

“That allows us to have two through lanes in each direction, plus a left turn lane that kind of reverses direction in the middle, and is north bound at the Dwight and Converse intersection and south bound at the Maple intersection,” he added.

He noted a new signal system would be installed to compensate for an enlargement of the Maple and Williams Street intersection and Maple Street would be widened into East Longmeadow to extend the existing left turn lane.

Savaria said the goal would be to create “through traffic progression” for vehicles moving through the three intersections – each of the three signals would be synchronized to minimize the number of stops and maximize the number of vehicles flowing through the intersection corridor.

“In addition to the five vehicle lanes that we have on this section of the Dwight Road corridor, we also have five-foot bike lanes on either side,” he stated. “We’re also recommending that sidewalks be installed connecting with the proposed sidewalks that are going to be constructed on Converse Street as part of the MassDOT project. We’re proposing to extend that through the Dwight Road intersection, down the west side of Dwight Road, to the Maple intersection.”

Pedestrian crossing would also be created on the south side of the Converse Street intersection and a sidewalk would be installed down the entire west side of Dwight Road, Savaria said.

Selectman Mark Gold argued that Longmeadow might give up tax revenue for 20 years as a result of the DIF.

“If we don’t enter into the DIF, we get 100 percent of the tax revenue, if there is tax revenue,” he noted. “And by entering into the DIF, some percentage of that tax revenue is designated to repairs or upgrades that is done with the program. The question is really how do we convince the people in Longmeadow … to give up 20 years of tax revenue for a street that they see as at the edge of our town?”

Martin replied to Gold by stating the town of Longmeadow has received no tax revenue from the location, which is owned by a nonprofit.

“This is a project in Longmeadow that is entitled by right, zoning wise, it only needs a special permit in East Longmeadow,” he added. “Site design review would focus … in terms of traffic. You’re improving an intersection that would benefit the community in many ways. Look at the big picture. There’s going to be medical offices there. There’s going to be services there.”

Crowley explained the project must be completed by October 2018 and the work would likely start right after a potential Town Meeting vote to meet the deadline.

The Select Board is set to continue its conversation on the issue at its Feb. 21 meeting.

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