Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Would it really be so bad?

Holyoke hearing on $16 million Big Y plan draws people concerned about traffic, noise and trash

Published: Tuesday, January 10, 2012, 10:37 PM

HOLYOKE – Concerns about traffic, noise, trash and having to live near a fast-food restaurant were voiced at a public hearing Tuesday on a planned $16 million project to be anchored by a Big Y supermarket.

Most officials have heralded the project because of the estimated 250 jobs and $520,000 to $590,000 a year in property taxes the developer has said it would generate.

About 30 people, in addition to more than a dozen city officials and consultants with the developer, attended the Planning Board hearing at City Hall.

O’Connell Development pitched its plan for a 110,000-square-foot project at Homestead Avenue and Lower Westfield Road during the site-plan review hearing.

The project will have two to four stores besides the Big Y, including a bank and a restaurant, O’Connell Vice President Andrew J. Crystal said.

Tenants have yet to be chosen, he said.

O’Connell would need to seek special permits from the City Council for drive-through service windows for a possible fast-food restaurant and a bank, he said.

The site is the former Atlas Copco compressor factory, which closed in 2005.

Douglas W. Loughrey, of Whitney Avenue, said he was concerned about the project possibly having a fast-food restaurant.

Also, Loughrey said outside the hearing, neighbors should get more time to review and comment on details of the project.

“With the information given tonight, there should be more time for the residents to go over it,’ Loughrey said.

Others during the hearing discussed concerns about noise from roof-top air conditioners and other units and proximity of neighbors to the project’s trash-storage areas.

The hearing was continued after three and a half hours to Jan. 24 at 6:30 p.m. at Lt. Elmer J. McMahon School on Kane Road, said Kathleen G. Anderson, director of the city Office of Planning and Development.

Some in the audience grew frustrated. It was 90 minutes into the hearing before the public had a chance to speak as consultants discussed traffic, parking, curb cuts, stormwater, landscaping, wetlands, utilities and other issues.

Juliet Locke, an engineer with Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, said at the outset of her remarks about traffic that her presentation would be lengthy.

After a while, James P. Lavelle Sr., owner of J.P.’s Restaurant on Whiting Farms Road, spoke out from the audience and said it was unfair to make the public wait through such detail before being allowed to speak.

“It’ll be midnight by the time she’s done,” Lavelle said of Locke.

Planning Board Chairwoman Eileen Regan said O’Connell deserved the right to present its plan and public comment would follow. Lavelle left shortly after.

The retail stores on the 29.5-acre site would occupy two areas. The Big Y portion would cover 60,000 square feet, including 9,000 square feet that would be developed later, and 50,000 square feet for the other facilities, said Jean Christy, an engineer with Vanasse Hangen Brustlin.

Also, she said, the site would have 505 parking spaces.

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