Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Mansion on the Green

This column was submitted by Betsy Huber Port for posting on the LongmeadowBuzz blog.

What is the Fate of the Mansion on the Green? 

Quality schools are what we are known for, plus good services, a fine quality of life, safe neighborhoods and an appreciation for history.  And on the surface this place looks pretty perfect lately, enveloped in a cool blanket of snow.  Almost perfect that is.  Look across the way from our local Community House and what do you see? A beautiful and stately old house that looks sad and abandoned.

What is the story?

Long ago in 1884, the house was built for Yale trained minister Samuel Wolcott. The house was built for Dr. Wolcott by his sons Henry and Edward. Reverend Wolcott lived in the house only two years and died in 1886. Soon after in 1889 it changed hands to a new resident named State Senator George Brewer. For over twenty years Brewer owned this magnificent mansion on our town green until after WWI.

Mrs. Mary Ida Young, wife of Wilbur F. Young the inventor of the liniment Absorbine Jr. became the new owner in 1922. Founded in 1892, this local company enjoyed success for more than 30 years before she moved to Longmeadow.  Following the stock market collapse of 1929, the house was secured by iron grids on the windows, and a fortune of valuables was stored inside.  The 10,907 square foot home with 11 bedrooms survived the long years of the Depression and also the WWII era.

At some point in the 1970-80s this antique house was restored to its former glory. I can only imagine the grandeur of the formal dining rooms and wonderful parties and events took place there. There is a uTube video showing how the place used to look.  House tours occurred to benefit Center School, but in the past five or so years the place has been slowly deteriorating.  It is my hope that this house can be saved. The bank that foreclosed on the property does not seem to be caring for it. J.P. Morgan Chase has a responsibility to protect this asset, don't they? As we all know, our homes need love and maintenance, especially in the bitter cold winters.  What can be done to prevent further rack and ruin? What can town leaders do? Can local state representatives and preservationists step in? This house has "lived" for over 130 years - but this year could be one of its last. Someone with a vision could transform it again, but they must act swiftly.  This is sad and tragic to see it every time I drive north or south on Longmeadow Street. Ideas anyone? Let's think outside the box to preserve our history! What are the priorities of our community? It is a piece of our history and I hate to witness its complete destruction!

Betsy Huber Port

Here is a link to a video of the house during earlier times.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

What happens next at the Longmeadow Shops?

Now that the zoning change required for expansion of the Longmeadow Shops was approved at last night’s Special Town Meeting, the Planning Board will be waiting for the detailed plan to be delivered by Grove Property.

 Longmeadow Planning Board, Bruce Colton, Chair (center)
According to Walter Gunn, long time member of the Planning Board, an application for expansion of the Longmeadow Shops places the entire Shops facility under scrutiny through a rigorous site and design review.  This opportunity will allow for public input and action to correct any present as well as future deficiencies with the site including such issues as traffic, parking, noise, light and odor.  Article XI (Site and Design Review) of the Longmeadow Zoning By-laws states:  The purpose of this section is to protect the health, safety, convenience and general welfare of the inhabitants of the Town by providing for a review of plans for uses and structures which may have significant impacts.

Mr. Gunn also stated that the west lot parking covenant at the Longmeadow Shops will be examined by the Planning Board’s land use counsel as to its relevance in calculating required parking spaces.

Where the Planning Board can lose control of the development is through the applicant’s choice to seek the avenue of special permitting / variance authority held by the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA).  The ZBA authority can create restaurants, new parking spaces through Article XII.b.3 or allow signage specifically forbidden under the Longmeadow Sign By-Law.  Hopefully, public scrutiny of any such maneuvers would cause the ZBA to proceed on the side of caution.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Another Prospective on the Shops Expansion

This Letter-to-the-Editor was submitted to the Longmeadow Buzz blog by Lindsay Coughlin Gill.

I hesitate to write this. I'm a newcomer to town, after all.  My husband, son, and I just moved to Longmeadow in December.

Heck, I'm no newcomer.  I grew up in this town. And I am not happy.

If this was about me, I would probably stay quiet as I am not one to speak up.  But here comes mama bear, watching out for her cubs.  I am writing this for my son.

We moved to Longmeadow this past December.  We knew the school system, we knew the quiet streets, we knew the sidewalks.  It was a no-brainer that we wanted our son to grow up here.

But since December, we have already talked about moving on multiple occasions.

Before the seasoned Longmeadow residents start talking about being progressive and getting a whopping additional $82,000, let's talk about how to sustain a beautiful town.  In order to sustain a beautiful town, you need to make it a place where newcomers want to come.  Where they want to raise children.  This is not the only family friendly town around.  There's Wilbraham, there's Granby, there are plenty in Connecticut.

I am new to the part of town past the shops. I didn't realize how the shops can allow people to congregate, but probably more so, how it can separate the sides of town.  I avoid the area!  I want my son to avoid the area!  Now we're voting to make this a larger commercial area.

How could one suggest this will not increase traffic?  If any of the offices or shops are remotely successful, they will obviously add more cars, more traffic.  Granted, the novelty of a few new stores will wear off.  But we are voting on the unknown.  Even if it starts as a JCrew, who knows what it could be in the future. 

When I went to college, my peers actually knew of Longmeadow as the legendary town where parents actually encouraged a mass sleepover after prom, on a field.  Surrounding towns know Longmeadow for the school system.  Many know us for the successful athletes, Hollywood stars, and prestigious doctors and lawyers.  Now we're fighting to add a "JCrew" and drive-thru CVS to the list?  The successful people that went through the Longmeadow school system came here for the quiet residential town.

At this point, we have to cross five busy crosswalks to get to Blueberry.  I've only seen a crossing guard at one of these. These are not regular cross walks...these are high traffic areas. 

I think "progressive" is getting prescriptions sent right to your doorstep as many people do already. "Progressive" is walking and biking around town to save gas and our environment, not adding places to buy homogenous clothes at JCrew. Just like any new store or restaurant, the novelty will fade and we will be left with destroyed land and a traffic hub with accidents waiting to happen. Even the best laid traffic plans don't work. Have you ever been to a shopping center with good traffic flow? Never.  And this is all assuming the area is not sold to another developer once it is approved for commercial zoning.

A drive thru CVS may sound wonderful in theory. But this services one car at a time. We had one in my previous town and I used it once. As a brand new mom with an infant, I used it once.  It's not that exciting.  Perhaps we can focus more on something similar to Meals on Wheels in which volunteers could deliver necessary items and medications to the elderly of the town.  I did Meals on Wheels, I would do Medication on Wheels.

Vote NO.  If you're apathetic because this is so far from your home, vote no for me. Vote NO for your children's friends who won't be able to bike to your house through this intersection.  Vote NO for my grandparents whose dream to move to this beautiful town was fulfilled six years ago.  Whose dream to have my son walk to their house that will be compromised by the town's desire to have new shops.  Just like moving to this town was a no-brainer, it will be a no-brainer to move out.  We knew about the high taxes coming into this town.  We accepted them in anticipation of a safe and quiet area for our son.  Our house will certainly be appraised lower...hence lower taxes.  It simply doesn't make sense.

Vote NO. If you have kids, vote no for their safety. If you don't have kids, vote no for my kids! And vote no so that new families continue to want to move here. Ten new families make up for the whopping 82k in anticipated taxes everyone can't wait to get. Don't be so short sighted!

I love this town. I grew up in this town. I want to stay in this town, vote NO on Tuesday.

Lindsay Coughlin Gill

Steve Walker/ The Longmeadow Shops Responds....

We’ve been very clear and transparent as to what our intentions are with the proposed expansion at the Longmeadow Shops--21,000 square feet of new retail space including a CVS drive-thru as well as parking and pedestrian safety improvements.

I wanted to provide you some background to educate you and followers of your site in regards to our parking lot.

In 1982, the former owner of The Longmeadow Shops agreed to construct a parking lot on land owned by the shops. The lot would be used by the shops and available to the public for parking. We remain grandfathered into this commitment that the former owner made to the town.

This isn’t a municipal parking lot, but rather a lot that we own and pay taxes on that is also shared with the community for parking. What this means is that parking isn’t restricted to only patrons of the shops.  A good example would be to come to the shops on any Friday night during the football season or even weekdays during the spring or fall during athletic practices or games, and you’ll notice that a significant amount of the public utilizes the lot.  This arrangement has been discussed publically and is fairly well known in town. We welcome this traffic to our shops. 

In the past, we’ve had parking attendants during heavy parking periods in an effort to prioritize parking closest to our retailers for patron parking and closest to the fields for event parking.

The parking spaces created by this agreement have always been included in the parking calculations for the shops by the planning and zoning boards over our 20 years of ownership.

We appreciate your sites attention to tomorrow night’s important vote, and also appreciate the opportunity to clarify the facts to your readers.

Steve Walker/ The Longmeadow Shops

Town residents deserve transparency...

It seems that we have been here before with expansion plans for the Longmeadow Shops….

Some interesting information has surfaced in the last couple of days including some court documents from more than 30 years ago.  It turns out that the Longmeadow Board of Selectmen and the Planning Board filed a complaint in the Hampden County Housing Court seeking to nullify a Zoning Board of Appeals decision allowing S. Prestley Blake to expand the west end of the Longmeadow Shops.  Here is a link to a Springfield Union news article (February 27, 1982) about this controversy.

As a result of this court suit, the owners of the Longmeadow Shops agreed to the following (excerpt from Housing Court Dept Case No. LE-1914-L-82, signed and agreed- July 7, 1982):
  1. The parking lot as presently constructed, both on the business-zoned land and residential-zoned land, shall be at all times open to the public and shall not be restricted to patrons of the so-called Longmeadow Shops.
Here is an aerial photo of the Longmeadow Shops showing the specifics of this agreement as best can be determined.
[click photo to enlarge]
It is interesting that the Longmeadow Shops and/or the nearby retail establishments in recent years have occasionally hired private "attendants" to police their parking lot and to block town residents and others from parking in this west lot during sporting events if they were not customers of the Longmeadow Shops.  This issue is particularly of consequence during Friday night Longmeadow HS football games.  This enforcement was deemed necessary because of the increased parking needs for the patrons of Max Burger and other establishments.

In addition, the Longmeadow Shops did not allow the School Building Committee to use any of their parking for teachers/ students during construction of the new high school forcing the town to construct temporary parking lots.

With the limited parking spaces available in all of the surrounding retail areas (including Big Y and the Williams Place mall) there is nothing to prevent these other businesses from asking their employees to park in the "municipal lot" "public lot” so as to provide more space for their own customers.

  1. Is the current owner of the Longmeadow Shops (Grove Property Fund) still bound by this Hampden County Agreement for Judgment?  If not, why not?
  2. In consideration of the increased retail space being proposed, how can this “municipal” "public lot" be considered at its full potential when calculating the retail space/ parking ratio?
  3. Why was this court agreement between the Town of Longmeadow and the Longmeadow Shops not disclosed during the Planning Board Public Hearings?
We need to hear some answers before we vote at the Special Town Meeting on February 3.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

What are we voting on at the upcoming STM?

If you think that we are voting on Tuesday night to build a new larger CVS store with a drive-through pharmacy or a new JCrew store, you are incorrect and should read the rest of this article.

The vote at the Special Town Meeting on Tuesday, February 3 is solely to approve the proposed zoning change from the current residential zone to a commercial/business zone.... Nothing else!  This vote does not involve approval of the actual project details such as the new larger CVS store with a drive-through pharmacy. 

Town residents will not get an opportunity in the future to vote on the specifics for this project.  If this zoning change is approved, town residents will only be able to make comments at a future Planning Board Public Hearing but will not be able to vote yes or no on the specific project.

Here is the warrant article that town residents will be voting on at Tuesday's meeting:

To see if the Town will vote to change the zoning district in which the land described in this article is located from the Residence A District to the Business District, or take any other action relative thereto:

Beginning at a point at the northwest intersection of the existing 20’-0” easement with the property line of Parcel 2 as previously described by a curve to the left having a radius of two hundred eighty-six and 82/100 (286.82) feet, thence EASTERLY on other land now or formerly of Daniel E. Burbank, Jr., et al, eighty and 55/100 (80.55) feet; thence NORTHEASTERLY on land now or formerly of Daniel E. Burbank, Jr., et al, one hundred thirty-one and 90/100 (131.90) feet to land of The First Church of Christ Scientist; thence SOUTHERLY on said land of The First Church of Christ Scientist three hundred and 03/100 (300.03) feet to Williams Street; thence SOUTHWESTERLY on said Williams Street one hundred thirty-six and 16/100 (136.16) feet; thence SOUTHWESTERLY on said Williams Street and by a curve to the right having a radius of five hundred eighty-six and 82/100 (586.82) feet, one hundred sixty-four and 81/100 (164.81) feet to the southeasterly corner of the first parcel of land herein described; thence NORTHERLY on said first parcel of land herein described, three hundred and 3/100 (300.03) feet to a point of beginning. Consisting of 79,230 square feet (1.819 acres).

The property is now zoned residential; the shops would like to expand. Currently, business use is not allowed in a residential zone. A zone change to business is needed to expand.  This article requires a two-thirds vote.

If this zoning change is approved, Grove Property will then move forward with detailed design work followed by a Planning Board "site and design" review.  During this review, the Planning Board will make specific recommendations for changes in the design and/or stipulations before they grant approval and issue a building permit.  If the Planning Board wants to see specific design changes, Grove Properties can either accept them or take the town to court for mediation of the differences.

Another option is that Grove Property can simply decide to cancel the project and then sell the now commercially zoned property to a different developer.  Who knows what might happen then.....

Many people are voting YES because they want a drive-through CVS or JCrew.... this is not what is being decided on Tuesday night. 

One Longmeadow Planning Board member- Heather LaPorte at the January 7 Public Hearing stated she was in favor of the zoning change because she liked the idea of a CVS with a drive-through pharmacy window.  Based upon her comments this appeared to be one of the primary reasons that she voted YES to recommend the proposed zoning change.  It turns out that her thinking was not much different from the other Planning Board members based upon their comments.  The Planning Board should have been voting on the proposal to make a zoning change for this property to commercial from residential and its impact on the surrounding area not the merits of the proposed project details.

In a recent letter-to-the-editor Select Board member Alex Grant wanted Grove Property to put their promises in writing.  That is not going to happen.  Grove Property positioned the presentation of this project such that they could offer all sorts of  "benefits" upfront if town residents voted to grant the zoning change.   There is no guarantee that the Grove Property plans as proposed will be implemented.

Come as an informed voter to the Special Town Meeting on Tuesday, February 3 at 7 PM in the Longmeadow High School gymnasium.