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.