Friday, October 29, 2021

Zone Change Premature, Vote No

This "letter to the editor" was published in the Reminder on 10/28/2021 and reprinted here with permission of the author, Bruce Colton who submitted this letter as an individual.


As a long-time member of the Longmeadow Planning Board, I am proudest of my sponsorship of the town’s site and design review by-law. Site and design review is the town’s strongest tool for regulating growth.

The bylaw is most empowering when combined with a developer’s need to obtain a zone change to accomplish its goals.

Though it is not widely realized by our residents, the former Christian Science Church, at 916 Williams St., was sold several years ago to a developer who seeks to use the site for commercial development. Insofar as the property is presently zoned “residential,” this will require that the property be rezoned to “business” use.

The proposed zone change is arguably the most significant item on the warrant for the Nov. 2 Special Town Meeting.

In the normal course of events, a developer would have come before the Planning Board with detailed plans showing the proposed structures, site layout, traffic flow and curb cuts in order to request an endorsement of the proposed zone change.

However, in this instance, breaking with the practice of virtually every proposed development over the past 30 years, the Planning Board was shown only tentative and generalized proposals for the site’s development. The proposed development seemed designed to squeeze every last developable inch out of the property. Finally, the proposal seemed to ignore the steep decline in the need for retail space over the past decade.

For all these reasons, and the board’s need to be sensitive to the surrounding residential neighborhood and very heavy traffic on Williams Street and Bliss Road, the Planning Board voted 3-1 against rezoning the property as a business zone.

Given the rising cost of government services, it is important that Longmeadow obtain as much property tax revenue as possible. However, the source of this revenue must be strictly regulated.

The site and design review process works best for the town when a proposed development requires a zone change. This gives the Town Meeting voters the ability to see detailed development plans before casting their votes on a zone change. Granting a zone change at this stage of the process will seriously compromise the Planning Board’s ability to shape this development in the town’s interests.

The developer should consider withdrawing its request for a zone change at the Nov. 2 Special Town Meeting.

If not, the voters should vote down this premature zone change.

I am writing this letter as an individual.

Bruce Colton

1 comment:

Pete Landon said...

As a former member of Finance Committee , the original Charter Commission, and current member of Audit and Tax ceiling committees I have been painfully educated on the burden put on our residential property tax for lack of diversity into commercial and industrial properties like other suburban Towns.

This zone change for the site next to Longmeadow shops in one remaining opportunity.

It the church site ends up back as a not for profit the Town will receive no revenue because the Town has no formal policy for payments in lieu of taxes by not for profit property owners.

Mr Coltons statements need clarification. My understanding is different and similar to that of Select Board Chair Marc Strange.
See his comments on this Warrant Article.

Mr Colton states in “the normal process “. the Planning Board is given “detailed plans” of the proposed site layout.

In fact, the plans provided by Colvest show a complete site plan with as much detail as a developer can provide prior to the site plan review
Process with the Planning Board which occurs after the zone is approved.

The Colvest plans , I believe, are as detailed as the proposed plans
that were presented to the Town Meeting for the zone change for the CVS expansion, which the Planning Board supported at that time. The plan created 17,000 sq ft of empty retail space at Longmeadow Shops, which was more space than the CVS store itself, and there was no request to identify tenants.

It did not result in a problem , nor will the Colvest expansion.

The Planning Board does have control over development once the zone is changed. It is correct that the uses permitted in a Business Zone will be allowed in the development; however, any development on this site has to be substantially as Colvest has proposed due to the limitations imposed by our Town Bylaws, which the Planning Board enforces.

I compliment Attorney Colton for his work on the Bylaws which have served us well.

The Planning Board has significant influence over building design, signage, lighting, parking landscaping , curb cuts, and requirements for accommodating additional traffic to and from the site.

In summary it is not reasonable to require or expect a developer of raw land to confirm leases with tenants until the land is zoned for Business.

However , the uses in the Business zone are exactly as appear in the various malls in Longmeadow. These malls , and particularly Longmeadow Shops abutting this development, have served the Town well and have attracted responsible tenants which have been to benefit our residents.

My recommendation is that the voters approve this zone change.
The proposed development is essentially an expansion of Longmeadow Shops by a different owner.

The property is ideal for this uses deprecated will generate significantly more revenue than any residential use.

Importantly, the developer is well -known in Western Massachusetts and has an excellent record of responsible development and maintenance of his properties.

Our residents will gain additional options for goods and services.
Best, Pete Landon