WESTFIELD – The City Council was business friendly on Thursday as it approved tax increment financing (TIF) for James Hardie Building Products at 70 Turnpike Industrial Road, with At-large Councilor Cindy C. Harris the sole no vote.
Ward 6 Councilor William Onyski, chairman of the Legislative & Ordinance Committee, said the TIF is not for existing buildings but on potential new buildings, and would expire in 2029 if the expansion isn’t built.
At-large Councilor David Flaherty said the city will still be paid taxes, while bringing in business worth millions of dollars that will “be here a long time.” At-large Councilor Nicholas J. Morganelli Jr. commented that the property value, originally $5 million, had already increased by $8 million.
“Definitely a win-win,” he said, to which Ward 3 Councilor Andrew K. Surprise agreed it was “a win for the city.”
“This is a perfect fit for this property,” said At-large Councilor Daniel Allie, saying the company would be taking advantage of the rail spur. He also said they make a great product, referring to the fiber cement siding it makes out of sand, cement and wood pulp; raw materials which will be arriving by rail for finishing in Westfield. “I’m very much in favor of this,” Allie said.
Ward 1 Councilor Mary Ann Babinski said the business is taking advantage of an existing building that’s empty, and the TIF would be for five years, not 10 as some have been in the past.
“These things don’t happen by themselves. One deal like this has taken the city advancement officer (several) years,” Flaherty added, saying there have been several similar projects coming in, and just one pays his salary. He said he hoped the Council would leave the city advancement officer position in the budget.
City Advancement Officer Joe Mitchell recently vacated the position for a move to Eversource, but remains with the city part-time through June, to help some of the projects nearing completion. Harris, who opposed the TIF, recently stated that she has never voted for a TIF.
Another new business proposal for Westfield on the City Council agenda Thursday was the special permit application submitted by D.J. Chase Inc. for a Business B Trucking Terminal for Old Dominion Freight Lines (ODFL), to be located at Medeiros Way.
The Old Dominion proposal previously came before the City Council last fall and was withdrawn without prejudice in November, following several public hearings at which area residents spoke against the increased truck traffic it would bring. The special permit application was referred on Thursday to Zoning, Planning and Development and to the Planning Board for a recommendation. A public hearing will be scheduled.
Ward 1 Councilor Mary Ann Babinski asked that the special permit application be posted on the city’s website under the City Council as a pending application.
The council also gave immediate consideration to acceptance of a site readiness grant of $150,000 for Westfield Turnpike Industrial Park on Cabot Road, the third installment of a grant from Mass Development, bringing the City’s total up to $1.2 million after three successful rounds. The project site is a 74.88-acre parcel with a potential tax revenue of $1.3 million a year, and with the potential for 1,100 jobs, and $120 million in private investment, according to Mitchell in previous statements.
During public participation at the start of the meeting, Constance Adams, owner of Yellow Stonehouse Farm on Root Road, said she was disappointed that the Old Dominion Truck Terminal was back on the agenda for approval.
“I am disappointed in the lack of vision and imagination on the part of most of our city’s town council members and planners,” Adams said, adding that they were courting environmentally unfriendly companies and large industrial firms seeking undeveloped land, rather than steering them to developed sites.
“Why don’t we prioritize open lands and green development that sustains clean air and water as goals through Westfield,” Adams said. She said the city’s own open space plan has as its number one goal to ensure an abundant and safe drinking water supply, and to retain large, protected blocks of connected open space. She asked that the City Council consider conservation as they look at new development.