City Council approves urban renewal plan

WESTFIELD – The City Council voted Thursday to approve the Urban Renewal Plan developed to support the proposed Elm Street commercial development and transportation project.
The urban renewal plan will now be submitted to the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) for its review and approval by the Westfield Redevelopment Authority.
The Legislative & Ordinance Committee presented the plan with a positive recommendation, although that recommendation was not unanimous and the vote to adopt the plan was 12-1.
Ward 1 Councilor Christopher Keefe, who is the L&O Chairman, voted against the plan because of his concern that the city would have to commit funding, which has yet be budgeted, at some future date.
Keefe said that the “delta” between the funds secured through grants and the actual cost of implementing the plan could be as high as six figures.
Ward 4 Councilor Mary O’Connell, also the L&O member who presented the positive recommendation to approve the plan, said the City Council’s vote does not encumber the city to a financial liability.
O’Connell said “it is only a plan, we are not dispersing money.”
The urban renewal plan was developed by the Westfield Redevelopment Authority to enable it to pull property between Arnold and Church streets together for a public-private project that will include a publicly funded transportation element and a multistory parking garage to support a privately-funded mixed use, multistory building with retail and commercial office space.
The WRA, under state law, can take property through the eminent domain process to assemble a project site and can structure financing for projects.
The plan was prepared for the WRA by Maureen Hayes, a Springfield based consultant, who identified a 4.88 acre renewal plan target area on both sides of Elm Street.
The Elm Street Urban Renewal Plan encompass both sides of Elm Street, roughly from the City Hotel alley to Thomas Street on the east side of Elm Street and between Arnold and Church streets on the west side of Elm Street.
The Elm Street project target area includes the 2.86 acre site off Elm Street and between Arnold and Church streets.
The proposed multi-use commercial building would be located at the corner of Elm and Arnold streets, while the 2,000-square-foot transportation facility will be constructed on Arnold Street. The parking garage, which could have as many as six levels, will be sited off Church Street.
The size of the commercial building, which could have space for retail stores and office spaces, as well as residential space, will be determined by the private developer selected by the WRA for the project.
The Planning Board members voted to endorse the document and sent a positive recommendation to the City Council.
City Advancement Officer and WRA Executive Director Jeff Daley said the urban renewal plan was created for a mixed-use development project “that has been kicked around since the late 1990’s.”
“This is the first urban renewal plan proposal that has gotten this far, where a vote is needed,” Daley said.
Daley said the purview of the Planning Board is to ensure that the urban renewal plan is consistent with the “Rethinking Downtown” revitalization master plan adopted by the city in 2009.
Daley said Friday that the WRA “appreciates the City Council’s support in approving the plan and also acknowledges ” Councilor Keefe’s concerns.
“There is no financial commitment at this time,” Daley said. “There has never been discussion of committing city finds to the urban renewal plan.”
Daley said the plan is currently being financed through state and federal grants.
“I’ll do everything in my power not to come back to the city and to continue to work with the state and federal government to go after additional grants,” Daley said. “There is (additional) transportation funding available through bonds and other earmarks.”
“The WRA’s approach is to penny pinch and assemble as much (state and federal) funding as possible to put the city at the minimal (financial) risk as possible,” Daley said. “If we do have to come back to the city for additional funding, that request will go to the City Council for an up or down vote.”
The City Council also approved the “second amendment” to the memorandum of understanding (with the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority and Department of Transportation) for joint development of the Elm Street Redevelopment and Intermodal Transportation Center because the city has received an addition $230,000 grant for the project.
Daley said that he hopes to bring other amendments to the City Council as new funding is secured.

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