Council approves Elm Street land acqusition, demolition funding

Contractors from Truck Crane Service continue to raze the city-owned Block Building this morning. The City Council approved funding for the purchase of the Hampden Bank property located next to the Block Building during last night’s meeting. (Photo by chief photographer Frederick Gore)

WESTFIELD – The City Council unanimously approved the purchase of an Elm Street property from the Hampden Bank and appropriated $75,000 from the city’s stabilization fund to finance a portion of that purchase.
City Advancement Officer Jeff Daley presented the two requests to the council members stating that the timing of the votes is critical in containing the cost of the demolition and environmental mitigation of 76-84 Elm Street, the single story commercial building abutting the city-owned two-story building which was demolished this week by Truck Crane Service, Inc.
Daley said the purchase has to be posted on the state’s Central Register for 30 days before the bank is paid to close the deal and during that time environmental mitigation inside the building will take place.
Daley said the demolition contractor will maintain equipment on the site for the demolition of the building as soon as the purchase is finalized with payment of $145,000 to Hampden Bank.
“A delay of even two weeks will cost extra money,” Daley said. “I’m trying to save the community money by getting it out.”
Daley said that the city will use $70,000 from the Community Development Block Grant program to removed blighted and dilapidated structures.
Council members questioned Daley about the demolition cost of the buildings being acquired from the bank, if Mayor Daniel M. Knapik would request an additional appropriation.
Daley said the $125,000 approved by the council in August under an emergency appropriation request would be sufficient for the demolition of both structures. Building Inspector Jon Flagg issued a public safety decree following an inspection the city-owned structure after bricks fell onto the sidewalk along Arnold Street. During that inspection Flagg found that the brick facade on the bank-owned building was separating from the building and posed a public safety hazard to pedestrians on the Elm Street sidewalk.
That brick facade collapsed while an inspector was investigating Flagg’s observation, causing a scissor-jack lift to fall backwards onto a parked car and sending the worker to Noble Hospital for treatment of minor lacerations.
“The $125,000 allocated for the removal of the city-owned building has adequate funding for the remediation inside the bank-owned building and for demolition of that building,” Daley said. “If there is any overage (costs) we have $24,000 in the CDBG funds for demolition of buildings in the downtown.”
Daley said the city would apply for reimbursement of the cost of demolition and building environmental remediation to the state agency, which approved a $480200 “brownfield” grant to the city to remove contamination for the parking lot behind Elm Street property identified as part of a mixed-use commercial, retail and residential property development project. The brownfield grant was issued to the city through MassDevelopment, a quasi-independent agency, created in 1998 under M.G.L. Chapter 23G, that was established to work with businesses, nonprofits, and local, state, and federal officials and agencies to strengthen the Massachusetts economy.
“We plan to seek a full reimbursement of the cost of remediating the two buildings and demolition,” Daley said.
At-large Councilor David A. Flaherty said that the bank has paid the city more than $200,000 in property taxes for the building.
“The bank is taking a bit of a hit,” Flaherty said.
Daley said that the city is taking financial responsibility for the environmental remediation of the parking area behind the buildings which are contaminated with petroleum and lead.  This contamination occurred during prior use of the steam plant which once was a separate part of the Professional Building that burned down on Jan. 6, 1952. The power plant was not damaged and laterwas used for several commercial businesses.
The sale of the building will allow Hampden Bank to avoid paying about $70,000, its share of the environmental remediation.
“It was a true negotiation,” Daley said. “Hampden Bank has been a good citizen of Westfield.”

To watch Thursday’s city council meeting, click here.

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