Elm Street development project vote postponed

From left: Alex Davis, Nick Buehrens, and Rich Relich explain the layout and timeline of the Arch Communities LLC. proposal for the Elm Street project. (PETER CURRIER / THE WESTFIELD NEWS)

WESTFIELD- The Westfield Redevelopment Authority did not select a developer for the Elm Street Urban Renewal Project Feb. 4.

The Authority members are seeking more input from city officials and there were several factors they would like to consider.

A special meeting is scheduled for Feb. 20, when  members hope to finally vote between proposals submitted by Domus Inc. and Arch Communities LLC. The developer that is chosen will lead the project to construct a building on the vacant site of the J.J. Newberry’s building that burned down in 1986. 

Representatives from both companies Jan. 7 pitched their plan for the empty lot on Elm Street. Each Authority member kept a scorecard for each developer in which they rated different criteria using a point system. The total points for each developer from each member were added up following the meeting.

Arch Communities was given 297 points while Domus received 263. Community Development Director Peter J. Miller said that the scores are not binding, but instead are meant to be a baseline from which the Authority can consider their choice. The score sheets were to be entered into public record following the meeting. 

Ann Lentini explains the details of their proposal for the Elm Street project. Next to her is a floor plan for the entire property. (PETER CURRIER / THE WESTFIELD NEWS)

Miller said part of the reasoning for a delay was that he received an email late Monday evening from the Massachusetts Ethics Commission that concerned two consultants on the Arch project. He said that he needed time for the city Law Department to review the email from the Ethics Commission, but did not comment further on any specifics of the email. 

“We can’t go into negotiations with anybody until that is resolved,” said Authority Chair Kathleen Witalisz.

Miller said another cause for delay was that major votes of the Authority require a written resolution to first be vetted by the Westfield City Council, which he said is likely to happen during this week’s City Council meeting. 

The Authority is also seeking input from Mayor Donald F. Humason Jr. and the City Council, as one of the developers sought tax breaks as part of their proposal, which the Authority does not have authority to grant. 

The Authority will also consider how parking downtown would be impacted by a new residential building on Elm Street. Miller said a parking garage would likely cost upwards of $14 million for 400 parking spaces, which he does not believe will be a priority for the city when the cost is considered.

“We’re looking to spend money on a school and now there are articles about a new police station,” said Miller, “I don’t think this is going to rise to that level of priority.”

Miller said that he would like to see a generalized site plan or study on what the parking use downtown would be should the new building be constructed. 

Witalisz suggested inviting Humason to discuss all of the factors surrounding the project with the Authority. Miller said that it would make more sense for one or two Authority members to meet with Humason outside of an open meeting just to get a sense of his feelings on each factor.

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