WESTFIELD — Mayor Daniel M. Knapik has slated for public information meeting on the proposed Elm Street project for Wednesday, Dec. 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the South Middle School on West Silver Street.
Knapik, in a press release, said the meeting will begin with an overview of the project which will be presented by City Advancement Officer Jeff Daley and augmented by the city’s redevelopment consultant, HDR of Boston, which will detail several redevelopment scenarios currently under consideration.
Daley, speaking Tuesday morning at a meeting of the Westfield Redevelopment Authority (WRA) said that the city is seeking input on the proposed project from a number of stakeholders, including downtown business and property owners, as well as city residents.
“This important project will lay the groundwork to reinvigorate our downtown and our city as a whole,” Knapik said in the prepared text. “This project has been talked about and shelved many times in the last decade. The citizens of Westfield and its visitors deserve to have the project move forward.”
“I’m looking forward to the dialogue with and feedback from the public on this development,” Knapik said. “We have worked for the better part of a year to bring this first stage of pre-development to a close and I am excited to continue to move this project forward which will be a catalyst for our downtown (revitalization goals).”
The city has secured a $480,200 brownfield grant from the state for environmental mitigation of the soil contaminated with petroleum and lead in an area next to the Arnold Street municipal parking lot, land that will be incorporated into a mixed-use transportation, commercial, retail and residential property development project at the corner of Elm and Arnold streets. That funding was recently used to demolish the city-owned two-story building at the corner of Arnold and Elm streets and to remove windows caulked with an asbestos material as part of the environmental mitigation process.
Daley said the planned demolition of the building owned by the Hampden Bank has been delayed because of a property title issue. Daley said there is a break, which occurred in the 1980s, of the property title for the Elm Street building and that under a recent court decision may still be controlled by the Block Corporation.
“If the break is due to a foreclosure, the title ends and the Block Corporation still owns the property, based on the court’s decision,” Daley said.
The Supreme Judicial Court handed down an Oct. 7, 2010 decision in the U.S. Bank N.A. v. Ibanez case which voided two foreclosure sales where the foreclosing parties did not hold a clear mortgage. The court found that that the plaintiffs, who were not the original mortgagees, failed to make the required showing that they were the holders of the mortgages at the time of foreclosure. As a result, they did not demonstrate that the foreclosure sales were valid to convey title to the subject properties, and their requests for a declaration of clear title were properly denied.
Daley said that the city is attempting to discuss that issue with a former officer of the Block Corporation who may be able to bridge the break in the title records.
Daley said the city is currently updating the urban renewal plan for the downtown district. That plan will have several local reviews beginning with the WRA which will have to approve the plan. The Urban Renewal Plan then goes to the Planning Board to make a recommendation to the City Council which has to vote to accept or reject the plan.
The Urban Renewal Plan and the joint development study which will include a transportation plan, traffic and housing studies will be the foundation of future development for the project.
The project does include a 2,000-square-foot transportation component. Daley said that the Pioneer Valley Transportation Authority records show city residents account for 61,000 trips a year, while Westfield State University students account for another 8,000 trips.
“We’re talking close to 70,000 trips a year in the city with two bus routes,” Daley said. “This is not a bus station, it’s a bus stop with shelter for citizens waiting for their bus.”
The Police Department will have a community policing office in the transportation component and the city is discussing options to house the department’s Detective Bureau in either the bus facility or in the 130,000 square-foot mixed-use building project. Westfield State University is also interested in space in the project, for offices and perhaps instructional space.
The project includes plans to set back the new buildings and widen Arnold Street along the project boundary. The buildings will also be set back from Elm Street to create a plaza in front of the building.