WRA seeking input from City Council for Elm St. project, one developer disqualified

Ann Lentini, Executive Director of Domus Inc., explains the details of their proposal for the Elm St. project. Next to her is a floor plan for the entire property. (Photo by Peter Currier)

WESTFIELD- The Westfield Redevelopment Authority voted Feb. 20  to continue deliberating on which developer they will choose to head the Elm Street Urban Renewal Project (URP).

The Authority chose to wait on making a decision after one of the two hopeful developers, Needham based Arch Communities LLC., was found to have a conflict of interest with the WRA. Former WRA Executive Director and consultant Jeff Daley was apparently listed as a managing partner with WestMass Area Development Corporation, with whom Arch is working on the project proposal.

Daley had previously been working with the WRA in the earlier stages of the Elm Street project. Acting Executive Director of the WRA, Peter Miller said that by law Arch is disqualified from the project. 

The WRA also had logistical questions about the plan proposed by the second hopeful developer, Domus, Inc., which is based in Westfield. The WRA voted to have Miller get an appraisal of the parcel of land on Elm Street where the development would take place. 

Members of the WRA also said that they intended to go to the March 5 City Council meeting to update the council on the project and get an idea of what kinds of concerns they have before they formally choose a developer or choose to start a new search for developers. 

Miller said the main focus of going to the City Council meeting is to show the councilors what they have learned over the last year of trying to find a developer for the project. 

“Both are very qualified in many ways except for the fact that we still were not totally identifying all of the pieces that we are looking for. I think we have a better picture now going forward,” said WRA Chair Kathleen Witalisz.

Witalisz and the rest of the WRA said that they want to have a better idea of different aspects of the Domus proposal such as parking. A building developed on that property would naturally remove some of the parking space that many people use downtown. What would remain would likely be reserved for residents or those who work on the ground floor. 

Should the WRA choose not to go with Domus as the developer, they would likely restart the process they began last year to find a new developer. This time, however, Witalisz said they would likely start with a Request for Proposal (RFP) rather than a Request for Interest (RFI) now that they have a better idea of what they are looking for in the development. 

Multiple WRA members said that the loss of some downtown parking may be moot, as the Lansdowne building downtown will soon no longer be home to Westfield State University students.  

Domus, the only remaining qualified developer to bid for the project, had proposed a building that would contain 62 affordable housing units with some units being designated for Section 8 Housing. The ground floor of the proposed building would be largely reserved for commercial units to add businesses to the empty stretch of Elm Street. 

The lot in question has been mostly vacant since 1986 when a fire burned down the J.J. NewBerry’s Department Store. Right now the plot of land is occupied by the PVTA bus station and is used as a downtown parking lot. 

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