Shel Horowitz: EconoLodge project lost opportunity for town

Published: 4/25/2023 3:21:10 PM
Modified: 4/25/2023 3:19:07 PM

It’s taken me a while to recover from my shock that on March 20, the Hadley Zoning Board of Appeals blocked the use of the empty EconoLodge for affordable housing. Their justification was that “three people shouldn’t decide this for the town.” But those same three people did decide for the town — to kill the project.

This project had support from the Select Board, Planning Board, Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee, Housing and Economic Development Committee, and Climate Committee, Police Chief Michael Mason and Fire Chief Michael Spanknebel, plus community organizations like Hadley Learns. The opposition, while loud, collected only 45 signatures (out of 5,325 residents) on their petition.

Though residents gave up our evening expecting to be heard, the ZBA banned public comment. Worse, they ignored Valley CDC’s excellent presentation that addressed all publicly raised objections and pointed out numerous benefits to the town.

This is a good project, in harmony with many of Hadley’s stated goals, from a nonprofit developer with a successful track record, who is eager to work together with the town. It would have added tax revenue without burdening the schools. And it would have cushioned Hadley against other not-so-well-thought-out Chapter 40B projects, such as the 232-unit monstrosity proposed for an undeveloped farm parcel on North Maple Street, an already overcrowded road with no sidewalks, no public transit, and nowhere to shop: the wrong project in the wrong location. If Hadley, with so much new luxury housing going up, drops below the state threshold, that one could be rammed down our throats and that North Maple monstrosity could be coming to a bucolic town near you.

This was not a request to change the town zoning. It was a variance request that would have allowed the creative reuse of an abandoned former hotel (which can’t ever be used as a hotel again) to address an acute shortage of affordable housing in walking distance of shopping and bus stops. It was the right project for the right location.

Let’s figure out a way to make this right.

Shel Horowitz, Hadley

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