Hadley planners wary of proposed 232-unit complex near UMass

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 08-17-2023 4:17 PM

HADLEY — Despite showing interest in participating in a state program to allow denser residential development in certain areas of Hadley, Planning Board members appear less inclined to pursue such a zoning change for a 232-unit, multi-family apartment project on 45 acres between Rocky Hill Road and North Maple Street.

Though Trinitas Ventures of Lafayette, Indiana has entered into a contract for redevelopment of the former farm owned by the Babb family, planners informed the development team and their attorney Thomas Reidy of Bacon Wilson PC at a meeting Tuesday that the project faces many hurdles.

“This seems like it’s a long shot, at best,” said Planning Board Clerk William Dwyer.

Town zoning generally prohibits multiple residential units on a parcel, but planners have begun exploring using Chapter 40R, the state’s smart growth program, for the possible redevelopment of properties along Route 9, such as the Village Barn Shops near the Coolidge Bridge and the former EconoLodge hotel near Mountain Farms Mall, which are close to public transit and shopping.

By comparison, the Trinitas site is remote and is on a narrow road with no sidewalks or bicycle lanes, Dwyer said.

Dwyer said there are also questions about whether 40R could even be used, as the site has not previously been part of the conversation with state officials in Boston, including William Reyelt, principal planner for the Smart Growth Programs at the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities. “We have not floated anything like this past them,” Dwyer said.

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The presentation was the second time the project has been shown to a Hadley board, following a Housing and Economic Development Committee meeting in March.

Trinitas has the site under contract for a project that would include a mix of two-story cottages and three-story townhomes, and a mix of one- to four-bedroom units, with an open green space in the middle.

Todd Wendell, who is handling the design of the development for Trinitas, said with an affordable housing component, a minimum of 20% of the homes would count toward the affordable housing stock in Hadley. The remaining homes would be available at market rates.

“We truly believe that this project will add value to the town of Hadley,” Wendell said.

Adam Saxon, senior manager for development acquisitions at Trinitas, said the company has built in 15 states, with 30 developments of different sizes. Trinitas develops, holds and manages properties over the long term, he said.

“My job is to find well-located land in areas where we would like to build,” Saxon said. “We do truly envision this to be a multi-family community development, working professionals, empty nesters, people from the community.”

The plans include a public park, trails and pickleball courts, and the developers are also pledging to permanently protect roughly half the acreage from development.

“Our goal is to have an open mind, listen, collaborate, understand what you are looking for, and understand how we can be a value add to the community,” Saxon said.

Planning Board member Michael Sarsynski said the project looks good and meets the needs of the town and state to increase housing.

“I find it a very attractive type development. It’s very unfortunate this area might not be the place for it,” Sarsynski said.

While no formal application has yet been submitted, Planning Board members raised other concerns.

Planning Board Chairman James Maksimoski said due to being close to the University of Massachusetts, the homes would likely be a magnet for students, with eight to 10 students potentially living in the four-bedroom apartments.

“UMass is very much negligent in supplying dormitories for their own students, and they unload the requirements onto the surrounding communities,” Maksimoski said. “I can see a lot of these rentals becoming what we call ‘student stuffers.’”

Dwyer agreed that the development would bring in UMass-related residents. “It’s likely a lot of your target audience will be UMass students or people affiliated with UMass,” Dwyer said.

Maksimoski said that such a development would also swell the town’s population by 20% to 25%. “Two hundred and twenty-four units is more than the town may able to handle, regarding some ancillary things,” Maksimsoki said.

If 500 to 1,000 vehicle trips per day are added to Rocky Hill and North Maple from the development, that would be a problem, too. “Adding that kind of vehicle trips to them may be stretching their capacity,” Maksimoski said.

Wendell said if town officials are interested, he would go forward with a traffic study, noting that the company would also run a van or bus shuttle once the development is complete.

“You’d be very surprised at how it impacts a development like this, the overall impact on the roadway system,” Wendell said.

He also assured planners that Trinitas would be seeking a sewer tie-in to Amherst rather than Hadley’s system due to capacity issues.

Making the affordable units permanently affordable would likely be demanded by officials, Maksimoski said.

Should the agricultural and wooded parcel not to be used for this project, the site could be used for a conventional subdivision, with a dozen or more single-family homes going up.

While that wouldn’t be the preferred outcome, and is a risk for the town because it probably would be allowed under current zoning regulations, Maksimoski said as a farming community, Hadley is “super dedicated” to preserving its farmland and is always concerned about allowing it to be replaced.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.]]>