Kohl’s Condo Proposal: Where Things Stand, and What You Can Do

Kohl Construction proposes to build 31 condo units in the forest between North Street and the bike path. This development, with its access roads and 66 parking spaces, will claim 5.49 acres of land. These pictures show the area affected:

The urban forest behind North Street is already surrounded by development

The crucial large lots slated for condos are 25C-012 and 25C-017. The plan calls for adding pavement to View Avenue and the “paper street” between View and Northern to provide access for the condo residents. 66 parking spaces are planned. For more detail, download the PDF of Map 25C

The development will impact the entire North Street neighborhood, especially homes within 1,000 feet of View Avenue and Northern Avenue

The proposed condos will encroach close to wetlands

Roads and parking spaces will need to be constructed to serve the condos

Note the planned artificial “detention pools” to manage the substantial water flows in this area. These are inferior substitutes for naturally-evolved forests and wetlands.

Surrounded by developed areas on all sides, our forest is one of the few substantial stands of trees in downtown Northampton. A distinctive and beautiful feature of our neighborhood, the forest cools the air, buffers sound from I-91 and King Street, smells great, absorbs water, and provides a habitat for deer and small animals of all kinds.

Parks moderate urban temperatures (source: EPA)

A wetland centered on Millyard Brook runs through the heart of the forest. The buffer area around a wetland is important in itself, an edge zone of high species diversity that helps regulate water flows into the wetland. These areas are fragile, can take a long time to establish, and are easily disturbed by development. The consequences of development around wetlands are often increased flooding in wet periods and more severe dryness during droughts.

Urban ‘infill’ development is laudable when it reclaims parking lots, brownfields and decayed structures. However, Kohl’s proposal will impact substantial amounts of natural green space, in conflict with the ecological goals of Northampton’s Sustainability Plan. Here are pictures of the forest and wetlands around the area slated for development:

Mature, longstanding trees

Ferns flock to moist areas

Exposed roots suggest that substantial volumes of water flow over this ground

Neighbors are also concerned about increased parking and traffic demands that will be made on an already busy North Street and the side streets that lead from it.

What You Can Do

In June, Kohl filed a Wetlands Application with Northampton’s Office of Planning and Development. This application illustrates where Kohl believes the boundaries of the wetlands are. A hearing to discuss these plans in public has not yet been scheduled (we’ll let you know when it is). In the meantime, we encourage citizens to attend the following:

Come to the North Street Neighborhood Association Barbecue on Saturday, July 21, 5-7pm at 134 North Street
Meet your neighbors, learn more about the proposed condos, enjoy burgers and lemonade, and pick up a yard sign…

Attend the Ordinance Committee meeting on July 24, 6:00pm at 212 Main Street in City Council Chambers. This meeting will discuss changes to Northampton’s wetlands regulations

The Association is concerned that the buffer zone around wetlands for many areas of Northampton will shrink from 100 feet to as little as 10 feet, even as ordinance language now being considered (PDF) by city officials states:

Problems with nutrient runoff, erosion, siltation, loss of groundwater recharge, poor water quality, vegetation change and harm to wildlife habitat are greatly exacerbated by activities within 100 feet of wetlands. These impacts may happen either immediately, or over time, as a consequence of construction, or as a consequence of daily operation.
We urge you to ask officials at this meeting to preserve 100-foot buffer zones for wetlands throughout the city unless extraordinary circumstances apply.

Attend the Tree Committee meeting on July 24, 6:30pm at 125 Locust Street and push for stronger protections for Northampton’s trees

Even though Northampton has been designated as a “Tree City”, a number of other communities in the state have stronger protections for their trees. We encourage you to ask the Tree Committee to promote local ordinances that will protect “significant trees”. In Springfield, property owners must demonstrate to the city forester that they have good reasons to remove or cut back trees that are over 75 years old or more than 3 feet in diameter at chest height.

Express your opinions to your elected officials and the local media:

Contact Mayor Clare Higgins

Contact your Northampton City Councilor

Write a letter to the Daily Hampshire Gazette

Write a letter to The Republican