Our Ad in Today’s Gazette: A Review of Our Objections to the Kohl Condo Proposal

Here is our ad as it appears on page 3 of the A section in today’s Daily Hampshire Gazette (download a high-resolution PDF). This ad summarizes many of our key objections to the Kohl condo proposal for North Street. The text is reproduced below the ad image with links added so you can explore the issues in more detail.

Kohl Construction, operating as Tofino Associates and Northern Avenue Homes, proposes to build 25 condo units plus roads in the woods, grassy areas, and wetlands buffer zone between North Street and the new bike trail in Northampton. Many large trees would get the axe. An existing century-old house at the end of View Avenue would be demolished. Within the wetlands lies Millyard Brook, a stream that flows nearly year-round. The North Street Neighborhood Association opposes this development for several reasons.

Environmental Quality

Wetlands need adequate buffer zones to keep human disturbance and pollution out. Most local wetlands ordinances in Massachusetts specify no-disturb zones of at least 25-50 feet. Kohl, however, originally proposed to place grading, walls, yards, patios, and certain components of its stormwater management system as close as 12 feet to the wetland, plus a new road encroaching to within 35 feet. Despite Conservation Commission objections at a December 11 hearing, Kohl’s latest proposal is not much different.

Studies find that buffers of less than 50 feet are generally ineffective in protecting wetlands. In one study in Washington state, no buffers of 25 feet or less were functioning to reduce disturbance to the adjacent wetland. For the past several decades, the Connecticut River has been getting more and more salty. Runoff from paved surfaces near wetlands and water bodies is a major culprit. Indeed, the Connecticut River Strategic Plan supports the removal of impervious surfaces within 50 feet of streams (Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, 2003).

Health and Safety

When you build housing close to a wetland, you risk exposing residents to water-related problems. An example is the possibility of mold and moisture intruding into residences via utility ducts, basement walls and cracked foundation slabs.

In Northampton, homes built near wetlands include several on Winslow, Nutting and Elm Streets. Former City Councilor Alex Ghiselin reports that water-related issues were “the knottiest, the most difficult problems that we dealt with… Once the houses are built there’s really no good solution… The developers are long gone.” One couple on Winslow spent over $8,000 in 2007 to move water around their house. [1]

After Tropical Storm Floyd (1999), flood damage was reported at the end of View Avenue. This area is one of the more elevated portions of Kohl’s property. We infer that much of the property may be at risk of flooding.

Smart Growth vs. “Smart Growth”

Some claim that because Kohl’s proposed condos are within walking distance of downtown and have a high density, they are a good example of Smart Growth. However, there’s more to it than that, according to the Urban Land Institute (ULI).

True Smart Growth respects green infrastructure, such as trees and wetlands. These greenspaces filter the air, reduce the urban heat island effect, enhance property values and moderate stormwater flows, and they do it inexpensively. Urban greenspace is associated with improved physical and mental health and greater social cohesion in neighborhoods.

True Smart Growth preserves a community’s character, unlike development that “bears little relationship to a community’s history, culture, or geography.” ULI says homebuyers are increasingly attracted to vernacular and historical house styles that characterize their immediate area or region. Quoting Jim Constantine, a market specialist who does “curb appeal” surveys for developers, “Consumers are turned off by cookie-cutter subdivisions and the homogenous look of houses.” Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Kohl Construction is offering the neighborhood.

Proposed Kohl condo designs

Developers must not be allowed to cherry-pick aspects of Smart Growth that suit their profit goals and ignore the rest. If Northampton wants to reduce sprawl and attract residents to its already built-up areas, it must keep these areas safe and preserve the greenspace and visual appeal that grace its traditional neighborhoods. Learn more at www.northassoc.org.

Here are the January 22 public hearings that will consider Kohl’s revised proposal. Please come!

Date: Thursday January 22, 2009
Time: 5:30 PM
Place: City Hall Hearing Room (use back door or main Crafts Avenue door) 2nd floor, 210 Main Street, Northampton

For more information: Bruce W. Young, Land Use and Conservation Planner byoung@northamptonma.gov


Approval of Minutes for 01/08/2009

5:30 PM
Continuation of a Notice of Intent filed by Jim Harrity on behalf of
EBD Corp. for the construction of a mixed use building, associated
parking areas, driveways, sidewalks, utilities, landscaping and
stormwater management system. Project is proposed to take place in the
100-foot buffer zone of Bordering Vegetated Wetlands. Project location
is 225 Nonotuck Street, Map Id 23A-281.

6:00 PM
Continuation of a Notice of Intent filed by Smith College for the
relocation of a tennis court, creation of a synthetic playing field,
and the paving of an existing gravel parking lot. Work is proposed to
take place in Riverfront Area. Project location is College Lane at
Smith College, Map Id 31C-15.

6:30 PM
Continuation of a Notice of Intent filed by Tofino Associates, Inc. and
Northern Avenue Homes, Inc. for the construction of twenty-five
dwelling units and associated roadways, parking areas, driveways,
sidewalks, utilities, landscaping and stormwater management system.
Project is proposed to take place in the 100-foot buffer zone of
Bordering Vegetated Wetlands. Project location is Northern Avenue, Map
Id 25C-12 and 25C-17.

FOR Thursday January 22, 2009

THE PLANNING BOARD meets at 7:00 P.M. in Council Chambers, Puchalski Municipal Building, 212 Main Street, Northampton, MA:

7:00 P.M. Informal discussion with Mass Development on Planned Village changes

7:45 P.M. Continuation (from January 8) of a hearing on the request by
EBD Corp for site plan approval at 225 Nonotuck St, Florence

8:00 P.M. Continuation of a hearing on the request by Tofino
Associates/Northern Ave. Homes for a special permit to construct a
25-unit Townhouse project with associated site plan including driveway
access from North and Northern Ave at 8 View Ave, Northampton, Map ID
25C-12 & 17.

See also:

Gazette: “Housing slump for some, but not all” (2/16/09)
[Contrasting an unsold house at 310 Old Wilson Road with a house that just sold at 88 Sylvester Road:]
…So how does it happen that one house drops its price by 18 percent,
and remains unsold, while another sells quickly for 6 percent above its
asking price?

…The second house “has a certain character,” said [Larry] Miller [of
the Jones Group]. “It’s a house you can’t find over again. The one on
Old Wilson Road, in some variety you can find it over and over…”

Boston Globe: “How the city hurts your brain” (1/2/09)
…scientists have begun to examine how the city affects the brain, and
the results are chastening. Just being in an urban environment, they
have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few
minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things
in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control…

One of the main forces at work is a stark lack of nature, which is
surprisingly beneficial for the brain. Studies have demonstrated, for
instance, that hospital patients recover more quickly when they can see
trees from their windows, and that women living in public housing are
better able to focus when their apartment overlooks a grassy courtyard.
Even these fleeting glimpses of nature improve brain performance, it
seems, because they provide a mental break from the urban roil…

A city is so overstuffed with stimuli that we need to constantly
redirect our attention so that we aren’t distracted by irrelevant
things, like a flashing neon sign…

Natural settings, in contrast, don’t require the same amount of cognitive effort…

Natural settings are full of objects that automatically capture our
attention, yet without triggering a negative emotional response —
unlike, say, a backfiring car. The mental machinery that directs
attention can relax deeply, replenishing itself…

City life can also lead to loss of emotional control. Kuo and her
colleagues found less domestic violence in the apartments with views of
greenery. These data build on earlier work that demonstrated how
aspects of the urban environment, such as crowding and unpredictable
noise, can also lead to increased levels of aggression. A tired brain,
run down by the stimuli of city life, is more likely to lose its

While people have searched high and low for ways to improve cognitive
performance, from doping themselves with Red Bull to redesigning the
layout of offices, it appears that few of these treatments are as
effective as simply taking a walk in a natural place…

WATERSHEDSS: Major Causes of Wetland Loss and Degradation
is a major cause of impairment of wetlands (USEPA 1994b). Urbanization
has resulted in direct loss of wetland acreage as well as degradation
of wetlands. Degradation is due to changes in water quality, quantity,
and flow rates; increases in pollutant inputs; and changes in species
composition as a result of introduction of non-native species and
disturbance. The major pollutants associated with urbanization are
sediment, nutrients, oxygen-demanding substances, road salts, heavy
metals, hydrocarbons, bacteria, and viruses (USEPA 1994b). These
pollutants may enter wetlands from point sources or from nonpoint
sources. Construction activities are a major source of suspended
sediments that enter wetlands through urban runoff.

Paved Surfaces, Salt and Water Bodies: A Bad Mix

Gazette: “Salt suspected in Southampton well contamination”
According to the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency’s Web site, salt is a cheap and effective solution to
ice-covered roads that can be a problem for drinking water systems as
runoff affects local soil quality, groundwater and surface water

Flood and Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan: Wetlands Buffers of 100 Feet
Are an Effective Flood Mitigation Strategy and Should Be Consistently

In general, a core problem for infill in Northampton is
to avoid placing large numbers of people and structures in low-lying
areas downtown that may be at risk for flooding. As the plan states,
“In recent years, heavy rainstorms have caused significant problems in
more urbanized areas as increased development inhibits proper drainage
and existing or poorly maintained water systems cannot handle increased
stormwater runoff.”

“Innovative Non-Zoning Approaches to Encourage Smart Growth and Protect Public Health” – Video with Wayne Feiden and Bruce Young
1:03:00… Young: “We have some serious challenges ahead of us.
And one is… ‘HIGs’, holes in the ground. And so, what we’re saying
is, we want good infill development, but through our Wetlands Ordinance
we didn’t really adopt stormwater standards that would improve the
stormwater in these infill areas. So we have a challenge to come up
with better design standards for stormwater instead of these giant
holes in the ground, and to actually require or implement some, or
incentivize some low-impact development type of stormwater systems. And
then…the second thing that goes with stormwater systems is
maintenance… We’re working with the Department of Public Works that
now has a stormwater manager and we’re setting up maintenance for these
systems, but some of these are older systems and some of these have
been approved under a system that didn’t have basically [what’s modern]
for these types of systems…”