Video and Guest Column: Planning Board Approves Kollmorgen for Hospital Hill on 6/11/09

Here is a video of the first 2 hours and 12 minutes of the 6/11/09 meeting of Northampton’s Planning Board. The board approved a proposal by Kollmorgen Electro-Optical to build a new facility at Hospital Hill/Village Hill. This video was recorded by Jesus Leyva and Benjamin Spencer.

Here are the agenda items covered in this video. The Kollmorgen hearing begins at video time 0:09:30:

FOR Thursday June 11, 2009

THE PLANNING BOARD AND CITY COUNCIL ORDINANCE COMMITTEE will hold a joint public hearing in Council Chambers, Puchalski Municipal Building, 212 Main Street, Northampton, MA:

7:00 P.M. Amend Zoning Ordinance §350-11.4 Expedited Permitting Process for Renewable/Alternative Energy Facility

Ordinance Committee may continue discussion/meeting upon close of hearing- at a location to be determined on City Hall Campus.

THE PLANNING BOARD meets at 7:20 P.M. in Council Chambers, Puchalski Municipal Building, 212 Main Street, Northampton, MA for public hearings:

7:20 P.M. Continuation of the request by Kollmorgen Electro Optical for Site Plan Approval to build at 140,000 square foot building at Prince Street (South Campus of Village Hill) Northampton Map ID 38A-50.

Here is a guest column by Hospital Hill/Village Hill neighbor Benjamin Spencer on the Planning Board’s decision:

Welcome to Village Hill Northampton

From the South Campus of Village Hill the views of the Pioneer Valley and the Holyoke and Mount Tom Ranges are stunning. Unfortunately, the Planning Board’s decision to accept the site plan presented by Kollmorgen at their June 11th meeting means these views will never be the same. Public access to this valuable resource has been eliminated in order to appease Kollmorgen and the goal of building a community at Village Hill Northampton has gone with it.

The Manhan Rail Trail Extension could have climbed the hill and followed the ridge east towards Route 66, bringing users out by the main intersection at Village Hill Road. Here the road could have been crossed safely at the traffic signals that are currently being installed. This path would have been “separated from car traffic, the off-road multi-use path offer(ing) families and beginning bicyclists and walkers a calm stretch for recreation and commuting.” SDAT 10/19/05 – p.37. It is desirable to “…create trails and bike paths along greenways; these alternative transportation strategies provide areas of scenic beauty, improve air quality, provide habitat protection and passive recreation, and are accessible for people with disabilities.” SDAT – p.31. [Download the SDAT Final Report PDF] The current bike path extension plan does not meet any of these criteria and has serious safety concerns.

I was disappointed when the Citizens Advisory Committee (C.A.C.) voted unanimously to make significant changes to the master plan and departed from their own stated goal of creating a “vibrant mixed-use community compatible with surrounding neighborhoods.” The C.A.C. has stated that the “redevelopment of the former State Hospital is one of the most important economic development, affordable housing and smart growth initiatives in the history of the city.” I plan to attend their next meeting on Wednesday, June 17, 2009 from 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm at the J.F.K. Middle School in the Community Room.

It seemed reasonable to ask Kollmorgen to agree to an Overlook bike route [click for graphic] as a demonstration of their willingness to be a good neighbor and to help retain the original vision of a mixed-use village open to everyone. The Overlook Bike Path would have provided a common place for residents, workers, families and cyclists to share and enjoy. On this overlook the community would have been able to meet each other and connect with the beautiful valley we all call home. The SDAT Report presents a “comprehensive plan (based) on principals of sustainability in conjunction with the mayor’s initiative for a ‘sustainable Northampton’. It was agreed at the outset that the intent of sustainable design is to take an integrated approach that balances three aspects of sustainability, namely social, economic and environmental implications. It was noted that a great advancement in one of these three areas to the detriment of one or two of the others will not be sustainable overall.” – SDAT Report – p.17

I feel it is dishonest for Mass Development to claim on their website,, that “Village Hill Northampton is a planned development that has transformed a hilltop site into a thriving and vital neighborhood offering the best of community life.” Even more troubling is Mass Development’s working relationship with the Northampton Planning Board. There has been poor communication and on occasion the Planning Board has learned about significant changes to the master plan by reading about it in the Gazette. The Planning Board had envisioned Village Hill as a planned village with mixed uses. What is actually evolving is a huge subdivision next to an industrial park with one tenant.

What I find most distressing is that Mayor Higgins, who serves as the Chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee, seems to have no misgivings about straying from the guiding principles of sustainable planning. “Sustainable Northampton is a comprehensive plan that seeks to ensure the city can continue to meet its current and ongoing environmental, social and economic needs without compromising the future for succeeding generations. Sustainable Northampton commits the city to becoming a model community for sustainable policies and practices.” – Sustainable Northampton Summary

The only reason I had any hope for a desirable outcome at Village Hill Northampton was because members of the Planning Board shared my concerns. The Planning Board seemed to be the only place where the desire to create a “compact, mixed use neighborhood which creates a genuine village, consistent with what was originally intended for the redevelopment of Hospital Hill” – Notre Dame Charette – still existed. Unfortunately, by the time the plan got to them the fix was in and all they could do was discuss where the snow would be piled and how many lights would be left on to illuminate 450 empty parking spaces in a “green” parking lot.

It looks as though Kollmorgen will be moving to Village Hill. There goes the neighborhood.

See also:

Sustainable Northampton Plan

Gazette: “Kollmorgen HQ project at Village Hill approved” (6/12/09)
Although the board OK’d the site plans in a 5-1 vote, with Kenneth Jodrie the lone dissenter, disapproval of the redesigned bike path was a consistent theme among speakers. Rust Avenue resident Benjamin Spencer, who spoke a number of times at the meeting, said he thought changes to the bike path made it unsafe for children and that the company’s claim that a bike path would cause a security problem was insincere.

Guest Column: Manhan Rail Trail Extension to Village Hill Northampton; June 11 Kollmorgen Hearing (6/10/09)

Download Envisioning Sustainable Northampton – Final Notre Dame Studio Presentation Book

Envisioning Sustainable Northampton: Notre Dame Urban Design Presentation – Video and Handout

Video: Kollmorgen Hospital Hill Presentation of 5/20/09

Gazette: “Neighbors get look at Kollmorgen plans” (5/21/09)

Video: Planning Board Approves North Campus Hospital Hill Subdivision, Denies Dog Kennel Permit on 4/23/09

Video: Planning Board Meeting of January 22; Hospital Hill; Kohl Condo Proposal

Hill: 12/1/08 Joint Meeting of the Citizens Advisory Committee,
Planning Board and Housing Partnership – Video and Minutes;
MassDevelopment vs. Notre Dame Visions

Notre Dame Northampton Charrette Critical of Hospital Hill Plans, Fleshes Out Alternative (11/30/08)
Here are some of the Design Studio’s specific concerns about the MassDevelopment Plan:

…the proposal currently before the CAC fails to promote the Sustainability Plan in a number of ways:

  • The proposal essentially destroys the site’s most valuable features.
  • Land is not put to its best or most efficient use. Instead, large
    private lots sprawl throughout the design and inhibit the creation of
    well-designed public space.
  • Uses are not mixed, but are primarily residential, with the
    exception of one huge industrial employer. The design is essentially an
    industrial park next to a residential subdivision. Residents must drive
    off-site for many of their daily needs, essentially making Hospital
    Hill an unsustainable suburb.
  • The proposal does not provide for usable public open space or
    recreation areas. This is a huge loss to the Hospital Hill residents
    and to the larger Northampton community. The mere preservation of
    undeveloped acreage does not, by itself, create the kind of shared open
    space that is conducive to community life.
  • The proposal does not provide for the enhancement of arts, culture,
    or heritage resources. There is not enough mixed-use development or
    public space proposed in which these activities might thrive.
  • The proposal does not create a walkable community. It is a residential subdivision that depends on cars.

Video: Northampton State Hospital Citizen Advisory Committee Meeting, 11/17/08

November 13 Planning Board Meeting: Hazards Mitigation Plan; Zoning
Revisions Committee; Hotel Northampton Complaint; Hospital Hill
Diverging from Vision of Planned Village; Comments on Notre Dame
Charrette Website

Jodrie: “We have an awful working relationship with this developer
[MassDevelopment]… They’re going about this in a way that’s not
working with us at all… I’m extremely disappointed in this process…
It’s MassDevelopment who’s not listening to us [as opposed to the
Citizens Advisory Committee]. They don’t hear what we tell them about
what our interpretation of this village is…”

Jodrie: “…the developer is not complying with our vision of what a
village ought to be… We need to tell the developer directly that
they’re not going to get these approvals when they arrive here
regardless of what the CAC says.”

Video: June 26 Planning Board Meeting Discusses Hospital Hill, Citizens’ Advisory Committee, Northampton Soccer Club

Valley Advocate: Northampton: No “Village” at Hospital Hill (6/12/08)

Video: Manhan Rail Trail Hearing of 4/27/09

April 27: Public Hearing for the Manhan Rail Trail