An Open Letter from Residents of Edwards Square to Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish

Tim Jacobs and other residents of Edwards Square have asked us to publish this open letter. There will be public hearings on the proposal by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish on October 14 starting at 7:30pm in City Council Chambers. Concerned citizens are urged to attend.

An open letter from the concerned citizens of Northampton.

We welcome the consolidation of churches into the Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish and look forward to seeing the church grow. However, we have some concerns about the proposed demolition and site plan for the parish hall. In particular…

  • The existing stand of twenty 100+ year old historical trees is one of the largest and most prominent in our downtown setting. Their removal will forever change the way our downtown looks, from a variety of perspectives.
  • There will be a significant loss of green space, especially given recent accolades for being the most progressive town in the state with regards to Land Use (see recent Republican article). Also, we are concerned about the environmental impact of exchanging the green spaces for asphalt, big-box buildings, and the associated pollution, noise, and unknown environmental impacts (i.e., higher temperatures, more air pollution, traffic congestion, greater risk of flooding, overall reduction in charm and beauty).
  • A traffic study has not been conducted. A 14,000-foot-plus structure that can accommodate 300+ people, in addition to the existing church, will likely cause an impact which has not been evaluated by a traffic study.
  • Loss of a historically significant building. The Historical Commission has already placed a one-year demolition delay on this in order to encourage discussion about how to preserve the structure. It was designed by Isaac Damon who was a prominent builder of many churches and bridges. He is only known for building two residential properties, this one and the building used for the Northampton Historical Society.
  • This plan is contrary to what the town looks to accomplish with the ongoing revision of the King Street Zoning Requirements. Located within an urban downtown setting, we should look to emphasize the re-use of existing structures rather than the proliferation of new buildings.

We feel that the plans for the church do not reflect any consideration for the historic buildings, trees, or how the surrounding businesses and residents will be impacted. We ask that the church work with the community to see that the property represents far more than merely a 2.9-acre building lot. Here’s what we would propose…

  • Continued discussions to find a balance between the church’s need for growth and the preservation of historical structures, green space (i.e., stand of mature trees), and the privacy of the adjacent residential area (Edwards Square). This would include a buffer zone that encompasses the entire stand of trees and runs parallel to the Edwards Square neighborhood.
  • If current structures cannot be re-used, the new parish hall should be located in a zoning area that is consistent with the proposed use and designed to integrate with the surrounding environment and community.
  • The proposed “commercial building” should be located in the commercial district, where the current facility is located, rather than moving the building into a residential area.
  • An opportunity to work with the church officials, their architects, engineers, and legal counsel to discuss options that would allow for a mutually agreeable outcome.

Thank you for your consideration.

Here are pictures taken this week of the land between Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish and properties on Edwards Square. The trees shade the southern exposures of the homes on Edwards Square. The first picture was taken from King Street. The second and third pictures were taken from Edwards Square. The fourth picture was taken from the bike trail that runs behind the church. Photos by Adam Cohen.

See also:

October 14: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish on Planning Agenda
Here is the proposed new building for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish. For high-resolution PDFs and other documents related to this proposal, go to the Office of Planning and Development online filing cabinet.

Here is the existing footprint of buildings on the lot followed by the proposed footprint:

The new building and parking lot would necessitate the removal of a number of mature trees, cover the lot with substantially more impervious surface, and bring the building edge much closer to abutting homes on Edwards Square.

Benefits of Shade Trees
Fully grown, properly placed trees can cut your home cooling costs by up to 40 percent.

Photo Essay: 10 Reasons People Like Trees Around Them; Will the Sustainable Northampton Plan Put Urban Trees at Risk?
“Planning for Trees” by Henry Arnold, Planning Commissioners Journal, January/February 1992
A recent survey by the American Forestry Association of twenty American cities found that, on average, only one tree is planted for every four removed…

Our urban centers need to become more attractive to help counter the continuation of a sprawl pattern of development. If the appeal of low density, widely scattered development is derived from the need to be closer to nature, then making trees an integral part of the urban habitat will help make our town and city centers more desirable places to live and work. It is profoundly important to see this linkage between making cities and towns more “liveable” and stemming the continued spread of scattered development across the countryside.

“Green Enhances Growth” by Edward T. McMahon, Planning Commissioners Journal, Spring 1996
…today, tree protection ordinances are sprouting up all over the country. In California and Florida alone almost two hundred communities now have city tree ordinances…

In 1991, the [Urban Land Institute], in cooperation with the American Society of Landscape Architects, examined eleven real estate developments to assess whether money spent on site planning, landscaping, and preservation of mature trees justified the added cost of development…greenspace and landscaping translated into increased financial returns of 5 to 15 percent depending on the type of project. Landscaping also gave developers a competitive edge and increased the rate of project absorption…

[A National Association of Home Builders] report points out that “lots with trees sell for an average of 20 to 30 percent more than similarly sized lots without trees,” and that “mature trees that are saved during development add more value to a lot than post construction landscaping.”

…[A 1995 survey by American Lives shows] that “consumers are putting an increasingly high premium on interaction with the outdoor environment through the inclusion of wooded tracts, nature paths, and even wilderness areas in housing developments.” In fact, 77 percent of consumers put “natural open space” as the feature they desired most in a new home development.

[Appleyard’s ’10 reasons people like trees’ is quoted in a sidebar in McMahon’s article]

Gazette: “Seton parish hits snag; boards delay decision” (9/27/10)
Several outstanding issues caused both boards to delay making a decision at a joint public hearing, said Carolyn Misch, senior land use planner for the city. The hearing continues Oct. 14.

The issues involved stormwater, too little landscaping and pedestrian and bicycle access, said Misch…

The new 14,000-square-foot parish hall will be similar to the one at St. John Cantius on Hawley Street, with enough space to seat 300-plus people for dinner and meeting rooms for 30 to 40 people. At 10,000 square feet, the existing building is too small to serve the consolidated Catholic community.

Video: Chamber Presents “Rezoning King Street” to Planning Board (6/13/10)
Potential areas of controversy include:

  • Allowing more uses without a Special Permit, including hotels. A recent proposal to build a Hilton Garden Inn downtown was extremely controversial. One way to address the public’s desire for good design would be robust infill design standards.
  • Reducing the setbacks between commercial areas and residential neighborhoods
  • Stormwater management problems caused by an increase in impervious surface

EPA: Urban Heat Islands
Graphic depicting a typical rise in temperature from rural areas to an urban center.The term “heat island” refers to urban air and surface temperatures that are higher than nearby rural areas. Many U.S. cities and suburbs have air temperatures up to 10°F (5.6°C) warmer than the surrounding natural land cover.

The heat island sketch pictured here shows a city’s heat island profile. It demonstrates how urban temperatures are typically lower at the urban-rural border than in dense downtown areas. The graphic also show how parks, open land, and bodies of water can create cooler areas.

Text of Springfield’s Ordinance to Protect “Significant Trees”
Springfield has an ordinance that protects trees that are 75+ years old or 3+ feet in diameter. Such trees may be cut down only if they are diseased or damaged, or if the person who wants to cut it down can prove hardship in excess of the public’s interest in preserving the tree.