Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Kollmorgen Trumps Master Plan

When I invited independent journalists Mike Kirby and Mark Roessler to the radio studio to talk about their objections to the siting of Kollmorgen Electro-Optical on so-called Village Hill (the old Northampton State Hospital site), and the concomitant change in the Village Hill master plan that was approved to expedite moving the plant from its cramped King Street location, part of me wondered: is it reasonable, in such difficult economic times, to protest such an accommodation? Listen to the Radio Show Here:

The original plan, developed by the well-known "new urbanist" Peter Calthorpe's design team in California, showed a complex, permeable, village-like, and human-scale development. The new master plan, approved unanimously on May 22 by the Northampton State Hospital Citizen's Advisory Committee for Village Hill (The "CAC") portrays quite a different concept: a big-box defense manufacturer with a 450-car parking lot, surrounded by a fence. A prime piece of Northampton real estate, with river and mountain views, which many had hoped would host a community of small businesses, had sadly succumbed to realpolitik--but, maybe, as the CAC members seemed to concede with their vote to change the plan, there was no other way.

Was the original plan pie-in-the-sky?

Northampton Mayor Clare Higgins, who is the chair of the CAC, has explained that Kollmorgen, a defense contractor, would have left Northampton without this accommodation, taking 330 jobs and almost half a million dollars in tax revenue. It has been very difficult to market the mixed-use commercial development on the hill as planned, she explained, and it is time to become pragmatic and not miss out on the opportunity to retain an important employer. There has been enormous support for this venture from the business community and boosterism from the traditional press: The Daily Hampshire Gazette, Northampton's local daily, printed this glowing and uncritical editorial: In Our Opinion: A Boost for Northampton.

Yet dreams die hard. What happened to the new, mixed-use town center that was promised?

I have been wondering: Why doesn't Kollmorgen want to stay at King Street, and expand to the Hill and Dale Mall? Why, if Kollmorgen deemed the Hill untenable a couple of years ago, have they changed their mind? Did the marketing for the village concept not yield any real results? Why? Is it just the economy, or a failure of commitment and imagination? Is the CAC abandoning its charge by not defending the master plan, and insisting upon holding out, despite pressure from City Hall? Do we have to bend over backwards for Kollmorgen, or can we extract some leverage to ensure that the resultant design is good? And, if plans in Northampton are so easily abandoned, why even plan at all? Does this bode well for the Sustainable Northampton Plan?

Other Links:

Chad Cain, business reporter for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, has been following this issue, and reports the facts in a comprehensive manner: (The first link is from the Google cache, and does not require a subscription.)

Fred Contrada reported on the CAC vote in The Republican:

Northampton board OKs Kollmorgen at Village Hill

Mike Kirby has written about Bay State Machine, a small manufacturer, and its failed attempt to move to "Village Hill."

The Change in Plan must be approved by the EOEA--The Executive Office of Environmental Affairs--through the so-called MEPA process. As such, an opportunity exists for citizens to submit comment on the change. Here is the link to the "Notice of Project Change."

Comments may be submitted electronically, by mail, via FAX, or by hand
delivery. Please note that comments submitted on MEPA documents are public
records. The mailing address for comments, due by July 1, is:

Secretary Ian A. Bowles
EOEA, Attn: MEPA Office
William Gage, EOEA No. 12629
100 Cambridge Street, Suite 900
Boston MA 02114

Main Phone: (617) 626-1000, William Gage: (617) 626-1025
Main Fax: (617) 626-1181

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Dishing with Blogger Daryl LaFleur

Daryl LaFleur

The Zoning Board of Appeals and the landfill lawsuit, regional waste management alternatives, Citizens United for a Healthy Future and sixties-activist Saul Alinsky, "Poisoning the Well"--should officials attempt to discredit citizens with whom they disagree?

kudos to independent journalists; happy father's day
the zba and the regional landfill, creative thinking about regional waste

planning board member "poisons the well"
Notre Dame Charrette