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Land swap divides council

from The Republican, Saturday, August 09, 2008

HOLYOKE – A land swap necessary to build a gas station in the southern section of the city was approved Tuesday by the City Council.

But some councilors believe the gas station is not the right business for that location and would not help spur development in the neighborhood.

“I think this is the wrong location for this type of business,” City Councilor Rebecca Lisi said Tuesday.

Lisi was one of four councilors who voted against the land transfer, which was approved 11-4.
The other three councilors who voted against the transfer were John E. Whelihan, Diosdado Lopez and Timothy Purington.

The transfer affects two parcels located on Main Street between Cabot and Spring streets. A 14,850-square-foot parcel owned by the city was given to Trak II, LLC, in exchange for a 16,335-square-foot parcel owned by the development company.

Many councilors spoke in favor of the transfer and praised the proposed gas station.

“To me, this is a home run for the city,” City Councilor Todd A. McGee said.

The developer plans to spend $2.5 million on the business, which will create 15 to 25 new jobs and will have a new parking facility, McGee said.

The developer has also promised to beautify the block and operate a laundromat on the site, City Councilor James M. Leahy said.

“It’s certainly going to beautify the area,” City Councilor Kevin A. Jourdain said.

But others disagreed. “I have a problem with this deal,” Lopez said, adding he believes the new gas station will make it harder to attract businesses to the neighborhood.

Purington also said the developer operates two other gas stations in the city and both of them are in “disrepair.”

“I don’t have a lot of faith in this development company,” Purington said.

But the majority of councilors favored the project. “There’s more pros than cons,” Leahy said.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. A new vision for Holyoke
    economic development

    Political Outlook
    by Hans G. Despain

    from The Sun, Aug. 8- 14

    Properly understood the bulk of
    the social problems Holyoke is suffering
    as a city, were to large extent
    caused by bad social policy and
    poor economic planning. The
    upshot of this is that if bad social
    policy and poor planning caused
    the bulk of Holyoke’s civic problems,
    then improved policy and
    better planning can recuperate
    Holyoke, and recapture its impressive
    socio-economic history.
    The bad historical social policy
    has been a combination of federal,
    state and local policy. It is important
    to realize the urban socio-economic
    crisis of inner cities has
    been a national phenomenon. The
    struggles of small urban areas, such
    as Holyoke, have become an epidemic
    for nearly forty years. The
    historical decline of urban America
    dates back at least eighty years.
    Holyoke simply serves as an exemplar.
    Urban areas and industrial
    cities have suffered from unanticipated
    consequences of government
    policy and poor urban planning,
    when not a complete absence of
    urban planning.
    The federal government’s massive,
    post-World War II, efforts to
    support an interstate system made
    it extremely easy for residents to
    desert urban life for houses in the
    suburbs. Businesses at first slowly,
    and then in mass exodus left urban
    areas for the suburban areas. The
    abandoned urban areas attempted
    to fill the social voids, and empty
    buildings with federally subsidized
    housing projects. Banks, mortgage
    lenders, and other businesses
    began “ redlining” such areas.
    Redlining refers to the practice of
    making a red line on a map where
    a bank or business would refuse to
    invest because of the high probability
    of a poor return. This redlining
    has returned to Holyoke in
    2008 with the foreclosure crisis in
    Hamden county.
    Through the concentration of
    subsidized housing projects,
    redlining, and racism, urban areas
    were all but abandoned by businesses
    and non-poor residents. As
    a consequence poor people
    became segregated, isolated, and
    stuck. It is no exaggeration to say
    the Federal Housing
    Administration and Veterans
    Administration loan programs led
    to the unintended abandonment of
    urban life. Following World War II,
    these programs provided mortgages
    for the construction of more than
    eleven million new homes. These
    loans were directed at new suburban
    construction, and unintentionally
    discouraged the upkeep and
    renovation of existing urban housing
    In conjunction with the massive
    federal dollars for an interstate
    highway system, and subsidies for
    local roadways, automotive commuting
    was made convenient and
    affordable. Millions of Americans
    made the rational decision to leave
    urban living for suburban life.
    With emphasis, poverty, crime,
    failing schools and other social
    problems of Holyoke are not the
    only causes that beguile us toward
    the suburbs. It is also the planning
    of suburban developers who
    are offering a higher quality of life.
    In short, suburban planners are
    simply outperforming urban planners.
    Too often the response of City
    Counselors and Mayors is to
    attempt a suburbanization of
    Holyoke. This is a great mistake.
    The core of Holyoke will never be
    able to compete with the private
    yards, tennis courts, golf courses,
    and strip malls of suburban life. It
    is a great mistake to even attempt
    it. However, city life can offer its
    own rewards and pleasures.
    It is certainly a positive to have
    a Sports team like the Holyoke
    Giants, or various businesses, such
    as Open Square, but it is not
    enough. These amenities may
    occasionally bring residents from
    Ward seven and Ward five,
    Northampton and South Hadley,
    into the downtown Holyoke area.
    But they will persuade very few to
    seek employment and residence in
    inner city Holyoke, or the canal
    Instead what is needed is an
    active and vibrant street life. This
    was the chief aim of the late Jane
    Jacobs, who spent her life actively
    promoting multi-use, financially
    non-segregated urban neighborhood
    renewal. Greenwich Village
    in New York City, Georgetown in
    Washington D.C., Cambridge and
    Northampton Massachusetts serve
    as examples of urban areas inspired
    by the ideas of Jane Jacobs.
    Jacobs advocated the simultaneous
    development of city planning
    that created eating establishments,
    shopping, residential life, working,
    and pedestrian friendly socializing
    public realms. She argued any one use cannot be created in absence of
    another public use. Active street life,
    eating establishments, shopping, residential
    life, urban business, urban
    employment, and urban socialization
    are mutually reinforcing entities and
    activities. There is no simple model to
    accomplish this. However, unambiguously
    it cannot be haphazard, in way
    that Holyoke has been committed to
    “accidental” economic development.
    Holyoke public officials, and especially
    Holyoke’s residents and small
    business owners need to learn a
    Jacobsian approach to revitalization.
    Suburban life is waning, it is isolating,
    especially for retired people, and those
    too young to drive. With the rising gas
    prices the isolation of suburban life is
    felt by more and more people. Multiuse
    downtown living will become
    increasingly more attractive. The city of
    Holyoke should prepare itself for the
    increase in demand for urban multi-use
    living, by promoting multi-use urban
    life, as opposed to gas-stations, drug
    and convenience stores, and box-store
    retailers. The shift to multi-use urban
    life requires shift in Holyoke economic
    policy, and a new vision in economic

  2. Dream big, plan for the future

    Letter to Editor
    from The Sun, Aug. 22- 28
    Dear Editor:
    Hans Despain's Political Outlook commentary
    in last week's Sun was an eloquent
    and accurate history of downtown Holyoke's
    decline from a vibrant center of economic
    and social life, to its current state as a gritty
    urban core which has been sacrificed for a
    suburban and car- oriented culture.
    As residents of downtown Holyoke, we
    constantly see the results of the poor planning
    that Mr. Despain describes.
    We are surrounded by abandoned architectural
    treasures in a state of (so the engineers
    tell us) irrecoverable decay. As the
    wrecking ball approaches, the most we are
    led to believe we can hope for are more parking
    lots. Or if lucky a laundromat or a convenience
    store. We see a steady flow of people
    driving down Suffolk, Dwight and
    Appleton to their jobs in the city core a few
    minutes before they start their workdays,
    returning the other direction at 5 p.m. We
    see a huge volume of traffic flowing past on
    Beech and Linden, the vast majority of
    which have no intent on stopping anywhere
    in Holyoke. We get plenty of noise and other
    pollution but not much else from the people
    commuting through our neighborhoods to
    areas outside Holyoke. We have monster
    waste hauling vehicles speeding through our
    streets at 4 or 5 a.m. because they see this
    area as a non-residential zone. We have institutions
    and businesses surrounded by chain
    link fence topped by barbwire. We have
    buildings that are occupied by renters but
    with owners who do the least possible to
    maintain and monitor their properties.
    These are some of the obvious systemic
    problems we live with.
    Despite these obstacles there is a lot positive
    going on in the city center.
    We have great organizations like the
    YMCA in our community. The Y has
    remained dedicated to this area through
    thick and thin and we thank them for their
    commitment and look forward to their
    increasing involvement in this neighborhood.
    We are fortunate to have many vibrant
    community gardens thanks to Nuestras
    Raices and folks at City Hall. There is fresh
    healthy food being grown on many blocks in
    the urban area. We have a new health center
    that is a cornerstone of what we hope will
    become a vibrant downtown. There are
    plans for a multi-modal transportation center
    and the Canal Walk project is quickly
    becoming a reality – we have a forward thinking
    Mayor and others in his administration
    to thank for that. There is much going on at
    Open Square. We have the HGE hydro plant
    and fish elevator. Thanks to them we have
    clean home-grown power generation right
    here on the Connecticut River. There are
    exciting plans for the Victory Theatre thanks
    to MIFA. We have the sound of Salsa and
    other spicy music on our streets.
    This and much more make Holyoke
    “below the hill” an increasingly livable place
    to be.
    So how do we as residents help further
    revitalize the city center? We would like to
    offer a few suggestions.
    For a start please come downtown.
    Preferably on foot or bicycle. Or if you drive
    get out and go for a walk. Have a picnic in
    Heritage State Park or Pulaski Park. Get a
    self-guided tour brochure from the visitors
    center in the state park and gaze at the
    remaining amazing historic mill and other
    buildings. Read the South Holyoke
    Revitalization Strategy document. Attend
    the already popular farmers market on Maple
    Street. Support plans to plant more trees
    and other efforts to make the city greener.
    Let's dream big and continue to shift our
    planning strategy towards renewing this
    great city.

    Stan Geddes & Daphne Board
    Holyoke, MA

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