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PVPC recommends 55+ development for water tower property

By Chris Maza
chrism@thereminder.com

LONGMEADOW – The Select Board recently heard a report from the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) that suggested that a residential development for residents 55 and over could be a viable option for developing the water tower property and addressing the tax levy issue.

Eric Weiss, manager of regional and municipal programs, spoke to the board about potential options for the pair of 10-acre wooded parcels on Academy Drive and said an initial review of the town’s tax and available land situations suggest such a development could create hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual net revenue.

“Your initial gut feeling on this was right. You have the potential to help the tax rate and tax rolls in town,” Weiss said. “You have the potential to keep a balance of community going in terms of the amount of people in town. As a town, you are in such a unique position land-wise that you have to maximize the value of the land that you have left.”

Weiss explained the PVPC the town pursued a District Local Technical Assistance (DLTA) Grant through the PVPC to review possible uses for the parcel of land, which is one of the few undeveloped pieces of property in town. The purpose of the study from the PVPC’s perspective was to not only address the town’s levy limit issues but also explore the possibility of developing a model that could be mirrored by other communities.

The study yielded two options. The first called for the town to sell the property at market value to a buyer who would then develop the property as they saw fit in accordance with the town’s planning and zoning regulations.

“The opinion was that this does not come close to maximizing the tax value of the land or value of the land to the town,” Weiss said. You’re not really in control or you’re not influencing the process except through the Planning Board and Zoning Board side of things.”

The town’s development of over-55 housing, however, would provide additional control while also helping senior residents remain in town and encouraging new families to move into Longmeadow.

“They know that people in town are trying to figure out ways to downsize and to remain in town,” Weiss said of discussions with Town Manager Lyn Simmons and Select Board Chair Marie Angelides. “[Seniors] like the amenities, they like the town, it’s a lovely town, they get great services, it’s a lovely place to live, but they don’t want the big 3,000-square-foot home anymore. Downsizing to a 1,800-square-foot single-level unit for over-55 or something like that would be beneficial for them.”

That large home could then be something someone with children could move into and perpetuate the tax roll, he added.

Weiss presented options for single-unit, two-unit and three-unit structures. Explaining that similar building are typically somewhere between 1,200 and 2,000 square feet, he used 1,800 square feet as a ballpark figure for the hypothetical Longmeadow development. He projected somewhere between 200,000 and 330,000 in potential annual net revenue.

“The challenge is the town is not equipped to suddenly put this thing out to bid and we don’t do that kind of work. What the town needs to do next is determine how it would figure out the pathway forward to allow for the kind of development necessary,” Weiss said, adding he and Simmons he had discussed the option of a request for proposals from developers.

Selectman Mark Gold said the additional revenue would provide only a portion of a year’s worth of growth and suggested there might be a way to increase revenue by making exceptions to the zoning bylaws or create a new zone.

“At some point we have to decide what’s our goal here? It is to develop the land or to maximize the opportunity for the town?” he asked.

In related news, the Select Board also established and is accepting applications to fill four positions on a newly established Senior Housing Task Force to identify the short-term and long-term services and needs of the senior community and present findings to the Select Board.

The task force will include nine voting members including the Council on Aging (COA) director, two members from the COA Board of Directors, a representative of the Fire Department or Police Department, a Veterans Services director or outreach coordinator and four residents. Selectmen Richard Foster and Marc Strange and one person from Jewish Geriatric Services will be non-voting members.

Residents interested in applying for a position on the Senior Housing Task Force should send an application to the Select Board’s office, 20 Williams St. or email it to dhouse@longmeadow.org by Jan. 15.

Applications can be found on the town’s website, www.longmeadow.org, or in the Select Board’s office. Applicants would interview with the Select Board on Jan. 21 at 7 p.m.