HOLYOKE — In the latest zoning battle here, a public hearing will be held Tuesday (March 31) on a bid from Gary Rome Hyundai to build a dealership on Whiting Farms Road.
The City Council Ordinance Committee and the Planning Board are holding the hearing at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.
The company has a deal to buy the vacant 18.7-acre site — previously eyed by Walmart and Lowe’s Home Improvement — from the Holyoke Gas and Electric Department (HGE) for $2,050,000.
But the sale is contingent on Rome succeeding in a petition to change the zoning designation of the property to Business Highway, which would allow an auto dealership, from the current Business General, which prohibits such a business. Gary Rome Hyundai currently is at 1000 Main St. here.
“The development of this site as a motor vehicle dealership will result in the creation of significant number of new jobs, employment opportunities and income/property taxes that will benefit the city of Holyoke and its residents,” Rome wrote in the zone-change petition filed with the city clerk Feb. 10.
Neighbors and others who belong to a group called HolyokeFirst have said they oppose a car dealership on the property on the grounds the street already is busy with traffic and such a business would be too intrusive.
The site is on the part of Whiting Farms Road across from Autumn and Lynch drives near the Holyoke Mall at Ingleside and Barnes & Noble.
Some of the residents also fought the Walmart plan in 2013 and the one from Lowe’s in 2009.
HolyokeFirst members have said they would rather see a mix of uses on the Whiting Farms Road property they see enhancing the neighborhood.
But HGE Manager James M. Lavelle has said a commercial zone is better for the property to keep it marketable.
The Ordinance Committee and the Planning Board can make recommendations. But the decision to grant or reject a zone change is the responsibility of the full City Council. Approval of a zone change requires a two-thirds majority, or 10 votes, of the 15-member council.
But a vote on a zone-change request usually occurs only after weeks, if not months, of deliberations.
The Gary Rome Hyundai zone change bid comes as the City Council gears up for a vote on April 7 that could decide a more than four year dispute on whether to designate an area on Lyman Street as a Polish Heritage Historic District.
The council dealt with another controversy March 17 by rejecting by a single vote a petition for a zone change that the Greater Holyoke YMCA needed to install a parking lot at Pine and Appleton streets.
Walmart withdrew its proposal to build a “supercenter” on the Whiting Farms Road property in September 2013. A spokesman said the retail giant retreated because tests showed soil contamination, not because protests against the retailer were so vocal.
Lavelle has said any contamination was minor, the property never having been occupied, and easily cleaned up.
In December 2009, Lowe’s dropped a plan to build a $15 million facility on the Whiting Farms Road property because of the poor economy, officials said then.