Sunday, April 19, 2015

Holyoke Hearings on Gary Rome

City boards will hold public hearings Tuesday (April 14) at 6:30 p.m. on two zone-change requests for auto sales and one for a multifamily residence, all on Whiting Farms Road.

Follow along as live coverage of the hearings at City Hall is posted in the comments section under this story.

The City Council Ordinance Committee and the Planning Board hearings are holding the hearings.

Two of the three zone-change petitions are for a vacant nearly 19 acres across from Autumn and Lynch drives owned by the Holyoke Gas and Electric Department (HGE). The public hearings on those petitions -- from Gary Rome Hyundai to build a dealership and from residents seeking a residential use -- began March 31.

Neighbors oppose converting the site to an auto dealership for the same reasons they fought other businesses that showed interest in the property over the years, Walmart and Lowe's Home Improvement. Their concerns are excessive traffic and construction of a business structure on what is now a meadow will diminish their quality of life.

But others said the city needs the jobs and tax revenue to come from developing the property.

The third zone-change petition is to allow the sale of used cars at of JP's Restaurant & Sports Bar at 200 Whiting Farms Road. This will be the opening of the public hearing on that petition.

Gary Rome Hyundai wants to build a dealership on the HGE site. To do that, he needs to get the property zoned Business Highway and from the current Business General, which prohibits an auto dealership.

Gary Rome Hyundai currently is at 1000 Main St. here and Rome said that business would stay open regardless of whether he is able to build a new one.

Rome's plan to buy the property from HGE for $2,050,000 is contingent on getting the zone change.

The March 31 hearing lasted more than two and a half hours and was moved from City Council Chambers upstairs to the auditorium at City Hall to accommodate the large crowd.

Most people in the crowd voiced support for the Gary Rome Hyundai plan over the residential one.

Rome said the planned $10 million dealership would produce 50 new full-time jobs and some part-time positions on the site.

If he secures the zone change, Rome would need to seek a special permit from the City Council to run an auto dealership on the site, officials said.

Also targeting the HGE site are residents who want the zoning designation of the property changed to a use called RM-20. That stands for Multi-Family Residence at 20 units per acre. The uses are generally housing with limited commercial uses like bed and breakfast, funeral home, hospital and nursing home, Assistant City Solicitor Kara Cunha said.

The petition seeking the RM-20 use lists former city councilor Helen F. Norris as lead proponent.

Of the 100 or so people at the hearing March 31, among speakers who supported the Gary Rome proposal and praised Rome were Mayor Alex B. Morse, Kathleen G. Anderson, president of the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, former mayor Martin Dunn, Gary Rome employees and owners of other businesses. They said the plan would add jobs and turn a vacant property into a tax-paying entity.

"I'm here to express my full support for the expansion of Gary Rome Hyundai," Morse said.

Norris was among only three residents who urged a residential use for the property, saying an auto dealership would hurt homeowners' property values.

"Just because he's a great guy" doesn't merit Rome getting a zone change, Norris said.

One option for the Ordinance Committee and the Planning Board will be to close the public hearings on the Rome and residents' zone-change petitions and then vote recommendations on those petitions. Another option is to have the hearings continue on another date if additional information is needed.

Whatever the Ordinance Committee and Planning Board decide are just recommendations. That advise is among factors the full City Council will consider in voting whether to grant or reject the zone-change petitions.

Regarding 200 Whiting Farms Road, James P. Lavelle Jr., of the family run JP's Restaurant, told The Republican and last month he wants the option to sell one or two used cars at the popular eatery. He is seeking a zone change to Business Highway from the current Business General.

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