Thursday, May 21, 2015

Live Reporting: Holyoke Council to Vote on Gary Rome Hyundai Zoning Bid

The unanimous vote of a committee last week could signal approval from the City Council Tuesday (May 19) of a zone change for a $10 million Gary Rome Hyundai dealership.

Follow along as live coverage of the 7 p.m. meeting at City Hall is posted in the comments section under this story.

The council Ordinance Committee voted 4-0 last week to recommend that the full City Council grant Rome a zone change for nearly 19 acres of vacant property on Whiting Farms Road. The Planning Board also recommended Rome get the zone change.

To build an auto dealership, Rome needs a zone change to Business Highway from the current Business General. The property is on the part of Whiting Farms Road across from Autumn and Lynch drives.

Rome has agreed to buy the property from the Holyoke Gas and Electric Department (HGE) for $2,050,000, contingent on getting the zone change.

The new dealership will produce 50 new full-time and some part-time jobs along with thousands of dollars a year to the city in property taxes, Rome said.

The Gary Rome Hyundai at 1000 Main St. will stay open regardless of what happens with the Whiting Farms Road site, he said.

At a crowded public hearing on the zone-change petition March 31, most speakers urged approval of the zone change for Rome. Speakers included Mayor Alex B. Morse, the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce and several Rome employees.

But an accompanying zone-change petition the City Council also will vote on Tuesday tells a different story about the Whiting Farms Road site.

Residents, including former councilor Helen F. Norris, Gayle Keith and Terri Laramee, are seeking a different zoning designation for the same property Rome is targeting. They want the zone changed to RM-20, which 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.

Such uses are more compatible for the neighborhood and less of an intrusion into residents' quality of life than an auto dealer, they said.

The Ordinance Committee at the May 12 meeting voted 3-1 to recommend against adopting the RM-20 zone change.

Also watch for:

--City Council consideration of a 5-0 recommendation from the Ordinance Committee to grant a zone change to James P. Lavelle Jr. to allow for auto sales at the family-run JP's Restaurant & Sports Bar at 200 Whiting Farms Road.

Lavelle needs a zone change to Business Highway from the current Business General. He said he would sell a maximum of four used vehicles at a time.

--A proposal from Councilor at Large James M. Leahy and other councilors to give a proclamation to Lawrence Jackson Sr. who retired Thursday after nearly 36 years as a firefighter. Jackson, 59, was the city's first black firefighter. His first day was Aug. 8, 1979.

--Councilor at Large Rebecca Lisi's proposal to establish an ordinance to give to Planning Board members the $4,000-a-year stipends the city had been paying to each member of the board of directors of the Holyoke Geriatric Authority.

The authority was a nursing home at 45 Lower Westfield Road that closed last year. It was overseen by a board of seven, which consisted of three members appointed by the mayor and three by the City Council, with those six voting in a seventh.

"The dissolution of the Geriatric Authority frees up a small sum of money that may be used to compensate the (volunteer) members of the very active and labor intensive Planning Board," Lisi said.

The Planning Board has five members and an associate member. Board members are appointed by the mayor.

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