WESTFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) – At Thursday’s City Council meeting, the two motions regarding the plan to turn 66 acres off Cabot Road owned by the city into an industrial park engendered one of the longer discussions of the meeting.
Ward 6 Councilor William Onyski raised the question by saying the Legislative & Ordinance Committee recommended 3-0 to grant an order transferring custody and management of the 66 acres on Cabot Road from the Board of Health department, which had originally planned to install a landfill there. The order also requested the authority to dispose of the property in according with Massachusetts Law Chapter 30B, and the mayor be authorized to sign any and all documents necessary to effectuate and disposition.
Ward 1 Councilor Mary Ann Babinski questioned the last part of the order, and made a motion to amend and remove the portion which stated “the mayor be authorized to sign any and all documents necessary to effectuate and disposition.” “I don’t understand the second part of it,” Babinski said.
At-large Councilor Flaherty agreed that he was leery about giving carte blanche permission to scrap or surplus the land. “We have all imagined a technology park there,” Flaherty said. He recommended adding to the motion, “for the City of Westfield to create an office park.”
Babinski said the neighbors had been promised smaller business lots zoned for Industrial A, and also buffers.
Ward 2 Councilor Ralph J. Figy, said at the L&O meeting city advancement officer Joseph B. Mitchell had diagrams for parcels for an industrial park. Figy said the picture would be clearer in the second agenda item referring to the Cabot Road property, which asked for a resolution in support of the Commonwealth Site Readiness program administered by the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency.
Mitchell said he had shown them a possible layout. “This is for getting permitting done. The city can get a grant for 30 years. That’s all, nothing is laid out,” he said.
After the meeting, Mitchell said he had shown the L&O Committee drawings of plans made by WestMass in 2007, and also plans by Tighe and Bond from 2012 requested under Mitchell’s predecessor, Jeff Daley. Daley had also been interested in developing the land, but Mitchell said there was no money for permitting at the time. Mitchell said the plans included a generous wooded buffer between the property and the neighbors. He said the former plans could be used as a starting point for the project.
Onyski said there will be consideration by the Planning Board as to what goes in the proposed park. He said the second motion was a resolution to work with the state on a permitting process to allow businesses to come in quickly. “I don’t feel we can stop progress,” he said.
“We have to be careful not to handcuff the development department in this process,” added At-large Councilor John J. Beltrandi, III.
“I would like to see a framework, or a mechanism for us to be agents in the future,” said Flaherty.
Figy said that the city paid $2.2 million for the property, which is now sitting idle. “We have a budget coming up that is challenging. I’m not one to think we as the City Council should be the defining body. I really think we need to move forward. We need additional revenues,” he said.
“I agree. I’d like to commit to putting in the line for reassuring wording,” said Ward 4 Councilor Mary O’Connell, a member of the L&O Committee. She asked for a first reading and vote, and a second reading at the first meeting in May. The motion passed, and a second reading was scheduled for May 4.
Onyski made the next motion for the resolution in support of the site readiness program, allowing the mayor to negotiate and sign with Mass Development. Onyski said there is a long state permitting process, which makes the property more attractive for prospective businesses. He said there is a grant available of $93,000 for permitting from the state.
Figy added that in conversations with Mr. Mitchell, there may be more funds available. He said the project has caught the eye of Boston where there are stories of businesses starting there, and then leaving the state because they can’t find property.
“One of the reasons it caught their eye, is that it is one of the few parcels of this size in the state,” said At-large Councilor Dan Allie.
Flaherty said there are other properties. “Don’t think people will be knocking on the doors,” he said.
“It’s up to the city to advertise the land. Whip City Fiber will sell properties,” countered Ward 3 Councilor Andrew K. Surprise.
Beltrandi added that there are a lot of positives to the proposed project, including proximity to the airport. “We have people and places employed by the city to do this. We need to take advantage of the opportunity before us,” Beltrandi said.
“This is a plan I can get behind. It is a good idea to use that property. I am for the permitting process. We need to keep our promise to the neighbors up there,” said Babinski.
The motion to support the Commonwealth Site Readiness program passed unanimously.
After the meeting, Mitchell said right now the property is not generating any tax revenue because it is owned by the city. He said buildings would generate tax revenue and employ people who will “live, work and play in Westfield. “