Saturday, August 9, 2008

Land swap divides council

from The Republican, Saturday, August 09, 2008

HOLYOKE - A land swap necessary to build a gas station in the southern section of the city was approved Tuesday by the City Council.

But some councilors believe the gas station is not the right business for that location and would not help spur development in the neighborhood.

"I think this is the wrong location for this type of business," City Councilor Rebecca Lisi said Tuesday.

Lisi was one of four councilors who voted against the land transfer, which was approved 11-4.
The other three councilors who voted against the transfer were John E. Whelihan, Diosdado Lopez and Timothy Purington.

The transfer affects two parcels located on Main Street between Cabot and Spring streets. A 14,850-square-foot parcel owned by the city was given to Trak II, LLC, in exchange for a 16,335-square-foot parcel owned by the development company.

Many councilors spoke in favor of the transfer and praised the proposed gas station.

"To me, this is a home run for the city," City Councilor Todd A. McGee said.

The developer plans to spend $2.5 million on the business, which will create 15 to 25 new jobs and will have a new parking facility, McGee said.

The developer has also promised to beautify the block and operate a laundromat on the site, City Councilor James M. Leahy said.

"It's certainly going to beautify the area," City Councilor Kevin A. Jourdain said.

But others disagreed. "I have a problem with this deal," Lopez said, adding he believes the new gas station will make it harder to attract businesses to the neighborhood.

Purington also said the developer operates two other gas stations in the city and both of them are in "disrepair."

"I don't have a lot of faith in this development company," Purington said.

But the majority of councilors favored the project. "There's more pros than cons," Leahy said.


At August 23, 2008 at 7:04 PM , Blogger Rebecca Lisi said...

A new vision for Holyoke
economic development

Political Outlook
by Hans G. Despain

from The Sun, Aug. 8- 14

Properly understood the bulk of
the social problems Holyoke is suffering
as a city, were to large extent
caused by bad social policy and
poor economic planning. The
upshot of this is that if bad social
policy and poor planning caused
the bulk of Holyoke’s civic problems,
then improved policy and
better planning can recuperate
Holyoke, and recapture its impressive
socio-economic history.
The bad historical social policy
has been a combination of federal,
state and local policy. It is important
to realize the urban socio-economic
crisis of inner cities has
been a national phenomenon. The
struggles of small urban areas, such
as Holyoke, have become an epidemic
for nearly forty years. The
historical decline of urban America
dates back at least eighty years.
Holyoke simply serves as an exemplar.
Urban areas and industrial
cities have suffered from unanticipated
consequences of government
policy and poor urban planning,
when not a complete absence of
urban planning.
The federal government’s massive,
post-World War II, efforts to
support an interstate system made
it extremely easy for residents to
desert urban life for houses in the
suburbs. Businesses at first slowly,
and then in mass exodus left urban
areas for the suburban areas. The
abandoned urban areas attempted
to fill the social voids, and empty
buildings with federally subsidized
housing projects. Banks, mortgage
lenders, and other businesses
began “ redlining” such areas.
Redlining refers to the practice of
making a red line on a map where
a bank or business would refuse to
invest because of the high probability
of a poor return. This redlining
has returned to Holyoke in
2008 with the foreclosure crisis in
Hamden county.
Through the concentration of
subsidized housing projects,
redlining, and racism, urban areas
were all but abandoned by businesses
and non-poor residents. As
a consequence poor people
became segregated, isolated, and
stuck. It is no exaggeration to say
the Federal Housing
Administration and Veterans
Administration loan programs led
to the unintended abandonment of
urban life. Following World War II,
these programs provided mortgages
for the construction of more than
eleven million new homes. These
loans were directed at new suburban
construction, and unintentionally
discouraged the upkeep and
renovation of existing urban housing
In conjunction with the massive
federal dollars for an interstate
highway system, and subsidies for
local roadways, automotive commuting
was made convenient and
affordable. Millions of Americans
made the rational decision to leave
urban living for suburban life.
With emphasis, poverty, crime,
failing schools and other social
problems of Holyoke are not the
only causes that beguile us toward
the suburbs. It is also the planning
of suburban developers who
are offering a higher quality of life.
In short, suburban planners are
simply outperforming urban planners.
Too often the response of City
Counselors and Mayors is to
attempt a suburbanization of
Holyoke. This is a great mistake.
The core of Holyoke will never be
able to compete with the private
yards, tennis courts, golf courses,
and strip malls of suburban life. It
is a great mistake to even attempt
it. However, city life can offer its
own rewards and pleasures.
It is certainly a positive to have
a Sports team like the Holyoke
Giants, or various businesses, such
as Open Square, but it is not
enough. These amenities may
occasionally bring residents from
Ward seven and Ward five,
Northampton and South Hadley,
into the downtown Holyoke area.
But they will persuade very few to
seek employment and residence in
inner city Holyoke, or the canal
Instead what is needed is an
active and vibrant street life. This
was the chief aim of the late Jane
Jacobs, who spent her life actively
promoting multi-use, financially
non-segregated urban neighborhood
renewal. Greenwich Village
in New York City, Georgetown in
Washington D.C., Cambridge and
Northampton Massachusetts serve
as examples of urban areas inspired
by the ideas of Jane Jacobs.
Jacobs advocated the simultaneous
development of city planning
that created eating establishments,
shopping, residential life, working,
and pedestrian friendly socializing
public realms. She argued any one use cannot be created in absence of
another public use. Active street life,
eating establishments, shopping, residential
life, urban business, urban
employment, and urban socialization
are mutually reinforcing entities and
activities. There is no simple model to
accomplish this. However, unambiguously
it cannot be haphazard, in way
that Holyoke has been committed to
“accidental” economic development.
Holyoke public officials, and especially
Holyoke’s residents and small
business owners need to learn a
Jacobsian approach to revitalization.
Suburban life is waning, it is isolating,
especially for retired people, and those
too young to drive. With the rising gas
prices the isolation of suburban life is
felt by more and more people. Multiuse
downtown living will become
increasingly more attractive. The city of
Holyoke should prepare itself for the
increase in demand for urban multi-use
living, by promoting multi-use urban
life, as opposed to gas-stations, drug
and convenience stores, and box-store
retailers. The shift to multi-use urban
life requires shift in Holyoke economic
policy, and a new vision in economic

At August 23, 2008 at 7:08 PM , Blogger Rebecca Lisi said...

Dream big, plan for the future

Letter to Editor
from The Sun, Aug. 22- 28
Dear Editor:
Hans Despain's Political Outlook commentary
in last week's Sun was an eloquent
and accurate history of downtown Holyoke's
decline from a vibrant center of economic
and social life, to its current state as a gritty
urban core which has been sacrificed for a
suburban and car- oriented culture.
As residents of downtown Holyoke, we
constantly see the results of the poor planning
that Mr. Despain describes.
We are surrounded by abandoned architectural
treasures in a state of (so the engineers
tell us) irrecoverable decay. As the
wrecking ball approaches, the most we are
led to believe we can hope for are more parking
lots. Or if lucky a laundromat or a convenience
store. We see a steady flow of people
driving down Suffolk, Dwight and
Appleton to their jobs in the city core a few
minutes before they start their workdays,
returning the other direction at 5 p.m. We
see a huge volume of traffic flowing past on
Beech and Linden, the vast majority of
which have no intent on stopping anywhere
in Holyoke. We get plenty of noise and other
pollution but not much else from the people
commuting through our neighborhoods to
areas outside Holyoke. We have monster
waste hauling vehicles speeding through our
streets at 4 or 5 a.m. because they see this
area as a non-residential zone. We have institutions
and businesses surrounded by chain
link fence topped by barbwire. We have
buildings that are occupied by renters but
with owners who do the least possible to
maintain and monitor their properties.
These are some of the obvious systemic
problems we live with.
Despite these obstacles there is a lot positive
going on in the city center.
We have great organizations like the
YMCA in our community. The Y has
remained dedicated to this area through
thick and thin and we thank them for their
commitment and look forward to their
increasing involvement in this neighborhood.
We are fortunate to have many vibrant
community gardens thanks to Nuestras
Raices and folks at City Hall. There is fresh
healthy food being grown on many blocks in
the urban area. We have a new health center
that is a cornerstone of what we hope will
become a vibrant downtown. There are
plans for a multi-modal transportation center
and the Canal Walk project is quickly
becoming a reality - we have a forward thinking
Mayor and others in his administration
to thank for that. There is much going on at
Open Square. We have the HGE hydro plant
and fish elevator. Thanks to them we have
clean home-grown power generation right
here on the Connecticut River. There are
exciting plans for the Victory Theatre thanks
to MIFA. We have the sound of Salsa and
other spicy music on our streets.
This and much more make Holyoke
“below the hill” an increasingly livable place
to be.
So how do we as residents help further
revitalize the city center? We would like to
offer a few suggestions.
For a start please come downtown.
Preferably on foot or bicycle. Or if you drive
get out and go for a walk. Have a picnic in
Heritage State Park or Pulaski Park. Get a
self-guided tour brochure from the visitors
center in the state park and gaze at the
remaining amazing historic mill and other
buildings. Read the South Holyoke
Revitalization Strategy document. Attend
the already popular farmers market on Maple
Street. Support plans to plant more trees
and other efforts to make the city greener.
Let's dream big and continue to shift our
planning strategy towards renewing this
great city.

Stan Geddes & Daphne Board
Holyoke, MA


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