Chicopee zone change requested to create new industrial park near state park

A development corporation that has built two industrial parks in the city is proposing to create a third one on about 90 acres located off Sheridan Street and next to Chicopee State Park. The proposal from the Westover Metropolitan Development Corporation is being opposed by multiple residents of Slate Road and Nawrocki Drive who called the plan a “horrible idea” that would destroy forested land that is used often for recreation and create more traffic on the already-busy Sheridan Street.

The non-profit corporation, which also operates Air Park West and Air Park North in Chicopee and Air Park East in Ludlow, purchased 57.4 acres from the city in 2009 for $1.45 million. That will be joined with about 30 acres that was purchased from the Tarnow Nursery property off Sheridan Street after the company closed in 2015, said Michael Bolton, president and chief executive officer of the development corporation.

While the 30 acres is already zoned for industry, the 57 acres is zoned for single-family residential, has no road frontage and is essentially landlocked which would make it almost impossible to develop. The property is near Westover Air Reserve Base and Westover Metropolitan Airport and was sold in part to prevent homes from being built in the flight path, he said.

Bolton is now asking for a zone change from residential to Garden Industrial Planned Unit Development, which allows for large industrial buildings and many other uses.

“It has the potential to place several large buildings for distribution and warehousing and advanced manufacturing,” Bolton said during a Planning Board meeting recently.

The corporation has also received grants to help develop the site, including a $900,000 one from MassDevelopment, the state’s finance and development agency which works to stimulate economic growth, Bolton said.

The park should create jobs for residents and increase the city’s tax base, which is what the corporation was designed for when it was created more than 40 years ago, he said.

The Planning Board agreed to recommend the zone change in a 5-0 vote, but it still must be reviewed by the Zoning Committee. The City Council will make a final decision on the zone change, City Planner Lee Pouliot said.

At least a half-dozen property owners from the Slate Road neighborhood spoke against the proposal.

“I am opposed to this zoning change,” said Mary Hayner, who lives on slate Road. “We have other industrial parks that are under-utilized. I don’t understand why we need to clear wooded land that is used daily by hikers and cyclists and cross-country teams when we still have other properties that are not fully developed yet.”

The property is next to the state-owned Chicopee Memorial State Park. While there is no conservation restriction on it, people do use it as an extension of the park, Pouliot said.

Hayner said she is would also be against a road being constructed off Slate Road to be used to access the property, saying the street is a narrow residential one with a 15 mph speed limit.

But Bolton said the plan is to access the land from a permitter road off Padgett Street and there may be an emergency exit off Sheridan Street.

Many residents said they were concerned about having industrial buildings so close to their homes and all the traffic and noise they create. Several said it will also lower their property values and said it will displace wild animals they see all the time including bears and coyotes.

“If this becomes a distribution center like Amazon we are going to be listening to these trucks all night long,” said Tina Colucci, who lives on Nawrocki Drive. “One of my biggest concerns, obviously, is traffic.”

Under the zoning ordinances, there must be a 100-foot buffer between residential property and industrial buildings. Even if the zone change is granted, before any buildings are constructed owners will have to return to the Planning Board to receive permits and residents will have a chance at the time to again protest or ask for changes to plans they believe will be a detriment to their homes, Pouliot said. The property will have to be marketed once the basic infrastructure such as roads and utilities are developed. Bolton said he did not know what types of businesses will be interested in moving there but said distribution centers and warehouses are two possibilities.