WESTFIELD — After months of presentations, public discussion and heated debate, the Westfield mayor and council voted Tuesday to approve the Lord & Taylor/Train Station Redevelopment Plan, locally known as One Westfield Place.
“The significant amount of engagement that we have had with our residents, business owners and downtown property owners is exactly what we had always hoped for [in connection with this process]. However, the forest has often gotten lost in the trees when it comes to the details of this project,” Mayor Shelley Brindle said, adding that each step of the redevelopment process to date has been completed in full view of the public eye. “In addition, we have been guided by a top-tier team of redevelopment professionals in finance, law, parking, traffic and planning, all of whom have proceeded with the town’s long-term best interest at heart.”
Mayor Brindle, along with Council members Dawn Mackey, Emily Root, Scott Katz, David Contract and Mike Dardia, voted to support the plan as presented. Councilman Mark LoGrippo, who, on two previous occasions called for the council to delay its vote to a later date, voted against it.
Councilman Mark Parmelee was absent from Tuesday night’s proceedings.
“The consensus is that people are for development, and they like a lot of the Lord & Taylor [site-plan proposal], but when you get over to South Avenue, the office buildings are too large and too dense,” Mr. LoGrippo said, adding that the current plan to decrease the width of South Avenue by one lane to allow for additional on-street parking is likely to lead to too much congestion in an already overburdened area.
“We’re giving Streetworks a no-bid contract and a 30-year tax abatement,” Mr. LoGrippo continued. “If you research PILOTs (Payments In Lieu of Taxes), they very rarely reach their full potential.”
Councilman Contract, who was away on business when the redevelopment plan was first introduced in January, said the project, in his mind, will help the town to balance its current needs against future obligations.
“You have to look at it holistically,” Mr. Contract said. “I need to represent Ward 3, and on that front, it’s pretty split. At these meetings, it seems like it’s all opposition, but I can assure you that’s not the case.”
Mr. Contract listed the continued revitalization of the downtown area, the diversification of the town’s tax base and the proposed improvements to the local infrastructure as some of his key considerations in deciding to approve the plan.
“Again, there is no such thing as a perfect plan,” Mr. Contract continued, “but in this case, the pros outweigh the cons.”
The meeting, which adjourned just before midnight, saw residents queuing up to weigh in on the project and its potential impact on the community. Of the 18 residents who stepped to the podium during Tuesday night’s public hearing, four spoke out in favor of One Westfield Place, 12 others spoke out against it, and two others shared more neutral viewpoints.
Proponents of the project, including Midwood Place resident David Veca, said One Westfield Place will help to connect the community, attract new investment opportunities and allow for the diversification of the local tax base.
“Part of the reason that Westfield’s capital improvement stagnated is because of overly restrictive zoning,” Mr. Veca said. “We have a local government body that is breaking down barriers to let the free market breathe a little bit in downtown Westfield. We’re taking land that’s currently highly restricted in use and we’re zoning it in a way that allows it to be developed with diversity.”
Another resident, Westfield High School junior Sam Altman, said that while the residential aspect of the project is being predominately marketed to seniors, the next generation also is paying careful attention to the impact that One Westfield Place could have on the downtown experience as a whole.
“We want a downtown that we can spend a whole day in,” he said, adding that students have expressed a vested interest in the project’s proposed shopping opportunities and new public spaces. “This project increases value and takes advantage of the space we have here in Westfield.”
Opposition to the project, predominantly voiced by the members of two local citizen groups (Westfield Advocates for Responsible Development and Residents for Westfield), cited the project’s size, scope and overall density, along with its potential impact on traffic and downtown congestion, as areas of major concern. Others, including Frank Fusaro, chair of the town’s zoning board and co-founder of the Westfield Advocates, questioned the validity of the redevelopment process itself.
“Residents pointed out at least 30 inconsistencies between the redevelopment plan and the master plan which were ignored by the planning board and their experts,” Mr. Fusaro said, listing the requisite number of parking spaces slated for development at the South Avenue train station lot and the rezoning of the same lot to include commercial office space among his chief concerns.
Carla Bonacci, co-founder of the Westfield Advocates group, said Tuesday that she was “disappointed but not surprised” by the council’s decision to approve the plan as presented.
“We have always asked that you try to build a consensus and that you compromise,” Ms. Bonacci said. “We have tried to share [our thoughts] with you, but we don’t get any response. That’s why there’s so much anger. When you talk to people, you actually have to listen. Rest assured, our group is not going anywhere.”