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Village Hill eyed for 73 new homes

MassDevelopment’s board of directors last month agreed to sell 35 acres at the far north section of the campus to Transformations Inc., a Townsend company that intends to build a mix of duplexes, cottages and single-family homes on the site in a phased project, MassDevelopment spokeswoman Kelsey Abbruzzese said.

Meantime, MassDevelopment also has agreed to sell a 3.5-acre lot at the northwest corner of the north campus to the Montessori School of Northampton, which intends to construct a new school and relocate there from its longtime spot on Bates Street.

“We have big dreams and are very excited about the possibilities there,” Head of School Susan Swift said.

Swift said the Montessori School, despite its great location off Interstate 91, is “bursting at the seams.” The school’s board of directors plans to design a building twice as large as the current facility. The school is also giving “serious consideration” to adding a middle school and increasing the size of its toddler program. Montessori currently has 120 students ranging from 2 years old to sixth grade.

The plan calls for Montessori to sell its Bates Street school and a piece of open land nearby, with the proceeds going into the new building project. Swift said it could be a several-year process, starting with completion of a feasibility study in June.

Neither Transformations nor the Montessori School has submitted plans to the city’s Planning Board for site plan approval, said Carolyn Misch, senior land use planner for the Office of Planning and Sustainability.

The 73 zero-energy homes at Village Hill would be the single largest residential project on the 126-acre former state hospital grounds. Zero-energy homes are designed to produce as much energy as they use. Misch said these types of homes would be a welcome addition at Village Hill and are in line with what the city had envisioned for the site some time ago.

Unlike previous projects, Transformations would build the roads and other infrastructure as part of its project.

MassDevelopment is familiar with Transformations and its owner, R. Carter Scott, who serves on Gov. Deval Patrick’s Zero Net Energy Advisory Council. The quasi-public agency picked the Townsend company to construct four cottage homes off Laurel Street on Village Hill’s south campus after a previous developer did not complete the project.

Transformations also completed eight single-family zero-net-energy homes in another MassDevelopment site in Devens and is the general contractor at Homes at Easthampton Meadow, a 33-home net-zero development in Easthampton off Treehouse Circle.

The latest deals come amid a buzz of residential and commercial activities at Village Hill Northampton, which Mayor David J. Narkewicz said has proved attractive for people to want to live there and do business.

The first commercial building is now open on the north campus, plans are moving ahead for an assisted living facility and emergency veterinary hospital, and MassDevelopment is talking with prospective tenants for several other commercial lots on both the north and south campuses.

“It’s been a process through several decades and several mayors, but we are seeing now the promise of the village concept coming to reality,” Narkewicz said.

About 190 single-family and apartment-style homes have been constructed or are in the works, with all but four on the north campus. About 50 of those homes are currently under construction by two companies.

Wright Builders Inc., the Northampton developer that has built 28 housing units in three different projects over the last several years, is working on a 28-unit town-house complex called Upper Ridge. The project will feature a total of seven buildings, five of which would contain two-story town houses, with the remaining two buildings featuring three floors of single-level living space known as “flats.”

In addition to Wright’s projects, a 24-home bungalow complex called Westview is being developed by Pecoy Companies north of the existing community gardens.

The north campus will also be home to a new three-story, 83-unit assisted living facility called Christopher Heights. Construction at the 2.5-acre site south of Moser Street between Musante Drive and Village Hill Road is expected to begin as soon affordable housing tax credits are approved by the state. More than half of the units will be affordable.

Commercial activity for some time had been limited to the south campus, where L-3 KEO, formerly Kollmorgen Electro-Optical, and furniture-maker VCA Inc. built new headquarters.

But in recent months, the first commercial building called The Gatehouse has opened at the entrance to the north campus. Fazzi Associates, a national home care consulting firm, now occupies about three-fourths of the two-story building at the northeast corner of Route 66 and Village Hill Road. Liberty Mutual Insurance also has opened an office in the building.

Additionally, New York veterinarians are working on plans to convert the first floor of the campus’s former Coach House into an emergency veterinary hospital, with a single-family residence on the second floor. Representatives for Hospital Hill Veterinary Emergency LLC have yet to submit that plan to the Planning Department.

Another plan presented by two Boston-area developers in late 2012 to convert the former male attendants’ building into a 44-room hotel has not advanced and that building is still for sale.

Several other lots are also up for grabs, including three commercial buildings at Village Hill’s main intersection, two on the north campus and one on the south campus. Another vacant lot is being marketed off Earle Street on the south campus.

“There really has been a lot of progress,” Narkewicz said. “It’s a very attractive neighborhood.”

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