Process to begin to create mixed-income housing at 2 sites in Montague

  • The site of the former Railroad Salvage building, a potential Smart Growth Overlay District in Turners Falls. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Former housing developments on First Street in Turners Falls, circa 1895. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • A potential Smart Growth Overlay District on First Street in Turners Falls. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/15/2021 5:33:55 PM
Modified: 12/15/2021 5:33:20 PM

MONTAGUE — Town officials are moving forward with an idea to put mixed-income housing at the former Railroad Salvage site and on First Street.

The parcels would be developed as “Smart Growth Overlay Districts,” defined by Massachusetts General Law Chapter 40R as “dense residential or mixed-use smart growth zoning districts, including … affordable housing units … in areas of concentrated development such as existing city and town centers, and in other highly suitable locations.” The projects would be funded by an up-front state payment of $75,000 with an additional $3,000 per unit, as long as at least 20% of the residential units developed are classified as “affordable.”

Town Planner Walter Ramsey explained in a presentation to the Selectboard Monday night that the Railroad Salvage site and First Street sites “have been determined by the Planning Board to be highly suitable for residential and mixed-use development.”

Neither site contains structures in need of demolition.

Ramsey added that while the range may be expanded in the future, the former Strathmore Mill and parcels outside of the downtown area and in other villages would likely not qualify. The site of the former Farren Care Center, which has been controversially recommended for demolition and targeted by the public for its affordable housing potential, “could be (a) future addition once the current owner finishes their due diligence.”

“The Farren site could be potential for this type of zoning,” Ramsey said, “but it seems a little bit premature, given all the unknowns in the future of that site.”

The Railroad Salvage site at 11 to 15 Power St., referred to as “Subdistrict A,” is a 2.8-acre zoned Historic Industrial site with the potential for at least 76 residential units. Ramsey noted the removal of the blighted mill as a benefit for developing the area, with accessibility to the bike path, downtown and Sixth Street Bridge making the property extra appealing.

The site was originally developed as the Griswold Cotton Mill in 1874 within a 56,090-square-foot, 1.3-acre footprint, according to Montague Historical Commission member Ed Gregory. The building functioned as Kendall Textiles and Rockdale Department Store in the mid-1900s before becoming Railroad Salvage in 1974. The building was vacant from 1994 to 2016, when it was destroyed in a two-alarm fire.

The First Street site, referred to as “Subdistrict B,” is a 1.1-acre site adjacent to Town Hall with the potential for at least 40 residential units. Ramsey said the site was historically developed more than a century ago, with its housing infrastructure serving as inspiration for the town today.

“We looked at that as a model for reusing this area, rethinking how we could develop this little section of downtown and connect and capitalize on the river, the bike path and all the good things that are happening in that area of town,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey listed a series of benefits of Smart Growth Overlay Districts in his slideshow, including revitalization of once-developed properties, increased housing accessibility and having ample local control over design while still receiving state funding.

Ramsey said the process will begin “possibly starting in January or February” with a Selectboard public hearing. After that, the town will submit draft bylaws governing the Smart Growth Overlay Districts to the state for review and approval. The Planning Board will then hold a public hearing before the topic goes to Town Meeting.

The town would seek a private or nonprofit developer for the project, according to Ramsey, as “Montague does not have (Community Preservation Act) funds to support the development of affordable housing.” Selection of a developer would involve transferring municipal properties within the overlay districts through a public disposition process to a nonprofit or private sector developer.

“This means the town would have control over the selection of the developer and the developer would know the town’s expectations for the site,” Ramsey further explained in an email. “The adjacent non-municipal properties in the 40R district could be developed into housing or other uses allowed by the underlying zoning as market forces allow.”

Later in the process, Sixth Street Bridge replacement will be expedited and an “environmental due diligence closeout” will be completed before the solicitation for development is issued for the Railroad Salvage site, according to Ramsey. The town expects to break ground at this site in one to three years.

For First Street, a $6,000 to $8,000 environmental site assessment will be conducted before the solicitation for development is issued. The town expects to break ground at this site in four to six years.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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