Turners Falls Canal District planning reveals call for housing, workspaces

  • Dietz & Company Architects Principal Lee Morrissette outlined the poor condition of the former mill buildings in the Canal District in Turners Falls during a meeting this week. Pictured are buildings at 8 and 20 Canal St. Staff File Photo/Julian Mendoza

Staff Writer
Published: 5/26/2022 7:34:38 PM
Modified: 5/26/2022 7:32:41 PM

TURNERS FALLS — Residents had their voices heard in a recent survey about the future of the Canal District, emphasizing their desires for housing and workspaces, among other suggestions.

The results were reviewed in a hybrid meeting earlier this week led by Springfield-based Dietz & Company Architects and attended by more than 30 people. A slideshow presentation provided context to residents and showcased different aspects of the planning process that could include demolishing the most decrepit mill buildings along the canal. After, residents chimed in regarding what they’d like to see in terms of future improvements.

Dietz & Company Architects Principal Lee Morrissette outlined the poor condition of the buildings in the Canal District. All six former mill sites, he said, suffer from unstable and unsafe conditions. The former Strathmore mill complex, Morrissette noted, has bricks falling into the river due to the external support shell being just 1½ to 2 inches thick.

“Just because it isn’t falling down doesn’t mean it isn’t structurally failing,” he added.

Marketing Associate Rachel Selsky said that, aside from safety concerns, the firm needs to “figure out what is feasible with the market conditions of the site.” Her work will include fielding supply and demand, scenario planning and exploring business environment improvements.

Selsky also presented survey results that showed residents’ desires for mixed-use infrastructure; local business; canal visibility and enjoyment; taking inspiration from infrastructure in Florence, Easthampton and North Adams; a focus on battle and Indigenous remembrance; and, in particular, housing.

“There are very clear demands for housing,” she said.

Selsky said residents want to see housing development include living and working units, low- to moderate-income rentals, workforce housing, senior housing and cooperative housing. In terms of potential office space, she said residents are interested in office suites, coworking spaces and medical offices. For industrial space, survey respondents want to see small-scale manufacturing, commercial kitchens, a brewery or distillery, and a greenhouse or crop cultivation facility.

At the Strathmore complex, all buildings except for Building 11, which is “in the best condition” but “still in rough shape,” will most likely need to be demolished due to unsalvageable structural degradation, Morrissette said.

“It might come across a little callously,” he said of the demolition possibility, acknowledging that “there’s so many layers of history” at the canal. “It’s not on purpose.”

Regardless, input from meeting attendees that followed included suggestions to reuse structures for purposes such as aquaculture and an Indigenous culture and heritage center, a concept that was initially discussed last summer with the idea of preserving buildings at 8 and 20 Canal St.

“Keeping the memory and the importance will have to be balanced with keeping the safety of the site,” Morrissette reiterated in response.

Montague Town Planner Walter Ramsey said grant funding will help bring whatever preferred visions that may emerge to life. In December, the town received a $35,000 grant to complete a property reuse assessment of the former Strathmore mill complex at 20 Canal St. that will help advance redevelopment of the Canal District’s north end. Earlier, Montague received a $2.16 million MassWorks grant, which supports replacement of the Fifth Street pedestrian bridge, a project that Montague Town Administrator Steve Ellis previously described as being “essential for the redevelopment of the Canal District.”

“The bright light ahead of us is that the state is committing some federal infrastructure dollars to bridges in the area,” Ramsey said.

Next steps, as outlined by Morrissette, include an “investigation phase” to yield documentation of more specific findings, as well as a “visioning phase” that involves development of preliminary options, financial analyses, site modeling, master plan reporting and two more community workshops.

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


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