Wilson’s redevelopment project secures Greenfield Planning Board approval

  • Members of the Greenfield Planning Board discuss the Wilson’s Department Store redevelopment project at the John Zon Community Center on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer
Published: 5/5/2023 5:33:52 PM

GREENFIELD — The Planning Board gave the Wilson’s Department Store redevelopment project a nod of approval to proceed with its application for a special permit on Thursday evening.

“I’m very much in favor of this, not only for [Franklin Community Co-op] but probably more so for the residential facilities,” said Planning Board member David Chichester, mentioning the building’s future use before making a motion to forward a positive recommendation to the Zoning Board of Appeals. “I commend you for the work you’re doing to make this happen.”

Representatives are expected to appear before the ZBA on Thursday, May 18, at 7 p.m. in the second-floor meeting room at 20 Sanderson St.

Wilson’s Department Store, one of the last independent, family-owned department stores in the country, closed in January 2020. Mark Abramson, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Commercial Upton-Massamont Realtors, previously said the property, which includes the parking lot behind the building and two lots on Chapman Street, was priced at $3.95 million when it went on the market.

Mayor Roxann Wedegartner announced in November 2022 that the city worked in partnership with The Community Builders, MassDevelopment and the Franklin Community Co-op on the property’s acquisition. The redevelopment plan for the Main Street property involves relocating and expanding Green Fields Market — which is operated by the Franklin Community Co-op — into the building’s first floor and turning the upper floors into 65 mixed-income rental apartments. Overall, architects aim to restore the building to an appearance reminiscent of roughly 1920.

Planning and Economic Director Eric Twarog noted that due to the number of apartments exceeding 50, the project was subject to a major development review.

Planning Board members had questions about parking and traffic patterns for the residential and retail aspects of the project. Chair Charles Roberts asked about lighting plans, to which Drew Garvin, an engineer with Bohler Engineering, responded there would be new lighting proposed for the parking lot to the rear of the building.

“Speaking to the parking lot, it’s a dramatic improvement over the current lot there now, especially for handicap accessibility and pass-through,” Williams explained. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t putting a lot of weight on the Davis Street, one-way side there, knowing that’s also narrow.”

As for traffic, project representatives explained that while the first part of a study was completed, which represented a “worst-case scenario” impact, the second part would be more detailed as to the local impact, and would be ready in time for the ZBA meeting later this month.

“People who are living there, they’re not making multiple trips,” said Julia Scannell, project manager at The Community Builders. She added that many residents will walk or use public transportation as well. “One trip to work, one trip back; one trip to school, one trip back.”

Members also had questions about entry points at different levels for residents and customers. Henry Albin of Jones Whitsett Architects, which is working with The Community Builders on the housing portion of the project, noted the front part of the building is four levels, with only one five-story section, requiring some rearranging of elevators.

“It’s such a unique building,” said Franklin Community Co-op General Manager John Williams. “It took a lot of creative imagination for us to get to this point.”

Williams told Planning Board members that he hopes to start construction within a year. The board voted unanimously to send a positive recommendation to the ZBA.

“It’s wonderful — I’m super excited about it,” Roberts said. “I can’t wait to see it happen.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.


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