By Etta Walsh
CHICOPEE – Wayne Stec has an idea for Front Street, currently undergoing an $8.4 million reconstruction – make it a dead-end near the Rte. 391 overpass and turn it from “a dumping ground and speed strip” into a passive area maintained by the neighboring American Legion Post 452.
“Now’s the time to do it,” said Stec, who manages the post and is a past commander there.
Stec said he and other post officials have complained for years about conditions at the end of Front Street.
The street, which previously connected Chicopee and West Springfield, was closed when Rte. 391 was built.
Now the area, which sits under the 391 overpass, attracts people who dump trash, particularly hard-to-dispose items such as mattresses and broken appliances, Stec said.
It also attracts speeders, who use the area for a shortcut to West Street, and encourages loiterers, he said.
“God knows what goes on there at night,” he said.
The Legion post has put up with the conditions for several years, paying extra to haul away others’ trash placed in the post’s Dumpster, and keeping an eye out for speeding drivers, who endanger pedestrians, he said.
“They took out our guardrail, once,” Stec said.
At last week’s Ward 2 neighborhood meeting, to inform residents about several ongoing and planned projects, including the Front Street reconstruction, Stec pleaded with city officials to address concerns at his end of Front Street.
“Would you please end Front Street there, to address these problems?” he urged.
Stec said he has sought permission for years, from both city and state officials, to block off Front Street near the Legion post.
The Legion will maintain the area, if blocked off, including installing video surveillance cameras that will discourage illegal dumping there, he said.
“If we can see who’s doing it, the police can issue citations,” he said.
Blocking off the area won’t affect neighborhood traffic to any great extent, he said. Instead, it will discourage those whose behavior disrupts the neighborhood, Stec said.
The reconstruction of Front Street, on a two-mile span that runs from Depot Street to Oak Street, is expected to take two years. It is a “curb to curb” reconstruction that will replace some sewer and water lines.
By Etta Walsh
By Etta Walsh
CHICOPEE – The $450,000 appraisal for a 30-acre conservation-area parcel is based on “hypotheticals” and needs to be re-done, according to state Rep. Joseph Wagner, D-Chicopee.
Wagner said he supports turning the acreage, bordering Nelson Road and the Chicopee River, into a nature preserve, but not without a new appraisal of the property that is based on what city officials think it could fetch on the open market.
Chicopee is seeking a state grant that would pay 70 percent of the parcel’s value, with the city chipping in the rest, estimated at $135,000.
Wagner said the $450,000 appraisal by Crowley Real Estate Appraisers Inc. of Springfield doesn’t jibe with the $403,100 value set by city tax assessors.
The state representative, who said Crowley is a well-known and respected appraisal service – “the best in the business,” according to Wagner – based its higher valuation on what owner Yves Demers said could be built there.
The City Council rezoned the parcel in December from industrial to residential use – making the land more valuable – at Demers’ request. The developer said he planned to build 16 single-family homes there, but city officials contend only 5.5 acres of the marshy parcel are buildable and only 5 to 6 homes could be constructed.
Tax Assessor Laura McCarthy said the $403,100 tax valuation was established when the acreage was zoned for industrial use. Tax valuations don’t take into account what land owners plan to construct on their properties, she said.
Wagner said the city valuation was based on the entire 32-acre parcel. Crowley removed 1.5 acres from its valuation scenario at the direction of Mayor Michael Bissonnette, who said that Demers indicated during negotiations with the city that he wanted to retain some acreage. He has since agreed to hold on to two 100-by-100-foot parcels for two single-family homes, according to the mayor.
The Springfield appraiser based its $450,000 valuation on a scenario where nine acres would be developed for housing and the remaining land would be open space.
“All those assumptions impact the value,” Wagner said. “This is a document that, for me, raises questions.”
Wagner said he will not support the city’s application for grant funds “unless those questions are resolved.”
“The city was the client and the appraiser was using information from the seller, who stood to profit if the appraisal was high,” Wagner said. “If you can only build five homes, instead of 16 homes, that value would decrease.”
The state legislator said he contacted state officials, including the office of Governor Duval Patrick, to alert them that he thinks the appraisal needs to be done again.
“The state should not be paying 70 percent of an appraisal that is not based on anything real,” he said. “If the city wants to pay $450,000 for that land, that would be the city’s business. I’m not going to put my imprint on anything that doesn’t pass the smell test – and this doesn’t.”
By Etta Walsh
CHICOPEE – Tempers flared earlier this week, as the mayor and one of his challengers in the upcoming election clashed over the value of a 30-acre parcel the city wants to buy for conservation reasons.
Mayor Michael Bissonnette and At-large City Councilor Shane Brooks, who seeks to unseat the mayor in November, sparred over the $450,000 value placed on the property by Crowley Real Estate Appraisers Inc., of Springfield.
The two men exchanged some heated words at a meeting on the matter held Monday in the Chicopee Library, to inform lower Granby Road residents about the proposal.
Brooks contends that the appraisal figure is too high, citing the city’s tax assessors’ valuation of $403,100 for the entire, 32-acre site. Crowley’s appraisal left out 1.5 acres of the parcel, at the mayor’s direction.
Bissonnette said the Crowley appraisal is based on the fair-market value of the 30 acres appraised. He directed the Springfield appraiser to leave out 1.5 acres because, while the appraisal was being conducted, his office was still negotiating with property owner Yves Demers, he said.
“We decided to err on the side of caution,” Bissonnette said. “We wanted to keep the appraisal price as low as possible.”
The city is seeking a state LAND (Land Acquisitions for Natural Diversity) grant from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs to finance 70 percent of the cost of acquiring the land, with the city kicking in about $135,000.
Demers has offered to sell most of the parcel to Chicopee for $500,000. As part of his agreement, he would retain two 100-by-100-foot parcels to build two single-family homes there.
The owner originally sought to build 16 homes on the parcel, but city officials said the marshy area, bordered by Nelson Road and the Chicopee River, only offered 5.5 acres suitable for building five or six homes. Abutters said they wanted the area left as a nature preserve.
Brooks said the parcel’s valuation was based on faulty information.
“This is based on a ton of assumptions and what-ifs,” Brooks said of the appraisal. “I suggest the appraisal may not be accurate.”
He also complained that a packet of material that Bissonnette provided to City Council members, who must approve any purchase of the land, was lacking key information.
Bissonnette said he provided the Council with all information that was available at the time, on March 17.
Gesturing to the 90 people who attended the meeting, the mayor said he wanted to inform neighbors who would be most affected by the project, about the conservation proposal.
“This is transparent,” he said.
Following the meeting, Brooks again criticized the mayor, saying the Crowley appraisal of Demers’ property “was based on a subdivision plan created by the owner” rather than independent data.
The fact that Demers planned to keep two building parcels for private development was not shared with council members, he said.
“If the mayor didn’t know that, on March 17, when he presented (the packet of information) to the City Council, he certainly should have known,” Brooks said.
The mayor said if the state DEEA wants a second appraisal of the parcel, it has the power to order it.
“If the state wants a second appraisal, that’s fine with me,” he said. The difference between Crowley’s $450,000 valuation and that of city assessors, at $403,100, “is less than the price of one building lot,” he said.
He said that Brooks, and other council members who are objecting to his handling of the matter, could de-rail the opportunity to buy the property and turn it into the nature preserve that neighbors want.
“We need to get the grant, first,” Bissonnette said. “I wish everyone would focus on that instead of trying to kill this (conservation proposal) in its crib.”
There are 16 applications on file for only three grants available from the DEEA, he said.
By Etta Walsh
CHICOPEE – The Facemate stalemate has ended.
Thanks to a decision handed down last week in Hampden Superior Court, the city will be able to gain title to the former Uniroyal-Facemate property, according to Mayor Michael Bissonnette.
The city has been trying for years to either collect outstanding back taxes and fees on the property – which amount to more than $1.5 million – or else gain control of the 72-acre site.
The case was complicated by the fact that Walter F. Mrozinski, the owner of record, filed for bankruptcy protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, where the case has languished for several years.
The Hampden court decision, handed down on March 17, is a formal agreement with Mrozinski that he owes Chicopee $1.5 million.
That agreement clears the way for the city to gain control of the property by tax title, through foreclosure on the Facemate parcel, and move ahead with plans to demolish some of the site’s 24 buildings and clean up hazardous waste, including asbestos and mercury, Bissonnette said.
“The money judgment will never be collected,” he said. “The corporation is bankrupt. Facemate doesn’t have any assets to pay the city.”
The city has paid more than $275,000 to provide private security to the site, where a building partially collapsed last summer. Police and fire officials have modified their response policy at the site, to safeguard the health and safety of emergency responders.
Bissonnette has said he wants to clean up the property and find a private developer to turn it into a mixed-use site, for retail, residential and recreational use.
Uniroyal ceased operations there in 1980. Facemate bought the property in 1981 and filed for bankruptcy in 2003.
The mayor said demolishing buildings and cleaning up hazardous waste at the site, where Uniroyal Corp. formerly manufactured tires for vehicles, would cost about $20 million.
But once the site is clean enough for development, it would only fetch about $4 million on the open market, he said – discouraging private developers from investing in the parcel.
Bissonnette said because the property is worth less than the cost of cleaning it up, only government resources can turn it from an “eyesore and public safety hazard” into “a real gem.”
The site is bordered by the Chicopee River. Further up the river, in Chicopee Center, a bicycle path and walkway is being created. Directly across the river is a 32-acre parcel, once owned by Uniroyal that the city wants to buy and turn into a conservation area.
“It truly is gorgeous back there,” Bissonnette said of the parcel. “You can’t really tell by looking at the front of the property (on Oak Street.)”
Chicopee will take steps to acquire formal title to the site, which means the city can then seek state and federal grants for clean-up funds, the mayor said.
The administration of Gov. DeVal Patrick, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal and U.S. Sen. John Kerry have all expressed support for the city’s efforts to clean up the parcel and then seek a private developer, Bissonnette said.
“The city is going to act as the middleman to put together resources to clean up the site,” he said. “Who else will do it? Only government can clean it up.”
“You’ve got to look beyond politics and the next election. You’ve got to think about the city’s future,” Bissonnette said. “What is that going to be for the next 100 years? What are we going to leave our kids?”
“The city should have taken action many years ago,” he said. “If it was an easy decision, I’m sure someone would have done it long ago.”