Capital Improvement Program
The City Council on Thursday voted unanimously to approve the $90,946,714 Capital Improvement Program submitted by the mayor for the next five fiscal years through June 30, 2027. Capital expenses for the next fiscal year, beginning July 1, total $15,451,136.

The Capital Improvement Program is aligned with the goal of making municipal buildings and operations carbon-neutral by 2030 that is established in the Northampton Climate Resilience & Regeneration Plan. The first year of the capital program calls for purchasing 18 hybrid or electric vehicles across city departments, including the public schools, central services, parking enforcement, building, police, fire, health and the new Department of Community Care.

Also, ventilation systems will be upgraded and windows replaced in a variety of municipal buildings, including schools, to make them more energy-efficient and to create healthier working and learning environments.

The Capital Improvement Program is available here:

Form-based zoning hearing
A package of 14 zoning ordinances related to a so-called “form-based ” code was referred by the City Council on Thursday to its Committee on Legislative Matters and Planning Board. They will hold a virtual joint public hearing on the zoning package at 7 p.m. Thursday March 24.

The proposed form-based code would affect the central business district in downtown Northampton, as well as Florence village center.

The changes, which the Office of Planning & Sustainability have worked on for four years, would merge design standards with expanded uses for properties in those districts. Among the desired impacts are additional multifamily housing, allowing residential units on the ground floor of commercial buildings and creating more spaces that are attractive for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The zoning changes will return to the City Council for consideration after the Committee on Legislative Matters and Planning Board review testimony at the public hearing and issue their recommendations.

The 14 amendments are available here:

Water and sewer rates
Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra has recommended that water and sewer rates remain unchanged from this year for the fiscal year beginning July 1. After a virtual public hearing at 7 p.m. Thursday March 31, the City Council is expected to vote on continuing with the same water and sewer rates next year.

Remote meetings
The City Council on Thursday voted unanimously to continue meeting remotely until July 15. The governor has extended a provision modifying the Open Meeting Law allowing governmental bodies to continue meeting remotely until that date.

The City Council has asked Northampton Open Media, which broadcasts its meetings, to prepare for hybrid meetings after July 15 that would allow for in-person as well as continued remote participation by some councilors and the public.

Northampton Rehabilitation and Nursing Center redevelopment
Valley Community Development Corp. of Northampton earlier this month took majority ownership of the 6.2-acre property at 737 Bridge Road. Last used by the Northampton Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, the site has been vacant since 2011. Valley CDC proposes to renovate the existing building for 60 units of affordable housing.

About 40 people attended a 70-minute Zoom session for neighbors last month and many voiced support for the project, with questions centered on the impact of traffic on the surrounding residential streets and the need to add sidewalks in some areas, particularly those where children will be walking to the Jackson Street School. Among the concerns are whether vehicles will enter or exit the property from or onto Bridge Road, and the location of parking, green space and recreational areas around the housing on the property.

Laura Baker, real estate development director for Valley CDC, is working with city officials to respond to concerns and suggestions about traffic and site planning. Laure asked that I share this update. She writes:

“Valley received requests from neighbors to hold a follow-up meeting at the property to talk more about traffic and site plan options for redevelopment of 737 Bridge Road. We plan to hold such a meeting, likely in a few weeks time. During the first half of March, site planners were booked on other projects and unable to provide new or revised sketches. Next steps include exploring various configurations for parking vs. green space, as well as ways to screen the busy location and reduce traffic noise on site.
Meanwhile, Valley has been in conversation with city staff about options for traffic circulation. The city has discouraged access from Bridge Road without a major traffic change, such as a new traffic light or roundabout due to existing heavy levels of traffic and congestion and the diagonal placement of Hatfield Street from the existing entry to the site. Addition of a new traffic light or roundabout would involve significant planning and cost and would likely have opponents as well as supporters.
The Office of Planning & Sustainability informed Valley that it is not a developer’s responsibility to address existing traffic deficiencies, such as Bridge Road’s intersections. Any solution to Bridge Road would almost certainly require a design study that could cost more than $200,000 and a major design improvement would cost well over $1 million. A single driveway would not be allowed to have a traffic signal, so any solution would require redoing the intersections (Hatfield Street and/or Prospect Avenue).

The typical process on a city-owned road is that the design is done by the city or other proponent and then, some years down the line, is built by MassDOT with federal and state funds. While there is congestion at this location, it is of a lower priority than many far worse intersections in Northampton so it is unlikely that this would receive priority funding.

The Office of Planning & Sustainability informed Valley that there are 3 possible access points to this site:
Bridge Road with right turns in and right turns out with an aggressive enough entrance that people cannot make lefts onto or off of Bridge Road
Hatfield Street close to the current driveway
Prospect Avenue opposite Gleason Road

We will be looking at all three options together with city staff and site planners. We also want to quantify likely trip origins and destinations, and this will be an important part of the traffic examination.

In conjunction with this proposed redevelopment, which will necessitate adding sidewalks along Prospect Avenue on the 737 Bridge Road parcel, the city is exploring whether it can extend sidewalks farther along Prospect Avenue since we heard that people were concerned about walking in the road. The city is also exploring whether/where crosswalks might make sense on Prospect Avenue.”

I will keep you informed about a site visit with neighbors when it is scheduled in the coming weeks.