WESTFIELD — A multi-faceted construction project slated for downtown Westfield came one step closer to actualization on Tuesday when the mayor and council voted unanimously to adopt the Prospect and Ferris Redevelopment Plan.
If completed, the proposed four-story building would consist of up to 64 housing units, retail space and an underground parking garage.
Although Mayor Shelley Brindle was quick to assure the large crowd that Tuesday night’s decision was only a small step in what will likely be a much longer process, many residents took advantage of the public hearing to voice their concerns regarding — if not outright opposition to — the project.
“That intersection [of Prospect and Ferris Street] is already a mess,” said long-time resident Lorre Korecky. “I had a neighbor who was struck and killed by a car on Prospect Street not that long ago. I cannot begin to imagine what that street would look like with 90 more cars trying to get through there every day.”
Many other residents echoed Mrs. Korecky’s concerns, specifically about traffic, pedestrian safety and general congestion in the area.
“We already have the YMCA, the Methodist Church and a preschool on Ferris Street,” Mrs. Korecky said, “and it’s a one-way street. It’s already a very busy thoroughfare, and I’m worried that this project could lead to total gridlock.”
Others, like Ted Ritter, argued that the project would be inconsistent with the character of the neighborhood.
“Just because the town’s redevelopment plan says we can do something doesn’t mean this particular project is right for this location,” Mr. Ritter said. “I can’t imagine how this monstrosity is going to fit in. It looks like it belongs in more of an urban corridor. This neighborhood is on the periphery, but it retains an Old Westfield feel.”
Not all of Tuesday night’s public commentators were against the project, however. Some, like Sharon Stockwell of Nelson Place, said she “fully supported” the plan to preserve and restore a Colonial-era home that is currently located on part of the property in question.
“This is a unique property and I think it’s well worth saving,” Mrs. Stockwell said, adding that many restoration attempts in Westfield have been thwarted in the past due to lack of funding or public interest. “I also think that we should be looking at this as an opportunity not only to save one of our historic buildings, but to take a long, hard look at the traffic problems that have always existed in this neighborhood. We might walk away from this with some good information that we didn’t have before.”
A traffic study, which was requested by many residents and council members alike, will be conducted under the direction of WSP Engineering in order to gain a better understanding of the impact that the project could have on the surrounding community.
“I hope the traffic study is the very next step in the process,” said Councilwoman Linda Habgood. “I think the only way that this goes forward is if we can figure out how to address pre-existing problems with congestion, traffic, pedestrian safety and parking. Unless we can address those things to the satisfaction of the council, then it’s going to be extremely difficult to go forward.”
The Prospect and Ferris plan tentatively calls for a traffic study of at least three intersections: Ferris Place and Prospect Street, Ferris Place and Clark Street, and Prospect Street and East Broad Street. Other areas of potential interest include the intersection at Clark Street and North Avenue.
From here, said Topology Project Director Christopher Colley, the project will still need to go through a lengthy process of approvals by the planning board, the mayor and council and other municipal entities before construction can begin.
“I’ve heard from many people that this project came out of the blue and is being fast-tracked, when in all actuality, it has been in the works for many years,” explained Mayor Brindle, who noted that the project was first brought to her attention in 2018 when the property owner, James Ward, was advised to wait until the 2019 Master Plan re-examination to ensure that any proposed projects would be in line with that plan and the community input that it represented.
Thus far, Mayor Brindle said, Mr. Ward has already “met or exceeded” many of the town’s expectations for the project by meeting with and getting conditional approvals from the Historic Preservation Commission, the planning board, the redevelopment team and the council.
“This project is still very conceptual,” Mayor Brindle said, noting that the town’s recently-adopted redevelopment plans will give the municipality greater control over developers and the types of projects that they are allowed to complete. “This gives us some leeway to add whatever contingencies we see fit to this project, and when we do that, we will be sure that you are included in that process. Our goal is to find a solution that everyone can be happy with.”
Councilmembers Dawn Mackey and James Boyes recused themselves from both the vote and any subsequent conversation.