EAST LONGMEADOW – Few things galvanize well-off suburbanites as swiftly as a prospective warehouse project by out-of-state developers.
After a Conservation Commission meeting last week when townsfolk learned details of the proposed 562,860 square-foot project at the long-abandoned Package Machinery site at 330 Chestnut St., a movement erupted. This small town has joined a nationwide neighborhood-based resistance to growing numbers of warehouses to support e-commerce.
Signs reading “STOP the WAREHOUSE” now dot the tree lines of homes and businesses on Shaker Road, a heavily trafficked hodgepodge of businesses off the town center, and continue onto Chestnut Street, a unique melding of manufacturing companies, pretty residences and the entrance to The Fields at Chestnut.
The high-end retirement community where units and custom homes sell for upwards of $600,000 is the source of the most resistance against the project, and its residents were among those who packed a large room at the East Longmeadow Senior Center Tuesday evening for a Planning Board meeting.
“This will be catastrophic, absolutely catastrophic,” said Fields resident and project opponent Mary E. Hurley, a former Springfield mayor, district court judge and outgoing member of the Governor’s Council.
Detractors fear an exponential increase in tractor-trailer trucks rumbling to and from the site, abandoned and decrepit for many years with overgrown brush and broken windows marring the outside and asbestos and other environmental hazards polluting the inside.
Hurley argues much of the traffic will add to the congestion on Shaker Road, bleed onto Chestnut Street as well as Dwight Road and Converse Street in nearby Longmeadow.
“The traffic, the noise, the pollution, the impact on property values. Absolutely catastrophic,” Hurley repeated.
Within days of the conservation commission meeting when the development plans were floated by Rob Levesque, a Holyoke building consultant, the lawn signs went up and fliers quickly circulated which read:
“BIG RIGS = BIG PROBLEMS. STOP THE WAREHOUSE. If we don’t speak up now East Longmeadow will be invaded by hundreds of tractor trailer trucks every day,” the fliers read, noting that the message was paid for by STOP THE WAREHOUSE and lists its website as stopthewarehouse-el.com
Similar websites have cropped up across the country with the same template, including one in Hudson where residents are dismayed over the prospect of a 1.2 million-square-foot distribution warehouse at a vacant corporate site — also situated near a retirement community where residents are up in arms, according to news reports.
William Pill, an attorney hired by the Fields condominium association, argues the facility smacks of an Amazon transfer station with 100 docking stations and 150 parking spots for 18-wheelers. Levesque has told town officials developers plan to building the warehouse “on speculation,” meaning the developer has yet to identify a tenant.
“Well, that just stinks to high heaven,” said Pill during an interview before Tuesday’s meeting. “I don’t believe for a minute they don’t have plans for that site.”
The developer established East Longmeadow Redevelopers LLC for the project, listing a primary place of business in Piscataway, New Jersey.
Corporate records made available by the Secretary of the Commonwealth show the principals behind the limited liability corporation include Mitchell Modell, a former sporting goods store magnate from New York City who filed for bankruptcy in 2020, Jack Morris and Sheryl Weingarten, a husband and wife team who made the 2021 “Commercial Real Estate Power 50″ in New Jersey, and Joseph Marino, also a developer from the Garden State who attended the local meeting.
Levesque did not respond to a call for comment on the project in advance of the hearing. He made a lengthy presentation on the permit application for the proposed project, after attorneys for the investors reported to the board that the site has historically been home to industrial purposes, including when Package Machinery purchased the property in 1946 from Pratt and Whitney, which used the site to build planes for the Department of Defense.
Lawyers for the developers added that if their clients did not have plans to improve the current property there would be no need to come before the board because the site is properly zoned for any type of warehouse, as an “as of right use,” which they argued hamstrings the Planning Board from rejecting the site plan.
A traffic analyst told the crowd they anticipate there will be an average of 90 trucks entering and exiting at peak times in the mornings and later in the afternoons, and that the area can absorb more than 800 vehicles a day.
“We’ve looked at this for hundreds of hours. It’s not like we haven’t looked at it, and it’s not something we’re trying to get past you,” Levesque said.
But, it became clear shortly into project leaders’ presentation particularly around traffic that the board and the audience intended to go down swinging.
“I think the traffic study is fatally flawed,” said Planning Board member George Kingston. “You don’t know who’s going to operate this place, you don’t know how they’re going to operate it.”
Proponents of the project presenting at the meeting also were met with a wall of skepticism surrounding the open nature of the tenancy. Kingston insisted the design of the building mirrors the “cross-dock” design favored by Amazon.
At the meeting, Pill referred to Levesque as a reputable business development consultant but also a “beard” for the real decision-makers.
Paul Beturne, owner of Dimauro Carpet & Tile on Shaker Road, said he was among many business owners recently lobbied by members of the cause to join their resistance. He agreed to put a STOP the WAREHOUSE sign in his window, but sees certain flaws in their arguments.
“There’s already a lot of traffic that goes by here every day. Do I want more traffic? No. If I lived right on top of it, would I want to look at it every day? No, so I get it. But that community has been surrounded by manufacturing since it was built. The manufacturing companies were there before that condo association was,” said Beturne, also a town resident.
Tuesday’s hearing concluded with a motion by the Planning Board to have an independent traffic study conducted at the expenses of the developers. The hearing was continued to Nov. 15.