Tonight the Holyoke City Council Zoning Ordinance Committee voted 3-2 in favor of recommending to the full city council the zone change of the 18 acre city owned parcel on Whiting Farms Road. The change will allow for the development of a proposed Lowe’s Home Improvement store. The full council vote will take place next Tuesday December 16th, 2008. A number of city council members separate from the ordinance committee were in attendance tonight, who all spoke in favor of the project citing the significance of the issues at stake. Those were primarily the state of the economy, likelihood of budget cuts from the state in the next year, and the headlines in today’s news that Holyoke now ranks atop the highest poverty rate in the state. Grow Holyoke thanks them for their leadership and their sincere concern for the welfare of the entire city. The two ordinance committee members who voted against the zone change were Councilors Pluta and Lopez. Councilor Pluta cited traffic as the main concern for her vote while claiming the change was ‘spot zoning at its worst.’ However, this claim is far from the fact. The proposed zone change is consistent with the city’s master plan recommendations and is consistent with area land uses. Retail and commercial use exists in the immediate area; at the intersection of Whiting Farms Road and Lower Westfield Road, while the master plan explicitly states that retail development should occur in the area the locus. Councilor Lopez neglected to offer any explanation or reasoning for his vote.
However, there is still time. Help your city councilors see the light of what realities face their city in the years ahead. Right now Holyoke has the highest commercial tax rate in the state at 33.98%; receives over 60% of its budget from state and federal aid; has the highest poverty levels in Massachusetts; has an unemployment rate of 8%; and the highest teen pregnancy rate in the commonwealth, as we enter what economists predict as the worst recession since the great depression. And these councilors are worried about traffic??? (Traffic that will be improved by this development, I might add.) There is something inherently wrong here. If they really truly care about their constituents and are sincerely concerned with the future of the city that they were elected to serve, they will make the right decision to approve the zone change. But those such as Councilor Lopez need to here from you. Contact your councilors by phone or email and let them know that you are for jobs, you are worried about the future of the city, and this is one vote that they cannot afford to give away.