The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Mayor Brindle on May 25, 2022.
APPROVAL OF THE SOPHIA BRINGS MEANINGFUL BENEFITS TO WESTFIELD
This week the Town Council voted to approve a redevelopment agreement that would allow for a 60-unit apartment project at Prospect Street and Ferris Place, known as the Sophia, to move forward. The developer must still go to the Planning Board to obtain site plan approval at a future public hearing.
I recognize that this development has sparked intense interest, so I would like to provide additional background and context. I have heard from many residents and business owners who support this project, and also from those who oppose it. The project the Council voted on this week is the product of over twelve months of input from Historic Preservation Commission representatives, the Planning Board site plan review committee, traffic and planning professionals, and neighbors, and has been guided by our best-in-class redevelopment and planning team. I believe the Sophia ultimately strikes the right balance for neighbors, businesses, and the community. Here’s why:
First and foremost, the rezoning of the properties on which this development will occur is one of the outcomes of the Town’s Master Plan Reexamination process which began in December 2018. Driven by robust public input, the process included a written public survey, four community workshops, two focus group meetings, and one “visioning” meeting from people who live and work here, as well as those who visit Westfield. The Master Plan Reexamination, and the subsequent Unified Land Use and Circulation Element, recommended this area’s redevelopment and was openly shared, adopted unanimously by the Planning Board at a public hearing, and received the full support of every member of the governing body.
The Master Plan – and its recommendation regarding this site in particular – reflects the Town’s vision of keeping Westfield as a “model of carefully managed development, providing a range of housing options for young families and empty nesters within walking distance to the downtown, maintain high-quality stable single-family neighborhoods and abundant recreational and cultural opportunities.” The rezoning of these properties occurred in December when the Council adopted a redevelopment plan (RDP) by ordinance, after the Planning Board unanimously agreed in a public meeting that this rezoning was consistent with the Master Plan. This thorough public process and Master Plan consistency is the exact opposite of “spot zoning,” in spite of what some objectors have claimed.
Second, in response to community feedback, the Town has worked with the developer to modify the original plans to make the scale of the building appropriate to the neighborhood in the Prospect/Ferris area in the following ways:
- Reduced the number of residential units from 71 to 60.
- Reduced on-site vehicle parking from 150 to 96.
- Reduced the originally proposed five stories to four by putting the parking underground.
- Substantially changed the design of the building including its massing and scale to make it much more residential in appearance which includes requiring a fourth floor set back, tapered rooflines, and strict building design standards to provide a transition from downtown’s taller buildings to the nearby residential areas.
- Required front facing stoops and entrance ways to connect this project and its future residents with their surroundings, much like the front porches and stoops on many homes along Prospect and Ferris do today.
Third, we have extracted meaningful benefits from this development project as follows:
- Providing nine affordable housing units.
- Eliminating all of the originally proposed three-bedroom units, except for two required by the State’s affordable housing regulations.
- Restoring and preserving the adjacent Mills-Ferris-Pearsall House, which was built in 1750, and which the developer is now incorporating into the project as an educational and cultural public amenity with responsibility for maintenance and upkeep at their expense.
- Relocating the on-site parking entrance to Ferris Place so as not to conflict with nearby Prospect Street uses, such as Trader Joe’s and the municipal parking lot.
- Requiring that the project be environmentally sustainable and LEED certification eligible, which would make the Sophia the greenest building in Westfield.
Many of these changes occurred because of the specific input from neighbors in the area and representatives of the Historic Preservation Commission. And, again, while I recognize that many believe we did not go far enough, I firmly believe in the merits of this project for our town and that it will stand the test of time.
On a personal note, I’m disappointed and disheartened by the implications that something nefarious transpired between me, the other elected officials, and the developer because this project wasn’t scaled back as much as some had hoped. There is no developer in our pocket, no favors being given out, no tax abatements being offered. Our decision was based only on what we believe is in the long-term best interests of the community. We have relied on the objective criteria of our community-driven master plan, our professional staff and development experts, and the State’s redevelopment law that permits us to hold developers accountable to deliver a well-constructed, beautifully designed project through a binding redevelopment agreement.
I have been and remain committed to moving this community forward with integrity and well-thought-out, long-term planning guided by public input and shaped by the expertise of professionals, and always focused on maintaining the character of our beautiful town. Thank you for your passionate engagement which is the best indication of a community that loves where they live.