Guest columnist Marty Klein: Tasty Top project must strike balance

By MARTY KLEIN

Published: 06-26-2023 6:17 PM

By MARTY KLEIN

The Easthampton Deserves Better coalition (EDB) is a grassroots effort created in March 2023 by people who have concerns about the proposed Sierra Vista Commons development at the former Tasty Top site on Route 10. We are experts in our fields, business and property owners and ordinary citizens; many of us share a long history of volunteering to make Easthampton the great place it is today. The coalition’s mission is to analyze all of the submissions by the developer, to write comments to the Planning Board and Conservation Commission, and to enlighten the community about what is being proposed.

This proposal has sparked a heated debate about its potential effects on the community. While new development can offer business opportunities and can improve the quality of life, concerns about traffic congestion and environmental damage have raised questions about its long-term implications, as well as who benefits and who does not.

This development is the largest and most complex project to ever come before the city. Its scale is significant, with the gross building area exceeding that of major commercial centers in the region. Plans call for nine apartment buildings, each 30% larger than the city’s Municipal Building, spread out on 32 acres of prime farmland and important habitat.

One pressing concern centers on increased traffic, a common theme accompanying large-scale developments. Comparisons with traffic counts on Route 9 in Hadley and King Street in Northampton highlight the potential impacts, with projected daily car trips expected to rise by 30% to 40% on Northampton Street alone. This road, already heavily congested at certain times, will be subject to 4,000 new vehicle trips/day, plus 1,000 vehicle trips from the new Starbucks.

While the Easthampton Planning Board has required traffic impact studies, the public is still awaiting the release of the findings. The coalition is urging the city to take an ecosystem approach and conduct a comprehensive, citywide traffic study, rather than the limited ones currently under consideration.

When Route 10 is congested, drivers will seek alternative routes and those streets must be considered as well. Such a study would provide a clearer understanding of the traffic, parking and economic implications associated with the proposed development. EDB advocates for transparency and community-oriented results, rather than individual developer benefits.

We are urging residents to participate in the Easthampton Planning Board meeting (in person or virtually) Tuesday, June 27, at 6 p.m. at the Easthampton Municipal Building, second floor.

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The future of the Tasty Top parcel development will shape Easthampton’s community and environment for decades to come. We support wise development that is future oriented, community focused and environmentally protective. To date, what is proposed is not unlike so many developments of the past century, where developers and industrialists cared little about community and the environment. This is no longer acceptable.

We therefore ask, will people in the future look at this and say, “”What a wonderful place!” or “What were they thinking?”

Marty Klein is the spokesperson for the Easthampton Deserves Better coalition.

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