In response to a question at the May 9, 2023 meeting of the Economic Development Committee, Mayor Wedegartner mentioned that “there’s some work being done on Main St. to do some upper-story Main St. redevelopment for housing… for market-rate housing,” specifically saying that it was not just the Wilson’s building:

I have not been following this topic all that closely, but it’s the first I’ve heard of additional housing redevelopment downtown. I’d be pretty interested to hear more.

The question came up in the context of the EDC’s discussion of the latest proposal for rezoning a portion of the much-discussed French King Highway land on the northeast end of town up past Stop & Shop. A different version of this proposal failed to pass when it came before the City Council a month or two ago.

section of the Greenfield MA official zoning map

The current proposal is to change the zoning of five parcels of land between the French King Highway Route 2 from General Commercial to Planned Industrial. The original motion to do the same to eleven parcels failed in December at City Council due to several councilors' concerns about the dearth of affordable housing in the city. Per the discussion at this EDC meeting—which was held jointly with the Planning Board—the amount of land under consideration here is relatively small.

These parcels are currently zoned as General Commercial, which means two- and three-family dwellings are allowed by right, while single-family and multi-family (i.e., more than three) dwellings are allowed by special permit. Changing the zoning of the parcels in question to Planned Industry would mean that no housing would be allowed even by special permit—thus the objections from the City Council.

The obvious question here is that if the current zoning allows for a variety of housing construction but none has happened over the many years these parcels have sat empty, then why do we care about whether this proposal to change the zoning would no longer allow for housing? One would assume that if anyone was interested in building housing there, it would have already happened.

But of course, it’s not that simple. A chunk of the 11 parcels included in the original proposal that failed last year is the land for which Stop & Shop currently holds the lease. They will hold onto that lease and do nothing with it as long as it is zoned General Commercial out of fear that if they let it go, a competitor will pick up the lease and build retail. So even if someone did want to build housing there, they would not have been able to acquire the lease to do it.

However, the number of parcels discussed in this EDC meeting is only five. While the topic of Stop & Shop was mentioned, I don’t actually know whether that property is still in scope for this latest version of the proposed zoning changes.

Either way, I think I agree that the housing question, while quite important for Greenfield overall, is not super-relevant here. If we are going to expand affordable housing for people in the city, I don’t think the edge of town is where we should be focusing. Yes, there is the Stop & Shop right there, but not much else. There are also no sidewalks or any other kind of infrastructure to support residential construction and make it a livable part of town.

Which brings us back around to the question at the very start of this thread about more affordable housing—and more housing of any kind, really—in and around the downtown core. This is the area should be our focus. Increasing our core housing density is what will give us a walkable, vibrant community and does not require the buildout of a lot of costly infrastructure on the periphery of town.

As for the rezoning of the French King Highway parcels, it seems like a reasonable proposal to me. While I don’t agree with Al Normal about much, his public comment (well over the 3-minute limit as usual) at this session about the need to expand our industrial tax base in Greenfield was correct. As long as we are reliant mostly on residential property taxes, we are going to continue to be strapped for money.

In the meantime, neither the Economic Development Committee nor the Planning Board held a vote on the updated proposal at this meeting. The next meetings are June 1 for the Planning Board and June 13 for the EDC.