Questions

  1. What is an Urban Renewal Plan?
  2. What is Holyoke’s Urban Renewal Plan?
  3. What does this plan do to Connect Holyoke?
  4. How does this plan Construct?
  5. How does this plan Create?
  6. What is a Redevelopment Authority?
  7. Why is parcel acquisition by the HRA necessary?
  8. Can the plan be amended?
  9. How come not all vacant or blighted buildings/lots are included in the plan?
  10. How will the plan be funded?
  11. If I have a property in the Center City Plan area, will it restrict what I can do with it?
  12. When will the actions in the plan take place?
  13. What is TOD (Transit Oriented Development)?
  14. Was there public input taken into consideration when choosing actions in the plan?
  15. How can I keep up with the implementation of the plan?
  16. Is the Urban Renewal Plan the same as a Master Plan?
  17. What will the URP do for me?
  18. What won’t the URP do for me?
  19. Is my property being acquired by the HRA as part of this plan?

Answers

1. What is an Urban Renewal Plan?

An Urban Renewal Plan is an application submitted by a municipality through its urban renewal agency (like the Holyoke Redevelopment Authority) to the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) requesting its approval of a redevelopment project. The Urban Renewal Plan must include the following information as specified under Massachusetts Regulations 760 CMR 12.00:

  • Maps of the project area;
  • Data demonstrating that the area meets the eligibility criteria as a substandard, decadent or blighted open area;
  • Project objectives including specifications of all proposed redevelopment and detailed job creation and retention estimates;
  • A financial plan including cost estimates and a project budget;
  • Local approvals;
  • Site preparations including land protections and measures to address environmental or flood problems;
  • Public improvements including how the improvements will help achieve the objectives of the plan;
  • A relocation plan;
  • Redeveloper’s obligations (restrictions that are or will be placed on owners of individual parcels);
  • Disposition for each parcel including any known redeveloper;
  • A report on citizen participation describing meaningful citizen participation in the planning process and expected citizen participation during project execution.

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2. What is Holyoke’s Urban Renewal Plan?

Holyoke’s urban renewal plan is “Connect. Construct. Create. – A plan to revitalize Center City Holyoke”. This plan aims to satisfy the requirements of a Massachusetts DHCD designated Urban Renewal Plan (See Question 1: What is an Urban Renewal Plan), however, it also seeks to address the needs of the community at large by targeting specific areas and properties of the Center City. The overarching goal is to promote a vibrant, diverse and economically sustainable Holyoke.

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3. What does this plan do to Connect Holyoke?

A. Connecting Parcels

There are significant amounts of vacant lots and buildings throughout the Center City area, many of which could be connected or aggregated to form larger parcels more marketable for development.

B. Connection of neighborhoods through the “Node” concept

Throughout the public input, it was expressed that the four neighborhoods, especially South Holyoke and the Flats, lack a connection from each other. The four nodes are geographically located where each neighborhood connects to the other. Recommended actions include enhanced infrastructure improvements such as new sidewalks, traffic calming enhancements, benches, street trees, and new lighting. Also recommended is creating or increasing bus stops/pick-ups in the immediate area of nodes. By concentrating certain actions around these nodes each neighborhood will have improved connections to the other.

C. Connection of the Center City to the region through Passenger Rail

A large portion of the plan places emphasis on development of the Depot Square area, which will host the upcoming passenger rail stop. With the return of passenger rail to the Center City, the ability to travel out of and into Holyoke will be enhanced. This includes connections to a broader geographical job market for residents and connection to a broader labor market for businesses.

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4. How does this plan Construct?

A. Construction of residential, commercial and industrial uses

This plan identifies parcels and properties that will be acquired to stimulate private investment. Many acquisitions may result in demolition or clean-up of the properties, in order to make the properties site-ready or shovel-ready for redevelopment and construction.

B. Construction of public infrastructure

The plan identifies important public infrastructure construction projects for the Center City area, such as the passenger rail platform, the Canalwalk, streetscape improvements and bridge repairs.

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5. How does this plan Create?

A. Creation of a strategy to implement a vision

This plan builds momentum off of other plans such as the Holyoke Master Plan (1999), the South Holyoke Revitalization Plan (2008) and the Center City Vision Plan (2009), which share a vision for a more vibrant and dense Center City. This Plan provides an implementation strategy for the HRA to create that vision by targeting specific buildings, lots and areas to concentrate public investment.

B. Creating more opportunities

Another significant portion of this plan is placed on housing in the Center City. Residents of rental units have limited options within the area as they look to purchase a home or upgrade to other units. The plan recommends filling many of the vacant lots in neighborhoods with housing options for a mix of incomes in both ownership and rental units.

C. Creating a prosperous City

Although the target of this plan is the Center City, its benefits will be felt throughout Holyoke, as the tax base will increase, new businesses will be able to start and expand, more services can be offered and the downtown area becomes a destination to live, work and play.

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6. What is a Redevelopment Authority?

Most of the Redevelopment Authorities operating in Massachusetts were originally created to take advantage of the federal Urban Renewal Program, serving as vehicles for carrying out the federal mandate to eliminate blight from inner cities. Although the federal program no longer exists, Redevelopment Authorities continue to play a role in the Commonwealth’s revitalization under C.121B.

M.G.L. Chapter 121B allows municipalities, through their Redevelopment Authorities acting as urban renewal agencies, to eliminate and redevelop substandard, decadent or blighted open areas for industrial, commercial, business, residential, recreational, educational, hospital or other purposes. With the goals of revitalizing such land uses and encouraging new growth, Redevelopment Authorities have the power to:

  • Establish rehabilitation and design standards;
  • Assemble and dispose of land, including the taking of real estate through eminent domain;
  • Relocate businesses and residents occupying urban renewal sites;
  • Demolish and/or rehabilitate substandard structures;
  • Participate in real estate development and commercial revitalization;
  • Issue bonds, borrow money and invest funds;
  • Receive grants and loans;
  • Accept gifts or requests.

Redevelopment Authorities are particularly effective in large scale and complex redevelopment projects and in land assembly. Redevelopment Authorities are exempt from M.G.L. Chapter 30(b), the Uniform Procurement Act, when they are engaged in the development and disposition of real property in accordance with an urban renewal plan.

This exemption, coupled with the ability to use eminent domain powers, makes Redevelopment Authorities powerful tools for commercial revitalization, industrial park development, infrastructure improvements, facilities renovation and brownfield site remediation. The development and approval of an urban renewal plan is necessary for a Redevelopment Authority to undertake specific projects.

A Redevelopment Authority, as an independent body politic and corporate, is not an agency of a municipality and therefore, does not answer directly to the chief executive.

This affords the Redevelopment Authority more autonomy in planning and implementing redevelopment and revitalization projects.

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7. Why is parcel acquisition by the HRA necessary?

Parcel acquisition, including eminent domain, is a last resort option. The properties listed for acquisition in the URP have generally not seen a high level of interest from the private sector due to the cost associated with redevelopment. Many of these properties are either in poor condition, contaminated, too small in size for new construction, have limited access or have other characteristics that are cost prohibitive for a private entity to see a return on investment. With these problems seen throughout the Center City, the HRA will step in and incur some of the cost of redevelopment, in turn creating a market for these properties once again.

The properties recommended for acquisition in this Plan are approximately 92% vacant lots or buildings. The active businesses and occupied residential units recommended for acquisition were done so in order to change the type of land use of the parcel and/or as a critical step to do parcel aggregation for a public benefit project. The HRA will attempt to acquire all privately owned properties by negotiated purchase. Eminent domain is a last-resort tool that urban renewal agencies, such as the HRA, have to acquire private property to undertake a necessary project for public benefit. Private property owners must be compensated at fair market value for their property as well as for relocation expenses associated with any taking. The HRA will make best efforts to reach an out-of-court settlement agreement with private property owners for their properties in return for a financial benefit package.

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8. Can the plan be amended?

Yes. Any significant amendments need approval of the City Council and the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). For example, if a property that was not identified in the plan was to be added for acquisition, the plan would need to be amended and approved by the City Council and DHCD.

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9. How come not all vacant or blighted buildings/lots are included in the plan?

The URP’s purpose is to spur private investment by targeting the areas and properties that can be a catalyst through public assistance. Targeting the properties with the highest need and potential will therefore increase private development in and around those properties.

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10. How will the plan be funded?

As a requirement of MGL 121B, the Urban Renewal Plan must identify funding sources for every action. Since the Holyoke Redevelopment Authority does not currently possess funds, seed funding will be sought through grants, City allocation, parcel transfers from City to HRA or a mix or all options. As the Holyoke Redevelopment Authority gains funds from completing projects, any revenue received will be used on future projects in the URP. Click here to see Section 4, Financial Plan for more details.

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11. If I have a property in the Center City Plan area, will it restrict what I can do with it?

If a property is on the acquisition list, the Plan has certain recommendations for the development of the property. If private owners wish to invest those properties in a manner that is consistent with those recommendations, the HRA would not seek to acquire such property. If a property is in the area but not included in the acquisition list, the HRA will not take such property.

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12. When will the actions in the plan take place?

The URP actions will be taken throughout the next 20 years. Goals have been set for short, mid and long-term within that time. Prioritization of actions was based on various exercises and thoughtful analysis performed by the HRA, City Staff and paid consultants. A survey was developed to score each area based on 10 different criteria. Tax analysis was performed and redevelopment scenarios calculated potential increased tax revenue for each area. Although the goals for the plan were set, the timing will depend on many factors including but not limited to, availability of funding, private investment, and area need. As the plan is implemented, goals will constantly be evaluated based on cost of the action and potential revenue leveraged by the action. For example:

  • A grant may be awarded that would apply to infrastructure costs spanning multiple areas that may have been projected as short-term and long-term goals.
  • As market conditions improve, a private developer may invest in a redevelopment project in a longer term area and certain actions such as parcel aggregation, or parking improvements, may need to be taken to support that project.

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13. What is TOD (Transit Oriented Development)?

Transit Oriented Development is a term that focuses development of an area around modes of mass transit, such as passenger/commuter rail or bus. Types of actions seen in transit oriented development often focus on enhancing the experience of pedestrians and passengers moving into, out of and around the City by public transit.

In the “TOD” Area within the URP, specific actions include the extension of Canalwalk, streetscape, and traffic calming efforts around and in between the future passenger rail platform and the Holyoke Transportation Center.

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14. Was there public input taken into consideration when choosing actions in the plan?

The URP was developed based on findings from the Holyoke Master Plan, the Center City Vision Plan and the South Holyoke Revitalization Plan. The Vision Plan included a “visioning process” whereby workshops were held in each of the four neighborhoods in the URP area. At those meetings, the public was asked to provide their desires for their neighborhoods. The Vision Plan was then developed with recommendations and a goal to strive for in the URP. Similar processes took place in the development of the South Holyoke Revitalization Plan.

At the beginning of the URP process there were four neighborhood meetings to review the actions in the Vision Plan and community members were surveyed on specific actions. Residents, business owners and other community stakeholders were asked about the most distressed properties in their neighborhood and what specific desires they had for their area. A Citizen Participation Committee (CPC) was formed and tasked with making sure actions in the plan represented public desires as expressed at the public meetings. The CPC developed recommendations for the HRA for the ten action areas.

Finally, the HRA held regularly scheduled public meetings on a monthly and bi-monthly basis throughout 2011 and 2012 to discuss actions in the plan. During many of these meetings, presentations were made by the project consultants, VHB, as well as other organizations and individuals with on-going or proposed projects within the area.

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15. How can I keep up with the implementation of the plan?

The HRA will continue to meet on a regular monthly basis on the 3rd Wednesday of every month. Check the City Calendar for meeting postings. Also, sign up for the Office of Planning & Economic Development newsletter for updates on the URP and other developments within the City at www.HolyokeRedevelopment.com.

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16. Is the Urban Renewal Plan the same as a Master Plan?

No. A Master Plan is a comprehensive plan for the City at large and is intended to guide the City’s actions over the next decades. The recommendations in the Master Plan are broader than those of an Urban Renewal Plan and range from increasing student achievement to providing community safety.

An Urban Renewal Plan is a physical plan for a specified area within the community. The Urban Renewal Plan is primarily for the Redevelopment Authority and guides actions with the goal of creating an attractive environment for private investment resulting in a vibrant community for residents to live, work and play. Those actions include property acquisition, infrastructure and streetscape improvements and opportunities for partnerships with other entities engaging in actions that compliment the plan.

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17. What will the URP do for me?

  • Target blight across the downtown
  • Stabilize areas and neighborhoods of concentrated poverty
  • Balance growth across the area
  • Provide potential financial assistance for property investment/redevelopment/expansion
  • Identify capital improvements needed to spur private investment
  • Offer a long term vision that provides value to properties developed in a complimentary way to the Plan

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18. What won’t the URP do for me?

  • Give me money for owning a property within the area
  • Displace or remove communities from the downtown
  • Demolish buildings that are feasible for redevelopment
  • Rehab buildings that are beyond repair and present a public safety hazard

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19. Is my property being acquired by the HRA as part of this plan?

A list of properties for acquisition can be found in Section 1 of the urban renewal plan.

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