Montague explores redevelopment of Farren Care Center 

By JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer

Published: 02-21-2023 5:37 PM

MONTAGUE — With the Selectboard’s vote to enter the Complete Neighborhoods Initiative, Montague has begun exploring prospective redevelopment of the Farren Care Center property.

The former long-term care facility on Montague City Road, which closed in April 2021, received a demolition recommendation in November of that year, with parent company Trinity Health of New England getting the go-ahead to proceed on Dec. 6, 2022 when the Historical Commission opted not to invoke the town’s demolition delay bylaw. Once demolition is complete, the plot of land will be loamed, seeded and given to the town. The Complete Neighborhoods Initiative, a regional project Montague entered into on Feb. 13, provides grant funding that will help envision this land as “a mixed-use village center,” according to the town’s proposed project scope.

The Complete Neighborhoods Initiative was launched last March by the Massachusetts Housing Partnership (MHB) and is “aimed at supporting the creation of walkable, livable neighborhoods near transit and mobility hubs,” according to the organization’s website. The partnership’s workplan, as well as its associated $250,000 in grant funding, encompasses projects in Montague, Deerfield, Erving, Greenfield, Orange and Whately. Work associated with this regional project is scheduled to continue until June 2025.

“The 2013 Sustainable Franklin County plan identifies strong community support for locating new housing near jobs and transit services, and to protect agricultural land and open space,” the initiative’s “plan of assistance” describes, noting that project goals were inspired by “key regional plans and reports” composed over the past decade. “There is also strong support for the redevelopment of Brownfields and vacant or underutilized mill buildings and other properties.”

The encompassed “Montague City District Plan” will “facilitate housing production,” as well as prime the Farren property and nearby parcels for a “mixed-used, walkable neighborhood along (the adjacent Franklin Regional Transit Authority) stop,” according to the workplan. Montague intends to conduct a “zoning land use and connectivity analysis … to better understand the land use potential and regulatory limitations of the area,” such as those outlined by its zoning and the Wetlands Protection Act, Town Planner Maureen Pollock told the Selectboard.

“This seems like almost a once-in-a-generation opportunity to really envision the properties currently owned by the Farren and then the surrounding parcels,” Pollock said.

The town will work alongside MHB-partnered consultant Vanasse Hangen Brustlin to conceptualize potential uses for the cleared land. This will include exploration of commercial development opportunities complementary to the focus on housing.

“It’s not like it’s going to be exclusively housing that we’re looking at eventually here,” Pollock stressed.

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Pollock said she has already spoken with Montague City residents about redevelopment possibilities and plans to continue having discussions. Residents have shown great excitement considering the prospect of the village’s revitalization, she recalled.

“The town definitely wishes to seek community engagement,” she said, “which would be a big component for this project to understand what the community envisions for its center.”

In addition to the Montague City District Plan, the Franklin Regional Council of Governments will “identify zoning barriers for regional housing production goals” and “develop recommendations for streamlined and predictable permitting for the region” as part of the initiative.

Deerfield will conduct community outreach to plan development of the South Deerfield municipal campus, conduct an existing conditions analysis to understand development potential and plan to improve connectivity with the nearby Whately Park and Ride bus station. The town will also support Rural Development Inc. and the Elm Circle property owner in affordability preservation, which will involve an appraisal and capital needs assessment.

Erving will pursue the reissuance of a request for proposals (RFP) for affordable and mixed-income housing near the senior center. According to Town Planner Mariah Kurtz, an initial RFP was released by Erving’s Senior Housing Committee in 2018 and received no responses. The current draft RFP seeks 30 to 60 rental housing units, all restricted to ages 62 and over, to be installed on a 6.47 acre parcel directly behind the Erving Public Library. At minimum, 35% of the units must be affordable to households at or below 60% of the area median income.

Greenfield’s Grader properties at 156 Main Street will explore the conversion of two upper levels from commercial to residential space and conduct architecture test fits. In addition, the upstairs space above Greenfield Garden Cinemas will be explored for potential conversion into residential space.

Orange will conduct a visioning exercise and zoning build-out analysis in Orange Center. The build-out analysis will be based on recodified zoning bylaws.

Whately’s 268 State Road will undergo site due diligence, including wetlands delineation and a Phase I environmental assessment. The town will also receive concept planning and RFP assistance.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or jmendoza@recorder.com.

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