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East Longmeadow Is on a Growth Trajectory
Robyn Macdonald says East Longmeadow’s popularity is growing, offering untold opportunities for businesses. “It’s a sleepy little town that’s starting to wake up,” said the town’s Planning, Zoning Board, and Conservation director.
George Kingston agrees, and says business plays an integral role in the economy. “When people think of East Longmeadow, they think of big houses with big lawns. We have those, but there are also important parts of the town that most people never see,” said the chair of the Planning Board. “And the voters recognize the importance of business and industry in supporting the tax base.”
The town has proved attractive to residential and industrial developers in recent years and has experienced a fair amount of growth. But its bucolic atmosphere, which dates back to its agrarian days, still remains, and even its Industrial Garden District and Deer Park Industrial Center are places where manicured lawns and flower gardens belie the scope of the commercial and manufacturing ventures there.
However, most businesses are small and located in and around the town center on Shaker Road and North Main Street. “The majority are owned by people who either live in East Longmeadow or live very close to town,” Kingston noted, adding that the wide variety of shops and services allow residents to get most of their needs met without leaving the town’s 13 square miles.
“We have grocery stores, 10 dental practices, Hampden County Physicians, a lot of salons, and many after-school programs, so people who move here can have a house on a half-acre and only travel a half-mile to take their kids to dancing or gymnastics. If they want to go out at night, they have their choice of 25 restaurants.
Maintaining the town’s pastoral atmosphere is something officials have put time and thought into, so a bylaw prohibits big-box stores. “Retail establishments are limited to 65,000 square feet, and drive-thrus with products for human consumption are not allowed,” Macdonald said.
But homes and building lots are in high demand, and a number of residential developments are under construction or have been built over the past two years. So, although the town felt the effects of the downturn in the economy that began in 2008, “businesses and residents dug in their heels and rode out the storm. And now, you can absolutely see that things are improving,” Macdonald said. “East Longmeadow is an up-and-coming community with a lot of new families. And the school system is tops, which is why a lot of people move here.”
Center Square was built in recent years on property that had sat vacant for decades. Today, it is filled with a variety of shops and eateries which include upscale clothing stores, Spoleto’s restaurant, Starbucks, Sleepy’s, a dry cleaner, a card shop, and a law office on the second floor of one of the retail strips. There is also a Walgreens and a Webster Bank branch on the property, which boasts Rocky’s Ace Hardware as an anchor.
Macdonald said the first permits for the complex were taken out in 2004, but it took several years before construction began. “But it has really enhanced the center,” she told BusinessWest, adding that Bentley’s Bistro had just opened within walking distance on North Main Street.
Kingston concurs. “There is lots of parking, and businesses in Center Square are doing really well,” he said. In addition, La Fiorentina bakery and Zonin’s deli opened in late December after renovations on a building a short distance down the street were complete. Their main locations are in Springfield, but Kingston said the town’s uniform tax rate makes moving or expanding to East Longmeadow an attractive prospect.
Large commercial ventures are concentrated in the Industrial Garden District, made up of 530 acres that were former cornfields. When it was originally designed, town officials wanted to preserve its natural beauty, so parcels must be at least 75,000 square feet and must have 250 feet of frontage for every 75,000 square feet they occupy.
The area has been marketed in conjunction with Westmass Area Development Corp., and about 30 companies and commercial manufacturers have settled there, including Milton Bradley (Hasbro), Rubbermaid, and Suddekor.
But although a decided effort has been made to separate commercial and residential areas, there are a number of older industries located along what used to be the railroad, including a wood-processing plant and a large metal-fabrication facility. “But newer industry goes into the industrial park,” Kingston said, adding that there are a few vacant buildings ready for tenants, along with vacant land, particularly in the Deer Park area, which was added to the complex in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
The Arbors Kids recently received Planning Board approval to locate in the district, and will offer day and after-school care as well as a summer camp. “They will take over a vacant industrial building and have plans to renovate the interior; it’s a large facility and will have athletic fields and a swimming pool,” Macdonald said.
In addition to the space in the industrial park, Kingston noted, there are a few other parcels that town officials would like see developed. However, they have some challenges, including the former Package Machinery plant on Chestnut Street, made up of 41 acres and a large building, as well as the former Community Feed property, which contains about three acres and is within walking distance of Center Square. “It has great potential and is a great place for retail development. But there could be traffic problems in the morning and evening.”
He told BusinessWest that the town has also seen an “explosion” of home-based businesses over the past five years, which many people are operating via the Internet. “They don’t have any impact on our residential areas, but are everywhere in town,” he said. “And there are a number of businesses who do things like pet grooming at other people’s homes.”
After World War II, the Speight Brothers built hundreds of Cape Cod-style homes in an area that ran from Blackman’s Pond on North Main Street to the town center. The development brought young families to the community, which is a trend that continues today.
However, Macdonald would like to see more affordable-housing complexes built for seniors who have lived in town all their lives, but no longer need large homes.
Some developers have moved to fill the niche. Bluebird Estates, an independent-living facility, was built in 2006 on 11 acres of former Bluebird Acres farmland on the west side of Parker Street. And a new assisted-living facility is being built on acreage across the street. “East Longmeadow Senior Living is under construction,” Macdonald said, adding that its 89,287 square feet will contain 71 assisted-living suites and 32 for people with memory loss.
In addition, the Fields at Chestnut, built by Roulier Associates as an over-55 community with plans for 120 high-end, single family dwellings, is in its final building phase.
“But we still need more projects to satisfy the empty-nester needs of people 55 and over,” Macdonald said, adding that three farm properties for sale in residential districts could be developed.
Younger homeowners have more choices, and the demand for expansive homes has spurred recent growth. “We have seen a pickup in housing builds — there are several new subdivisions started and others being talked about,” Kingston said. “There are also plans for new houses on fill-in lots where homeowners divided their land and are putting up a second house.”
The new Bella Vista Estates development contains 30 35,000-square-foot single-family lots with plans to build five-bedroom homes on each of them.
There is also a three-year-old development on Black Dog Lane, where six of the seven lots have been sold. “And Wisteria Lane, with six lots off of Somers Road, was just approved,” Macdonald said.
In addition, six lots on Winterberry Lane in the northeast corner of town have also been approved. “They are large and range from 25,000 to 40,000 square feet,” she noted. “The town continues to grow, as people love to live in East Longmeadow.”
While the homes being built are expensive, the town has become more upscale, added Kingston, and the new developments reflect an ongoing movement.
Macdonald said companies looking to move or expand should consider East Longmeadow. “We still have plenty of room, and the opportunities here are great. The town welcomes large and small businesses, and our Industrial Garden District is a beautiful area which is easy to get to from I-91.”
But despite continuing growth, officials say, East Longmeadow will not lose its beauty. “We work hard in planning to try to maintain a good quality of life, but also make sure we have tax generation so we can fund our schools, infrastructure, and services,” Kingston said. “And East Longmeadow has achieved a pretty good balance.”