New East Longmeadow Leadership Fuels Optimism
East Longmeadow has grown and flourished in recent years thanks to its excellent schools, pastoral landscape, and thriving Industrial Garden District, where manicured lawns and flower gardens belie the scope of commercial and manufacturing companies that do business there.
However, last year, the town’s bucolic character was upset by repeated controversy that was ignited and fueled by reports of corruption. “The town went through a year of turmoil, and some businesses were hesitant to move here due to the negative publicity,” said Robyn Macdonald, the town’s Planning, Zoning Board, and Conservation director.
She added that these issues were essentially put to rest in April when residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of a new charter that replaced the town meeting and three-member Board of Selectmen with a town manager and Town Council that features seven elected members.
Its first official meeting was staged July 1, and a few weeks later, former East Windsor, Conn. First Selectman Denise Menard was hired as interim town manager.
“The charter expanded the town’s leadership, and work has already been done to preserve the good things that exist here, while promoting healthy living and balanced growth,” Macdonald said.
To that end, plans are in place to establish East Longmeadow’s first human resources department. In addition, several new positions have been added that include a director of finance; a director of Planning and Community Development; and a full-time health director. Aimee Petrosky was recently hired to fill that role and is working with the newly appointed three-member Board of Health.
She told BusinessWest that the town held its first flu clinic last month, which was highly successful and will be repeated next year. In the meantime, the board plans to seek funding to vaccinate uninsured residents, and the next event will include the shingles vaccine.
Other changes include a new sharps-disposal program that offers disposal units to residents at an affordable price because they can be cost-prohibitive; new regulations that make it illegal to smoke any type of tobacco, including e-cigarettes and vapor cigarettes, within 50 feet of a public building; a fine policy for restaurateurs who fail to comply with health regulations; and new rules that require companies that serve or produce food to install traps to prevent grease from entering sewers and affecting business operations or private residences.
“The Health Department also recently purchased an electronic inspection system that will post the outcomes of health inspections online,” Petrosky said, noting that food-safety training sessions were held for the School Department, the Council on Aging, and at churches that requested it to insure that the most vulnerable populations are protected.
Menard applauds these changes because they add to the town’s offerings, and notes that, when a permanent town manager is named, it will be important for the person to promote intelligent economic development and take a proactive stance in attracting new businesses.
“There is room for growth in the underutilized areas of our industrial and commercial sections of town,” she said.
Macdonald agrees, and says there are a few dormant parcels they hope to fill in the future, including the long-vacant Package Machinery site. “East Longmeadow has always welcomed new businesses, but we try to maintain a good balance between residential and business growth,” she noted.
For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest looks at projects on the drawing board as well as developments underway that will help East Longmeadow retain its small-town character while offering new venues that will boost the tax base and provide services for people who live and work in the town.
Officials are happy that several sites in town that have been vacant for more than a decade are being redeveloped.
For example, L.E. Belcher broke ground three months ago on a 6,500-square-foot convenience store with five gas pumps, 10 pumping stations, three outdoor tables, and 28 parking spaces on a lot at 227 Shaker Road that was empty for many years.
The company has secured a license to sell wine and beer, and worked closely with the Planning Board to ensure the new business is a good fit for the town. Ownership has installed flashing pedestrian safety lights to facilitate safety on the Chestnut Street side of the Redstone Rail Trail that runs behind the property, and contributed to a mitigation fund that will assist the Department of Public Works with roadway and traffic improvements in the Shaker Road and Chestnut Street corridor.
“It’s a busy intersection, and their gift of $25,000 to the DPW was a great gesture from a new business,” Menard said.
Macdonald concurred. “L.E. Belcher is a community-minded company, and the facility they are building will provide the industrial area with a service that doesn’t exist in that part of town. There is nothing like it from there until Route I-90 in Enfield, and it is expected to bring in people from Connecticut, while reducing congestion at the rotary,” she said, adding that the new convenience store and gas station are expected to open in mid- or late January.
A new restaurant called Green/Wich is also under construction at 16 Maple St. on the rotary. The eatery’s plans were recently approved, and the owner has also secured a beer and wine license.
“It’s a great addition to our center, and we’re happy to have a building that sat empty for many years put to use by a business that will help people attain a healthy lifestyle. It will offer high-end wraps and salads with indoor seating,” Menard said.
Macdonald told BusinessWest that Green/Wich had to do a major renovation of the building that included asbestos abatement, and has worked closely with the town to ensure the restaurant meets all safety requirements when it opens in about a month.
Several businesses in the town are experiencing rapid growth, including Go Graphix, which relocated from a shopping plaza on North Main Street to a 5,000-square-foot space on Benton Drive in the industrial park several years ago.
“The organization takes a concept through design, production, and installation. Their focus is on individual brands and messaging, and they incorporate big-picture objectives while paying close attention to the smallest details,” Macdonald said. “They have done so well, they are planning a 2,584-square-foot addition to their existing building. “
That project is still in the planning stages, but in September the Planning Board approved construction of an 18,000-square-foot medical office building on 250 North Main St.
The new, two-story structure will be constructed by Associated Builders for Baystate Dental Group and will have 90 parking spaces. The dental office will occupy the first floor, and the second floor will be rented as medical or office space.
Two other significant projects were also recently proposed. The first is an expansion: Excel Dryer wants to put an addition onto its existing building at 357 Chestnut St. that will include 1,300 square feet of warehouse space and 3,700 square feet of office space.
“This is a family-owned and -operated company that revolutionized the industry and set a new standard for performance, reliability, and customer satisfaction,” Macdonald said. “They have continued to grow, and the addition will enhance their ability to move forward in the future.”
The second project is much more complex, as it involves the towns of East Longmeadow and Longmeadow.
Macdonald said the planning boards in both towns have been working with Michael Crowley of Michael Crowley Associates and Middle Franklin Development, Robert Levesque of R. Levesque Associates Inc., David Dunlop of David Dunlop Associates, and Fuss & O’Neill to create a medical complex that will add to East Longmeadow Skilled Nursing Center at 305 Maple St., cross town lines, and provide benefits to both communities.
Crowley presented plans for the project in June. It includes four structures on a 20-acre site: a 50,000-square-foot medical office building in Longmeadow that would be occupied by Baystate Health; a two-story, 25,000-square-foot conventional office building in East Longmeadow; and an assisted-living facility and an expansion of the existing skilled-nursing facility that would be run by Berkshire Health in the town.
“The complex will feature state-of-the-art technology and have every safety system installed possible, including fire alarms, an emergency generator, and rooftop units with individual room controls,” Macdonald said, explaining that the two towns have commissioned a traffic study to mitigate any problems that could result from the project because it will affect some of their busiest intersections, namely Benton Drive and Chestnut Street in East Longmeadow, the Converse Street area in Longmeadow, and that town’s intersection at Dwight Road, Williams Street, and Maple Street.
Work in Progress
The Department of Public Works has an ongoing project that involves installing new sidewalks in East Longmeadow’s center and around the schools to make pedestrian travel safe and help make the town more desirable.
Historically, that hasn’t been a problem.
“Businesses are thriving in East Longmeadow and want to stay here,” Macdonald said, explaining that, although the town doesn’t have its own utility companies, manufacturers in the Industrial Garden District including Sullivan Paper Co., Tiger Press, and the recently sold Lenox Newell Rubbermaid have installed solar panels on their roofs, and panels have also been approved for the Reminder building in the commercial district.
“We still have plenty of room for new companies, 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,” she noted.
Indeed, the negative publicity has come to an end, the town is moving forward, and the future looks bright for residents and businesses alike.
East Longmeadow at a glance
Year Incorporated: 1894
Population: 15,720 (2010)
Area: 13.0 square miles
Residential Tax Rate: $21.12
Commercial Tax Rate: $21.12
Median Household Income: $78,835
Median Family Income: $99,707
Type of Government: Town Council; Town Manager
Largest Employers: Cartamundi; Redstone Rehab and Nursing Center; Lenox Newell Rubbermaid
* Latest information available