Projects in Belchertown Will Enhance Its Appeal
Bob Bolduc says Pride purchased a 20-acre parcel of land in Belchertown about eight years ago because it believed this was an area where development was likely to occur.
“We envisioned it as an ideal location for a gas station and other businesses,” said the company’s founder and adviser, referring to a site at the junction where Route 202 and Route 21 intersect.
The prediction proved quite prescient; the Eastern Hampshire District Courthouse was built there shortly after the purchase was made, and a bevy of projects are underway. They include a new, $2 million Pride station; a new financial-services center; the town’s first assisted-living facility, to be built on the grounds of the former Belchertown State School; a new disc-golf course on town-owned land; and infrastructure improvements aimed at improving pedestrian safety, solving traffic problems, and enhancing connectivity with the town center, which is a short walk away.
“After many years of work and planning, there will actually be shovels in the ground on multiple projects this spring,” Selectman Nicolas O’Connor told Business West, noting that the projects align perfectly with goals that include meeting the needs of residents while finding ways to use open space for recreational purposes that will attract visitors, benefit local businesses, and spur additional growth.
Decades ago, Department of Public Works Director Steven Williams noted, economic development was concentrated at the end of the corridor that runs in the opposite direction from the town center, which is also within walking distance, although it is a little farther away.
But that area is almost completely built out, so the new hub has become the mile-long stretch of Route 202 that extends from the center to the courthouse. The Pride property sits on one side of the corridor, while the former Belchertown State School campus is across the street. It is owned by the Belchertown Economic Development Industrial Corp. (EDIC), which entered into an agreement with MassDevelopment five years ago that designated it as the agent for redevelopment.
Since that time, MassDevelopment has worked with the town and EDIC to access funds to demolish 40 dilapidated buildings on the campus. About half of them have been removed, and anticipation has been building over the past 18 months since approval was granted to build the Christopher Heights assisted-living complex on the site. It will contain 83 units, half of which will be affordable, and fill a real need within the community.
“They expect to break ground soon, which is very exciting,” said Claire O’Neil, vice president of planning and development for MassDevelopment.
She added that the town has plans to make significant infrastructure improvements that will restore water to the state school campus, improve sewer lines, and address pedestrian and traffic issues that will help move plans forward for the property to become a mixed-use development that will include manufacturing, commercial enterprises, and space for anyone interested in building in Belchertown.
An abundance of property is also available across from the campus, which is close to Route 21. “The area has enormous potential to generate new construction, businesses, jobs, and resources for the town,” Williams said, explaining that it will be fueled by the aforementioned $4.5 million in infrastructure work that will be composed of upgraded sidewalks and crosswalks, roadwork with new striping, new turning lanes, a new signal at the Stadler Street intersection and perhaps another at the junction of Routes 202 and 21, and new signage.
The plan is still in the design stage, but Williams estimates it will be completed by the beginning of next year. When the work is finished, he added, it will improve pedestrian access and safety, and connect the area to the town center in a way that will allow development to occur without creating traffic problems.
“Some businesses have already been established along the corridor, but compared to the amount of land available, they constitute a drop in the bucket of future potential,” he said.
For this issue, BusinessWest looks at projects in the planning stages or underway that will make a difference in the town’s economy and help make it a destination for recreation while meeting the needs of residents.
Alden Credit Union recently opened a new, 4,000-square-foot financial center on State Street in an existing building that sits on a 1.4-acre parcel purchased from Pride.
“They did a major renovation of the property,” O’Connor said, explaining that it will become Alden’s headquarters.
Bolduc noted that Pride’s new, 4,500-square-foot store will be built adjacent to the credit union and will focus on food service.
“Most people think of Pride as a place to get gas that also sells food. But we want to reverse that, have them think of this as a food store where they can also get gas,” he said, explaining that the new store will contain a large bakery, full café with specialty drinks, a drive-thru window, a full deli and grill with a breakfast and lunch menu, and an area with tables and chairs where people can eat. “There will also be a fountain area where people can get real fresh-fruit smoothies.”
Although the exterior will have 10 gas-filling stations, including one for diesel fuel, Bolduc emphasized that “this will be a new version of Pride. We are in the permitting stage and are looking forward to working with the town and hiring locally.”
Town Planner Douglas Albertson said Pride designed the building to fit in well with the neighborhood: the exterior will resemble a brick colonial structure with clapboard, and will have real roof shingles.
Other developments in the area include a new garage being built by Belchertown Motors that will allow it to expand the business; and discussions taking place with the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority to install a turnaround to accommodate bus traffic to the area, which will become especially important when construction on the Christopher Heights assisted-living complex is complete.
In the meantime, the town is doing everything possible to create new recreational opportunities in the area, which is within walking distance of several public schools.
“We recently moved the Belchertown Family Center into the former Belchertown Day School, which is a town-owned property,” O’Connor said, explaining that the move is in line with officials’ vision of developing more recreational resources in and around the schools.
The Recreation Department also conducted a recent online survey to determine what people would like to see built in the future, and the top choices were a new splash park and public recreation area with pavilions.
“It would be really nice if families could go there for the day with their children, play baseball at our mini-Fenway Park, then head to Jessica’s Boundless Playground, which was recently completed,” O’Connor said.
That may happen at some point, but right now a great deal of effort is being focused on creating an 18-hole disc-golf course in the Piper Farm Recreation Area, where 25 of its 68 acres will be used for that purpose.
“We already have a population in town involved with disc golf, and our new course will draw people from other communities,” said Parks and Recreation Director Kyle Thibeault.
“The golf trails could be used for hiking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing off-season,” he continued, noting that the course could also be used for after-school activities and instructional programs, especially since the middle school is close to the rear of the property.
O’Connor told BusinessWest that disc golf is rapidly gaining popularity, and people who use the free course could park in the town center and visit the Pride station or existing eateries, as well as other restaurants or businesses that could be established in the future.
“Disc-golf courses have become destinations, and our small-business owners are helping us with this project. We plan to be very aggressive with this project, as it requires a small investment but will provide a positive return for the town,” he said as he spoke about fund-raisers being planned to raise money for the course.
The town also recently completed the acquisition of the Patrick Center on the old state school campus. It sits on a 5.5-acre tract of land, and officials are working with state legislators, the Recreation Department, and a local committee to initiate projects to add additional recreation and public-use spaces adjacent to existing fields and the public-school complex.
“We want to bring things here that people in the community can use, but also want to create unique recreational experiences that will attract visitors,” O’Connor said.
Town officials helped establish the Quaboag Connector, a shuttle service that provides rides for people in Belchertown, Brookfield, Hardwick, Monson, Palmer, Ware, and West Brookfield. Priority is given to those who need transportation to and from work, job-training programs, and related destinations that include community colleges and educational programs. The shuttle also allows passengers from outlying towns to be taken to Belchertown, where they can board Pioneer Valley Transit Authority buses that go to a number of destinations.
Residential construction is also gaining ground; last year 55 new homes were built, and the Bell Property Corp. is building 24 single-family homes on the former Dudek Farm property. “Woodland Lane will be our first new subdivision in 10 years,” Albertson said.
Both he and O’Neil believe the combination of projects that are planned or underway will benefit residents while attracting new people to Belchertown.
“Things have finally converged here,” Albertson said, noting that there is plenty of land available for new businesses and restaurants in a community that offers many benefits and is a great place to live, work, and play.
Belchertown at a glance
Year Incorporated: 1761
Population: 14,838 (2017)
AREA: 52.64 square miles
Residential Tax Rate: $18.20
Commercial Tax Rate: $18.20
Median Household Income: $76,968
Family Household Income: $80,038
Type of government: Open Town Meeting; Board of Selectmen
Largest Employers: Hulmes Transportation Services; Town of Belchertown/School Department; Super Stop & Shop
(Latest information available)