Guest columnist Aubrey Menard: They paved paradise and put up a storage facility

Hadley Town Hall

Hadley Town Hall FILE PHOTO

By AUBREY MENARD

Published: 02-08-2024 8:43 PM

Every spring as the Valley turns green and warmth returns to the air, I look forward to pulling my bike out and going for a ride. I live in Amherst, so one of my favorite places to ride is along the Norwottuck Rail Trail, past the beautiful Hadley farmlands, and across the bridge into Northampton. I usually stop at Maple Farm Foods for ice cream and sit at the trail-side picnic tables as I gaze out at the Holyoke Range and marvel at this agrarian paradise I’m so lucky to call home.

And I’m not alone. On a hot day with thunderstorms, MassBike counted an average of 73 people per hour using the rail trail. One can only imagine how much higher the count would be on a clear day!

But this spring, in place of the view so many of us love will be the stark, industrial side wall of the newly erected Ideal Movers and Storage facility. Instead of natural beauty, a monument to consumerism; a 96,500-square-foot building for people to house their excess junk.

Having moved many times, I know that storage facilities are a necessary service. But there are countless empty storefronts along Hadley’s Route 9 and other empty plots of land that could have housed a storage facility without causing damage to the area’s views.

How did this happen? Why would the town of Hadley come to approve a commercial building that is such an obvious eyesore?

When interviewed about the storage facility by the Gazette, Hadley Planning Board Chairman James Maksimoski said, “The building is absolutely gorgeous [...] We see no reason for why we would turn this down.”

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No reason?

Maksimoski’s lack of consideration of the recreational value of that land is emblematic of a government body wildly out of touch with the land use patterns of its citizens that prioritizes the profits of a single business over the well being of ordinary residents. The Massachusetts government’s website highlights the rail trail’s “scenic views” and it’s listed as an area attraction on TripAdvisor. If we block the sides of the rail trail in with commercial buildings, its scenic appeal will be lost.

Fortunately, neighboring towns seem to understand the appeal of a picturesque bike path better than Hadley. Much of Amherst’s portion of the rail trail is surrounded by conservation land and Amherst College’s 500-acre wildlife sanctuary; and the Northampton section boasts views of the Connecticut River as the bike path stretches over a repurposed railroad bridge. If Hadley’s Planning Board continues to operate like this, it will make the town an unsightly passover on a rail trail user’s way to more scenic locales.

While one might say that promoting business is important for Hadley’s budget and keeping property taxes low, I’d encourage the town to consider what sort of business it wants to attract. A 2017 study by the Outdoor Industry Association found that nationally, bicycle tourism generates $83 billion annually in trip-related sales and that rural areas can leverage their natural assets to grow their local economies.

For example, the Kingdom Trails nonprofit bicycle trail network in northeastern Vermont estimates that the 137,536 visitors that they had in 2018 spent an average of $115 a day at local businesses. Businesses like ice cream shops, farm stands, or our local arcade, Quarters, are complementary to a bike path. A storage facility is not.

And, poor Maple Farm Foods! They have built up a business offering fresh, prepared foods for bike path users. Their business will undoubtedly be adversely impacted by the rash decision to allow a giant commercial building to block the view from their picnic tables.

While Hadley’s Planning Board made this decision quickly and without proactively engaging the public, I hope that it will serve to make residents more aware of local politics and realize that their representatives may not have their best interests at heart. The Hadley Planning Board meets the first and third Tuesday of each month in Hadley Town Hall Room 203.

Aubrey Menard lives in Amherst.