Plans to redevelop Subaru dealership on Route 9 in Hadley gearing up

Balise Subaru, which last year bought the Steve Lewis Subaru dealership in Hadley, intends to tear down the existing showroom pictured here and replace it with a new 31,568-square-foot facility. The project is expected to come before the Hadley Planning Board next month.

Balise Subaru, which last year bought the Steve Lewis Subaru dealership in Hadley, intends to tear down the existing showroom pictured here and replace it with a new 31,568-square-foot facility. The project is expected to come before the Hadley Planning Board next month. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 02-15-2024 8:18 PM

HADLEY — Plans for the redevelopment of a Route 9 Subaru dealership, including a new 31,568-square-foot showroom and service area and a reconfigured parking lot, are being filed with town planners.

As the Steve Lewis Subaru at 315 Russell St., transitions to being Balise Subaru, Planning Board members on Tuesday informed an attorney for the company that some flexibility will likely be offered related to town parking regulations when a public hearing on the site plans begins March 19.

“If you are willing to not park in the 50-foot front yard setback, I — only as one member — would be willing to negotiate on parking,” Planning Board Chairman James Maksimoski said.

Town rules mandate that there be 2 square feet of parking for every square foot of commercial building.

Thomas Reidy, an attorney with Bacon Wilson in Amherst, said Balise intends to request use of Hadley’s transfer of development rights bylaw, in which the company can make a payment into a fund that preserves farmland in town. In exchange, the two-for-one parking doesn’t have to be met. Reidy said there will be a question of how to calculate the building area, noting that the buildings, including an existing 4,800-square-foot structure once used by Rao’s Roastery, are 36,368 square feet combined, along with 17,424 square feet of inventory display space.

Maksimoski said if Balise doesn’t use the 50-foot front setback from Route 9 or takes away some of the vehicles that could be displayed there, that would show good faith. Maksimoski said there needs to be decent green space between the road and business, even with plans showing that vehicles are perched above the state highway.

“Elevation is nice, but it’s still blacktop,” Maksimoski said.

Planning Board member Joseph Zgrodnik said Steve Lewis was given concessions years ago. “Presently cars, if they were any closer, they’d have to be cantilevered over the road,” Zgrodnik said.

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Planning Board member Mark Dunn said he appreciates that the plans offer an aesthetic for parking of cars but worries about an embankment causing issues for vehicles traveling on Route 9, especially if they go into the barrier.

The 50-yard setback is a preference of the town bylaw, not a requirement, Planning Board Clerk William Dwyer said, acknowledging that parking rules are not satisfactory for car dealerships. The other auto dealer on Route 9, Country Nissan, went through site plan revie, but still violates the 50-foot setback in a couple of places, he said.

Reidy explained the project. “The proposal is going to be take down the existing Steve Lewis Subaru building,” he said.

The new building will have a 26-foot-tall showroom, with large glass windows and a mezzanine level, overhead doors for people to pull their vehicles in for service and a waiting room for customers. “It’s pretty tasteful; it’s not going to be overbearing,” Reidy said.

“It really is modernizing the site,” he added.

In advance of the public hearing, the dealership is seeking a finding from the Zoning Board of Appeals because the side yard setback is less than 15 feet from the neighboring Harbor Freight Tools at 303 Russell.

Landscaping business

In other business, the Planning Board continued to March 5 a hearing on site plans for a landscaping business at 243 Russell St., as the landowner is questioning the level of oversight the board is giving the project.

Steve Vaiano, owner of In the Green Gardens at 243 Russell St., told the board he reached out to Heritage Land Surveying & Engineering Inc. of Southampton to prepare an improvement plan, survey the site, identify wetlands and complete a traffic study. The cost for that work is $10,500.

But Robert Roy said that during the 25 years he and his wife Stacia have owned the property, now being rented to Vaiano, there have never been issues with drainage, as alleged by the neighbors who own the buildings at 245 Russell and 241 Russell. Roy said tenants at his property have included a tanning salon and Hadley Fence and Hastie Fence companies.

Roy said it would be unfair to make “unacceptable and unreasonable” demands of a recent college graduate trying to start a business.

“He’s working with you, he’s trying to correct all these deficiencies,” Roy said, adding that renting the property is his retirement income. “If this kid is put out of business, it’s going to be a domino effect. It’s going to absolutely affect us.”

Roy said the preliminary price tag for plans is exorbitant. “If it’s only $10,500 to look at it, I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be to put a drainage system in,” Roy said. “I am not going to bear the costs of that, and I don’t think Steve is going to bear the cost of it.”

Dwyer said a professional evaluation of the site is important, noting that previous changes in use on the site slipped through town oversight.

Meanwhile, planners also approved a 10-square-foot construction sign for Pioneer Valley Hotel Group’s Towneplace Suites by Marriott, which is being constructed at 237 Russell St.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.