Hands tied regarding empty buildings, lots

by Town Reminder

Properties like former Big Y are privately owned

By William Pead
Turley correspondent

SOUTH HADLEY – Spend any time listening to conversations at town breakfast and lunch spots and the discussion often focuses on what the town should be doing about this problem or that. All that unused land at the corner of Bridge and Main streets in the Falls after the fire that claimed 20-24 Bridge Street, or the now empty former Big Y supermarket lot on Newton Street. Isn’t there something South Hadley officials can do about them?
Town Administrator Mike Sullivan, during a recent conversation about a pedestrian walkway in the Falls that periodically needs cleanup, said the town’s hands are often tied when a property in question is privately owned.
“The town has limited sway over how that property can be used,” he said.
The town has reached out to the property owners of the empty Falls land to see “if they could have a cooperative effort in trying to develop that property,” said Sullivan, “but nothing has come of that.”
Sullivan said single properties don’t hold much value, but cumulatively, they can become quite appealing to modern day developers for mixed use or otherwise.
As for the future use of that Falls property, Sullivan said, “I’d like to see something that is a compliment to the Falls and appealing. But it’s really private property, so it’s a private market as to determine what’s best for that corner.”
He said one of the three property owners made it clear they were not interested in pooling properties for a potential group land sale to developers looking for a larger parcel.
“There’s the old saying,” said Sullivan, “they have the itch but they don’t have the scratch … and that’s really at the crux of it. How do you get people invested? How do you get people to actually use their dollars or their assets or resources to make an improvement there?”
Sullivan said, with a private marketplace, the town does not have any direct authority. “It’s not up to the town. The town is limited in that respect. Oftentimes there’s a feeling from residents and observers that the town should be doing something. But it’s really a marketplace that has to be doing something. There has to be a demand,” he said.
With the former Newton Street Big Y and the former Michael’s Market on Main Street, Sullivan pointed out that, if those grocery stores were viable, they would still be open.
“Now we’re waiting for the investor to come along and try to appeal to them. But we can’t order Atlantic Properties (owner of the Newton Street shopping center) to rent it out.”
He said they have an agreement with Big Y until April of next year before the building could be put to a new use.
“Anybody who comes along, we certainly want to cooperate with them the best we can, but there are regulations, and zoning and state requirements and inspections,” he said.
Sullivan acknowledges the frustration of citizens who drive by and wonder, “Why isn’t the town doing something?” when the town doesn’t have the power.
“When we say it to people, they almost are surprised. ‘Isn’t there something you can do?’ ‘No!”’
”If a private landlord in America wants to hold onto a property and have nothing on it, cut the lawn and keep it in reasonable condition, there’s really nothing that the town can do,” said Sullivan. “And I’d be worried if we changed the laws where the town could just come in and say ‘We’re going to take it.’”