The Recorder - My Turn: Let’s talk about the Moody Center housing development proposal

Northfield may benefit from development opportunities and the Moody Center may need to raise money, but neither will be successful if the...

Northfield may benefit from development opportunities and the Moody Center may need to raise money, but neither will be successful if they do not plan together.

The Moody Center acted independently and had not notified town officials when it contacted abutters and announced its proposal for a large housing development in a Nov. 9 story in The Greenfield Recorder.

In a Dec. 17 Northfield Planning Board Zoom meeting, James Spencer, COO of The Moody Center, stated that development was needed to finance the restoration of historic Moore Cottage and the adjacent Bookstore building. The Moody Center officials seemed surprised by the response from concerned Northfield residents who submitted more than 100 questions in advance of the meeting. This pushback from residents could have been avoided if the Moody Center had invited a dialogue before deciding from afar what would improve our town.

When we consider that the main purpose of the housing development is to finance upkeep of the Moody Center campus’s aging Victorian buildings that they inherited from Northfield Mount Hermon, then so many things become clear and we may be able to consider win-win solutions.

Is there another way to raise funds? Is there a better location for the overscale building? Could the architectural design be improved and units for sale be modified to better meet housing needs for Northfield?

The plan is to get maximum sales revenue with good return for the Moody Center investors, but the financial benefit for Northfield is less certain. Would the new housing improve the town’s tax base or be a strain on infrastructure?

There is no need for the Moody Center to stumble when asked about the purpose of the housing units. This project is a for-profit venture. They have suggested that it is for the elderly, or maybe for Thomas Aquinas faculty, or seniors wanting to downsize. Of course, it is not for Thomas Aquinas faculty who might not enjoy one-bedroom units for their growing families. It cannot be for the elderly if the Council on Aging was not consulted, and if no units are subsidized.

Northfield is not averse to economic opportunities, but it is wisely selective in an attempt to maintain its rural character and architectural heritage.

The Snow family has done an outstanding job with its bustling beautiful Northfield Golf Club that draws people to Northfield. The Schell Bridge reconstruction is another example of good development. It has taken years of careful planning in a cooperative effort with the state of Massachusetts to create a bridge that will allow bicycle and pedestrian access to both East and West Northfield across the Connecticut River. Thomas Aquinas College has also added to the vitality of Northfield as it has established itself on a portion of the old Northfield Mount Hermon campus.

We must thank the Moody Center for being a good neighbor over the years, even as we are critical of the current building proposal. It has maintained the historic buildings and beautiful grounds with its sweeping vistas of the river valley that are loved by all. It has kindly opened its tennis courts to town residents and has also shared its facilities for special gatherings.

I now urge the Moody Center to work with the town instead of being at cross purposes on future development. It would be useful to have transparency about the overall plans for construction and layout of the campus.

If there had been dialogue at the early planning stages perhaps the already approved, but ill-advised Moody Center Idyllwood upscale “glamping” campground on Pierson Road would not be in litigation.

We request that that the Moody Center reconsider its approach to town developments that are imposed upon us, rather than planned with us. Let’s talk.

Lucy Hann Livingston is a resident of Northfield.

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Newsrust: The Recorder - My Turn: Let’s talk about the Moody Center housing development proposal
The Recorder - My Turn: Let’s talk about the Moody Center housing development proposal
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