ORANGE – The town’s community development director on Wednesday provided the Selectboard with an update on plans for the South Main Street Job Creation Corridor and said tremendous strides have been made in the promotion of economic and commercial development since the project was envisioned eight years ago.
Alec Wade delivered a PowerPoint presentation at the virtual meeting to illustrate the progress of the endeavor aimed at growing business, developing housing, generating jobs, and maximizing residents’ quality of life.
“Since 2020 alone, the Planning Board’s permit process has actually been able to approve 371,000 feet of commercial development,” he explained. “This is really pivotal in that it shifts the tax base beyond its original residential structure and introduces new commercial structure.”
Wade said 219,000 square feet, or roughly 59%, of this approved new growth is new construction. The remaining 41%, he said, is often the reuse or revitalization of otherwise vacant spaces. His office anticipates this activity to create 210 new jobs in the next three years and as many as 400 in the next five.
“It shows the growth and progress that Orange is going through,” Wade said.
He explained that since 2014 the Orange Planning Board and Community Development Office has rezoned 194 acres surrounding Exit 15 as industrial and commercial, allowing for greater commercial growth. In 2020, 185 acres near Exit 14 were placed into general commercial zoning. This, Wade said, “primes the pump for future growth.” The 2014 rezoning specifically paved the way for industrial and commercial growth and utility extension.
Wade mentioned his office has worked with the Isenberg Real Estate Advisors from the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Isenberg School of Management to conduct a feasibility study.
“In our case, they’ve been evaluating the availability of utilities, the capacity of water and sewer and in evaluating our building and construction requirements to consider what type of development could occur,” he said.
Wade explained the area has access to the town’s water system power lines that already exist there. It is also close to route 2 and downtown Orange – which is located along the primary corridor – and zoning code allows for industrial and mixed-use development.
Wade worked with the Economic Development Industrial Corporation in 2021 and developed a concept for sewer access to the site. He referred to electric, water and sewer as “the true trifecta.” He told Selectboard members his office has met with a private property owner, who has been receptive to allowing for access in exchange for a conservation easement, though no formal negotiations have begun.
Wade said the U.S. Economic Development Administration is offering COVID-19 relief grants funded, in part, by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. He said his office intends to apply for design and construction money by March 1, because the grant program opportunity closes at the end of that month. He mentioned the town would likely hear back about the grant in the late fall or early winter. To obtain this grant, he said, his office requires partnership with the Orange Municipal Airport, the EDIC, federal and state agencies, and the Orange citizenry.
“To the citizens of Orange, we hear you. You say to us that you need reduced tax rates, that you need commercial growth to alleviate the burden on you as a residential property owner. This project is our proposal to make that happen. We at the Office of Community Development strongly feel this brings the opportunity for growth that will alleviate your burden as a taxpayer,” Wade said. “Industrial land is at an all-time premium and very much needed. I think it’s very eloquent and almost poetic that a town like Orange, (which) has such a rich industrial and manufacturing heritage, now has the opportunity to capitalize on its existing land use and provide future growth into industry and manufacturing.”
Once Wade’s presentation was finished, Selectboard Chair Jane Peirce thanked the community development director and said the project “is so exciting.”
Wade mentioned predecessor Kevin Kennedy envisioned this in 2014 and started a rezoning project with the Orange Planning Board in 2016.
Denise Andrews, a former state representative from Orange, was listening in on the virtual meeting and chimed in to encourage the project and “send good energy for good progress.”
Reach Domenic Poli at: email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.