CAC Retrofits Master Plan

The new plan for Hospital Hill is approved.

From The Advocate
By Mark Roessler
Friday, March 13, 2009

Northampton’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC), the group charged with overseeing development on the site of the former Northampton State Hospital, met on Wednesday, March 4 to tie up a loose end.

Last fall, the committee debated the merits of a revised site plan for the housing development on Hospital Hill. The plan had no strong advocates. Committee members voiced concern that it was a departure from their stated goal of a village-like setting with a mix of commercial and residential buildings; the revised plan included over 100 new houses, overwhelming the scant commercial development. Many changes were requested, including the possibility of adding a community center, a park at the center of the development, and a more substantial memorial to the former state hospital and its patients.

Two meetings had been opened to public commentary, and the majority of the residents who spoke either had serious concerns about the plan or rejected it outright. Of all the speakers, only Jonathan Wright, whose Wright Builders is currently building 11 half-million-dollar mansions on the hill, urged approval of the plan so that those buying his properties will have an idea of the neighborhood they’re moving into.

Kollmorgen plans move ahead

From The Republican
By Fred Contrada
Wednesday, March 04, 2009

In January of 2005, MassDevelopment presented the Planning Board an artist’s conception of what the commercial portion of Village Hill Northampton could look like along Route 66. The drawing showed three three-story buildings up close to the street with awnings overhanging the sidewalk. One board member called the concept “sterile” and it was agreed that more trees would make the scene more pedestrian friendly.

No one yet knows what that stretch of road will look like once Kollmorgen Corp., a manufacturer of optical equipment, builds its new 130,000-square-foot facility on the site, but it is certain it won’t look anything the drawing of four years ago.

Despite some discontent about aesthetics, the Planning Board granted Kollmorgen a special permit last week to relocate on the south side of the former Northampton State Hospital complex. That portion was targeted for commercial and industrial development as part of the massive project that came to be branded Village Hill Northampton.

Contested Developments: Hospital Hill

From The Local Buzz
By Greg Saulmon
Friday February 13, 2009

Photo: Greg Saulmon.
Photo: Greg Saulmon.

Here in the office, we try to keep tabs on the issues that are really driving discussion in the Pioneer Valley. A common thread among the issues that most frequently seem to pull people from online debate and conjecture and into actual civic engagement? Somebody trying to build something.

In almost any town you’ll find a plot of land that, all at once, represents several or all of the following: jobs; community; economic revitalization; short-sighted and visionless planning; a breakdown in the process of public discourse; environmental injustice; corporate greed.

So, my original plan: present a single gallery that toured a number of these contested developments, and that compared how the issues and the frame of the debate surrounding each appear to be influencing the outcomes. Instead, though, let’s work up to that. I’ll try to shoot one gallery each week to create a sense of each place; then, time willing, we’ll try to look at these in a little more detail.

Progress visible at hospital site

From The Republican
by Fred Contrada
Sunday, February 15, 2009

As in recent years, Northampton is pinning its hopes for the economic future on a tract of land that was known in its hey-day as the home of the Northampton Lunatic Hospital.

The facility, which eventually changed its name to Northampton State Hospital, has been closed since the early 1990s. After a long struggle to wrest control of the land from the state, the city has slowly and painstakingly been working to realize its vision of a village of new commercial, industrial and residential space on the land formerly known as Hospital Hill.

With the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency, a quasi-public agency, at the helm, the one-time hospital campus has undergone a complete makeover. Most of the buildings, including the iconic “Old Main” that served as the chief administration building, have been demolished and their rubble carted away. Traces of the hospital have even been excised from the name of the project, which is now called Village Hill Northampton.


1900 Stable thumbnail

An article published last week by The Republican details the Citizens Advisory Committee new subcommittee; the Amenity Subcommittee’s meeting in January regarding elements public reuse of the former State Hospital campus. Among other topics such as park space and playing fields the Amenity Subcommittee also discussed the reuse of the 1900 Stable.

Constructed between 1900 and 1901 this stable was built to replace a smaller wooden building. The older structure being rather close to the kitchen made it ideal for use as a cold storage unit, and thus too was at a somewhat unfortunate proximity for keeping horses.

Google Maps photo of 1900 Stable
The 1900 Stable was built into the hillside for the most part by regular employees with assistance by patients in framing, making mortar, and supplying the few hired masonry workers with materials. When the building was completed in 1901 Driving horses would be kept on the main floor and a hayloft (accessible from the door facing the State Hospital) was kept above. Upon completion in 1901 the building was valued at $6,000. For the sake of comparison the same year the State Hospital’s 550 acres of land were valued at $53,400 and Old Main was valued at $480,000.

Village Hill amenities considered

From The Republican
by Fred Contrada
Thursday, January 29, 2009

Will the Village Hill project include a community meeting room? Public parks? A playing field?

The biggest development in the city’s recent history has been taking shape slowly over the last decade and is still far from complete, but as the pieces begin falling into place, a subcommittee is imagining the final product.

The Village Hill Citizens Advisory Committee created an Amenity Subcommittee last year to explore just such topics. In a meeting earlier this month, members tossed out some ideas and suggestions for the mixed residential-commercial development, which is located on the grounds of the former Northampton State Hospital.

Narkewicz stressed on Tuesday that the subcommittee is at the beginning stage of its discussions.

“People were throwing out ideas,” he said. “They’re not really proposals.”

However, the topic has already caught the eye of Joseph Blumenthal, a member of the larger Citizens Advisory Committee. Blumenthal sent an e-mail to fellow committee members warning that it would be prohibitively expensive to convert the Coach House to meeting space and suggesting that the amenities subcommittee incorporate representatives from the Village Hill developers.

According to Anderson, MassDevelopment has targeted the Coach House for commercial use, along with a second building once used as a dormitory for male attendants at the hospital. The third surviving building from the state hospital complex is envisioned as live-work space for artists, Anderson said.

Village Hill housing advances

From The Republican
By Fred Contrada
Friday, December 12, 2008

The state Development Finance Agency cleared the first hurdle in its efforts to add 100 units of housing to Village Hill this week as the Citizens Advisory Committee overseeing the project approved the addition.

The Development Finance Agency is a quasi-public agency charged with developing the sprawling campus of the former Northampton State Hospital into a mix of commercial, industrial and residential space. The original plan called for 207 units of housing on the 536-acre property. A provision in the plan allowed for an expansion of up to 227 units without the city’s approval. If the latest request successfully passes through the city’s planning process, the number of units could grow to 327.

Some city residents said they are astounded that the state agency wants to add housing on Village Hill at a time when the real estate market has been in free-fall.

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Clarity in Numbers

From The Valley Advocate
By Mark Roessler
Monday, November 17, 2008

Together, Northampton–represented by a cast of dozens–and the Citizens Advisory Committee begin to demand more answers from Mayor Higgins and her get-rich-slow plan for Hospital Hill.

On Monday, Nov. 17, for the second time in its 14-year history, the Northampton Citizens Advisory Committee invited the public to participate in one of its meetings. More accurately, the CAC’s chair, Mayor Mary Clare Higgins, let the public speak.

In the past, the public has been welcome to sit and watch during CAC deliberations. During the CAC’s June 18 meeting this year—the meeting a month after Kollmorgen Electro Optical was unanimously voted onto the site—Higgins broke precedent and opened the floor to questions. The meeting had been better attended than most, but with the vote already cast, opponents could do little more than let off steam. At last week’s meeting, however, the public was invited to speak before the vote on a plan to add up to 100 extra housing units to the nearly 200 already approved for Hospital Hill.

The epic three-hour meeting drew a big crowd, noticeably improving the quality as well as the quantity of discourse. Though the CAC had already spent hours discussing the topic twice before, the public raised many new questions—for example, why were 100 houses being requested when the plan only showed 63 new homes packed into the available land?

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Not to worry. Hospital Hill may be a long time filling up.

From Kirby on the Loose
Thursday, November 21, 2008

So now they are here. The houses that we saw in all the many plans MassDevelopment has circulated over the years at CAC meetings. Ok, 51 Olander Drive up on Hospital Hill has views, but not much else for its selling price of $637,855. It’s a modest 3 bedroom 2 ½ bath house on a truly tiny lot. click here for description Wright Builders sold it the other day to the realtor Pat Goggins, but its selling price may not reflect its real market value. All the parties involved in the sale are partners in this development. Goggins as realtor, Wright as builder and Florence Savings Bank as holder of the $2.8 million first mortgage on the development. Goggins got a $500,000 mortgage from Florence Savings Bank, Wright gave him a second mortgage of $137,000, which means that the only cash that Goggins had to lay out at the closing was $855.00. The best guess is that the sale is aimed at giving Wright some cash to help him stay current on the mortgage, because the homes are not moving.

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Woodworking firm receives tax break

From The Rebulican
By Fred Contrada
Friday, November 21, 2008

The City Council approved a tax break Thursday for the pioneering company at the Village Hill Northampton campus.

VCA, Inc./Alloy, LLC., a high-end woodworking company that recently became the first commercial tenant in the vast mixed use project located on the former Northampton State Hospital property, has told the city it hopes to expand at the location and create new jobs, with qualified local workers getting preference.

The Tax Increment Financing Plan, known as a “TIF,” encourages business expansion and job creation by giving tax small breaks on new growth to local companies.

Earlier this month, VCA opened its $2 million, 20,000-square-foot facility on Earle Street. The woodworking company specializes in high-end furniture and architectural millwork.

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From The North Street Association
Friday, November 21, 2008

Here is a complete Google video of the November 17 meeting of the Northampton State Hospital Citizen Advisory Committee. The video is 3 hours long, and was recorded by Lachlan Ziegler. The meeting took place in Florence in the John F. Kennedy Middle School Community Room.

Roughly the first hour of the meeting presented the revised Master Plan, addressing residential units, open space, trip generation, commercial tax revenue, and other subjects. An extensive public discussion followed.

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Future Imperfect

Ahead of the CAC’s next meeting scheduled for November 17th a draft revised Master Plan as well as an Illustrative Site Plan has been posted to the CAC section of the City of Northampton’s website. In addition to fielding public comment, the committee will vote on the following reformulated motion that originally failed to pass at the last meeting:

To approve the revised Village Hill Northampton Master Plan and Illustrative Site Plan in its entirety including the layout of roadways, the conceptual site plan and uses, and a maximum of 100 additional residential units above the currently approved 227 residential units (207 units plus 20 units/10% increase allowed by right under the original Master Plan).  Approval is granted with the understanding that the Illustrative Site Plan is a conceptual plan with variable options for lot layout within the approved roadway layout.

The Gag Reflex

From The Valley Advocate
By Mark Roessler
Thursday, October 30, 2008

The committee charged with overseeing the Hospital Hill development shows signs of life.

Last Wednesday, October 22, the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) met for the third time this year to discuss plans for the northernmost part of the development where the historic Northampton State Hospital once stood. Before them was a proposal for an additional hundred housing units, which, to be built, required their approval.

After years of passively accepting much of what the developers presented, regardless of how far the revised plans deviated from stated goals, this time the CAC didn’t let the double-speak go down so smoothly.

MassDevelopment, the state agency managing the development, had been busy this summer overseeing construction of the 207 units already approved for the site. In order to make the development eligible for state funding incentives that promote green building practices, last year the agency had proposed that instead of construction taking over the entire hilltop, as originally planned, they would build the approved homes closer together. At the time, there had been some concern that the actual agenda behind the compact construction was to make space available for more units later, but the city and the CAC had been assured this was not the case.

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The Theft of Memory

From The Valley Advocate
By Mark Roessler
Thursday, October 30, 2008

In spite of contractual and moral obligation, there may be no memorial to the mentally ill on the prime land that was their legacy from the state.

Part of the Citizens Advisory Committee’s stated mission in redeveloping Hospital Hill has been to provide a memorial commemorating the Northampton State Hospital and its 150-year history on the site. To this end a subcommittee was formed, and in May, 2007, it issued a report recommending that the hospital’s original fountain be refurbished and returned to where it once stood outside the hospital. Members hoped the memorial would be set in a secluded space that would allow quiet contemplation.

Last Monday, Oct. 20, the subcommittee reconvened for the first time since its report to decide on the seven location options developers had offered them for the memorial.

Despite the subcommittee’s recommendation, a private home is already under construction on the fountain’s original site, and the only option MassDevelopment offered that resembled what had been requested was in a narrow pathway between two other houses. Another option was right on Route 66, a location the subcommittee had already said was not appropriate. Four more possibilities were at major intersections, near playgrounds or too close to houses.

The subcommittee ultimately chose a site for the memorial on the opposite edge of the campus.

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Input sought on Village Hill plan

From The Republican
By Fred Contrada
Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Citizens Advisory Committee for the Village Hill Northampton project is seeking public input on a request by the developer to build an additional 100 units of housing.

The Massachusetts Development Finance Agency, a quasi-public agency charged with developing the former Northampton State Hospital campus, has asked permission to create 100 housing units that are provided for in the master plan. The original plan to build on the 536-acre property called for 207 housing units. Because the plan included a provision to adjust that number by 10 percent without city approval, the maximum allowed is 227.

That number could grow to 327 if the city approves the development agency’s request. Northampton Economic Development Coordinator Teri A. Anderson said Friday that both the development agency and the city would like to see denser development of the area. The master plan called for estate-sized homes on the other part of the parcel, but officials believe it would be better to build more, smaller homes there.

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Is This Land Our Land?

This is an interesting article from the Advocate on the reuse of State Hospital property for Disc Golf among other things. When I began to see their installations dotting some of the furthest reaches of the property I had no idea that these anomalous poles with chains were for any kind of sport… much less had ever heard of disc golf.

The article explains disc golf as well as its relation to the grounds and the dog paths. In some places on Hospital Hill you can find old partially wooden disc golf baskets that have not stood the test of time. It is somewhat surprising that the article did not talk more about the Community Gardens which were also given to Smith Voc.

From The Valley Advocate
Thursday, September 04, 2008

Is This Our Land, image and text by Sarah Gibbons, for The Valley Advocate

There’s a 282-acre parcel of land off Burt’s Pit Road in Northampton that’s used for a variety of recreational activities, as well as some agricultural ones. Hundreds of apartment dwellers from Northampton and surrounding towns use the community gardens adjacent to the land in the spring, summer and fall. Cross-country runners take advantage of the paths carved into the land’s woods, and countless dog walkers use these same paths to stroll behind their bounding rovers.

But few people seem to know that it was the installation of a disc golf course on the land, which was once the property of the old State Hospital, that opened the acreage up and made it a popular recreational destination. What was a labor of love for Felix Harvey and Jason Johnson, the co-designers of the course, has led to the maintenance of the land (parts of which had essentially gone to weed) and the creation of a space that looks more like a park and less like an overgrown forest. The creation of the disc golf course has allowed other users to access parts of the land that might have been inaccessible before.

Dotted throughout woods and fields on the north side of Burt’s Pit Road are 18 curious-looking baskets. Each basket is elevated around a metal pole that stands about five feet tall. Chains extend from the center of the basket to a wide ring at the top of the pole to form a triangular shape, resembling a torso. When one writer for the Advocate first saw the baskets years ago, he thought they might be feeders, maybe for deer or the many other critters who call the land home. And like most of the parcel’s wildlife, the baskets are almost invisible unless you look closely, because many are set strategically behind hummocks, near streams and on the edges of gullies off the beaten running and walking paths. They can barely be seen from a short distance and are not obtrusive to their surroundings; coming across one is like seeing a tiny sentry in repose at his post.

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It takes more than a village

From The Valley Advocate: Northampton Redoubt
By Kenneth Mitchell
Friday, July 4, 2008

Mark Roessler and the Valley Advocate deserve great thanks for this series on Hospital Hill. But I also agree with Professor Platt that the plans for Village Hill would not mean it would become a village. It was a "Village" for marketing. What is more unfortunate is that decisions made had nothing to do with good city planning.

Northampton like all of Massachusetts is struggling to restore a lost economic base. Massachusetts plans the devotion of enormous resources to restore it with Life Sciences.There are real plans for bio-tech in Springfield.

Biotech initiative may aid WMass

They would also be interested in Northampton if they had known the site "Available".


Opportunities and challenges face biotech companies outside of Boston

Yet marketing to new business like research firms was minimal while the residential "Village" was over-hyped. Firms, like research firms, could have retained much of the historic architecture of Old Main, had sympathy for a suitable memorial, had minimal impact on congestion and generated a profound economic boost to the city. And followed the model "The legislation seeks $500 million for capital projects, including equipment and buildings that could be used jointly by academic centers and biotechnology companies."And Smith College could have been allowed and encouraged to build their Science and Engineering Complex there also.

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Master Plan

From Northampton Planning Board via The North Street Neighborhood Association
Thursday, June 26, 2008

Discussing a lighting plan for a gas station on Easthampton Road

  • The board is concerned about excessive exterior lighting that goes beyond the requirements of safety. Commercial establishments might be tempted to indulge in such lighting to call more attention to their business.

Discussion of changes to Planning Board bylaws and rules

Minutes from past meetings approved

Discussion of evolutions at Hospital Hill (Village Hill) with respect to Kollmorgen’s proposed new plant and other changes

  • "The project still has to meet all the design guidelines."
  • "There’s a lot of components that definitely have to come back to you."
  • "If they meet the design guidelines, you’re limited to finding they meet the design guidelines. If they don’t meet the design guidelines, then anything goes."
  • "Soon as the Kollmorgen thing starts, we’re going to have a packed house…"
  • (42:21) "The thing about the CAC is that it’s the kind of committee that sort of gradually increases because there’s 15 people. Most of them have very narrow views. One of them represents mental health, one of them represents housing, and they don’t care about the project as a whole. All they care about is their own special thing. It’s not particularly great if you want to reach a consensus about stuff."
  • "I’m not necessarily opposed to Kollmorgen or any big, industrial type thing up there, I just want it to be done in a way that meets the village concept."
  • "Conceptually, it’s OK with the CAC."
  • "I was surprised it happened without us knowing about it."
  • "My feeling is it’s going to be like an armed camp up there, and I think it would be really desirable for them to design it so that they didn’t feel that the parking lot had to be secure; could be a little bit more of a village walking places."

Discussion of soccer teams’ compliance with parking and traffic conditions at the Oxbow

  • "I want to be able to hear the soccer club defend themselves."
  • "I get the impression we came down on the soccer club like a ton of bricks, and…they didn’t know about the hearing… At least they should have their day in court, so to speak."
  • "…I think the Northampton Soccer Club is doing a good job, Western United not so much."

Kollmorgen Trumps Master Plan

From Community Radio Hour
By Mary Serreze
Thursday, June 26, 2008

When I invited independent journalists Mike Kirby and Mark Roessler to the radio studio to talk about their objections to the siting of Kollmorgen Electro-Optical on so-called Village Hill (the old Northampton State Hospital site), and the concomitant change in the Village Hill master plan that was approved to expedite moving the plant from its cramped King Street location, part of me wondered: is it reasonable, in such difficult economic times, to protest such an accommodation?

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What’s in a Name?

From The Valley Advocate
By Mark Roessler
Thursday, June 26, 2008

The decision to change the name of Northampton’s Hospital Hill bespeaks the same fear and prejudice against mental illness that drove Victorian activists to build the hospital in the first place.State Lunatic Hospital at Northampton, care of Historic Northampton

First and foremost, Dorothea Dix considered herself a teacher. Born in Maine, she moved to Boston, and while still in her teens, she opened a school for young children. Settling in Worcester, she became a devout Unitarian and wrote books for young readers. These days, she’d be known as an early childhood educator, and she might have been remembered as a pioneer in that field had not she one day agreed to take over a class for a friend at the local jail.

She had no idea what to expect when she went to teach the Sunday school class in the East Cambridge prison; the experience transformed her and, eventually, the nation.

Not everyone held in the prison, she realized, was there because they’d committed a crime. Incarcerated in chains, right alongside hardened criminals, were people who were there for reasons beyond their control. They were mentally ill. Instead of receiving care, they were being punished for their afflictions.

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No “Village” at Hospital Hill

From The Valley Advocate
By Mark Roessler
Thursday, June 12, 2008

Images from the Epsilon Associates report: Notice of Project Change: Village Hill, Northampton. From The Valley Advocate.Northampton city officials abandon smart growth principles to keep Kollmorgen, the city’s largest business, from looking for greener pastures.

With apologies to John Lennon, development in Northampton is what happens after city officials have announced other plans.

On Thursday, May 22, 2008, the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) met in City Council chambers to discuss "amending" previous zoning to the development on Hospital Hill. Would they allow Kollmorgen, a maker of high-tech optics used in submarine periscopes, missile guidance systems and other applications, to relocate to the Hill from its King Street facility across town?

The particular location where Northampton’s largest for-profit business hopes to break ground is on a hilltop abutting Route 66, with commanding views of the Mt. Tom and Holyoke Mountain ranges. It’s the most prominent site in that part of town and arguably the heart of the long-planned development to replace the Northampton State Hospital.

At one point early in the meeting, city councilor and CAC member David Narkewicz suggested the vote be delayed a week to give a chance for consideration. But—scrapping 20 years of promises, planning, and lectures on smart growth and best practices—Mayor and CAC chair Clare Higgins allowed the vote to proceed, and the committee voted unanimously to permit the relocation.

Along with the new industrial facility, enough blacktop will be laid for a 450-car parking lot for 600 employees.

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An OK for plant Kollmorgen gets nod on Village Hill

From The Daily Hampshire Gazette
by Chad Cain
Friday, May 23, 2008

It looks like Kollmorgen Electro-Optical is here to stay.

In a unanimous vote Thursday night, the expansive committee in charge of overseeing the redevelopment of the former state hospital grounds approved a significant change to the Village Hill Northampton master plan. The move paves the way for the city’s largest manufacturer and its largest for-profit employer to move into a new manufacturing and office facility on the development’s south campus – thus keeping Kollmorgen in the city.

Development of the south campus was always a question we had,’ said committee member Joe Blumenthal. ‘The community is being presented with an opportunity here that we should take advantage of.’

Kollmorgen, which employs 330 people at its Northampton plant, would be the lone anchor tenant in the revamped south campus, where most of the commercial building is slated. In approving a MassDevelopment request to change the master plan, the Northampton State Hospital Citizens Advisory Committee for Village Hill agreed to significantly reduce both the number of buildings and the amount of square footage slated for the south campus.

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Northampton board OKs Kollmorgen at Village Hill

From The Republican
by Fred Contrada
Thursday May 22, 2008

Amid reservations about the loss of office and retail space, the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Village Hill Northampton project voted unanimously today to amend the master plan, clearing the way for Kollmorgen Corp. to become the main commercial tenant.

Under a plan presented to the committee, Kollmorgen would occupy the lion’s share of the former Northampton State Hospital campus to the south of Route 66.

The site had been envisioned as a mix of commercial and industrial space that would complement the residential portion of the village on the north campus.

Kollmorgen, the city’s largest private employer, makes optical equipment, some of which is used by the military.

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Kollmorgen again sets sights on Village Hill

From The Daily Hampshire Gazette
By Chad Cain
Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Kollmorgen Electro-Optical, one of the city’s largest manufacturing plants with about 250 employees at its King Street headquarters, is taking another look at Village Hill Northampton and could become its second commercial tenant.

The company and the city are once again discussing a deal that would enable the maker of optical and imaging systems to become an anchor tenant at Village Hill Northampton. Kollmorgen and Village Hill development officials will meet with a key city committee Thursday.

The move to a new manufacturing facility, if approved, would come more than three years after the city initially tried to lure the company to the $28 million, mixed-used redevelopment on the 126-acre site that once housed Northampton State Hospital.

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New life given to Hospital Hill

From The Republican
Saturday, May 17, 2008
By Fred Contrada

The developers of Village Hill harked back to the days of Northampton State Hospital yesterday as they prepared to build a new community on the rubble of the former hospital for the mentally ill.

The groundbreaking paved the way for the construction of 11 single-family homes, 12 townhouse and 40 units of mixed-income housing on what was once called Hospital Hill. The ceremony took place on the site of Old Main, the hospital’s administrative building and architectural centerpiece. Old Main was demolished last year.

Jonathan A. Wright, the chief executive officer of Wright Builders Inc., told a gathering of dignitaries that he hopes the neighborhood of houses he is building will contribute to the site’s rich history.

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