CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – Some Chicopee residents are trying to save a large plot of land many use for recreation.
The City Council recently denied a zoning change request by the owners of the Slate Conservation Area, so the property will stay as it is for now. The 22News I-Team learned there is a new effort to make sure the property is never developed.
“We got bear, deer, fox, there’s even been a fisher cat spotted in the area,” said Mary Hayner of Chicopee.
The Slate Conservation Area is one of the few old growth forests in Chicopee, land untouched and trees towering some 80 to 100 feet. Fifty-seven sprawling acres that run from the Mass Pike to the Westover Airport and from Chicopee State Park to the backyards of homes along Slate Road.
“It’s actually really nicer than the state park, because it’s untouched,” David Boisselle of Chicopee told 22News.
“Little pockets of green here and there are not going to give you the experience of walking through a forest,” said Mary Hayner.
Westover Metropolitan Development Corporation (WMDC) purchased the land from Chicopee in 2009 with the intention of developing the property.
Early March, the 22News I-Team attended a Chicopee City Council meeting where WMDC took the necessary steps to make that happen, going before the City Council to request a zoning change from residential to industrial. But after push back from community members the City Council voted to deny their request.
“If it were passed it would be the biggest development in the city’s history and we don’t even know what the plans are,” said Derek Dobosz, Chicopee City Councilor – Ward 6.
Don: Isn’t it kind of odd that you don’t know what it is they want to do with that property with that zone change?
Dobosz: “Yeah, I think it’s really irregular.”
Many people thought the property was protected conservation land.
A representative with the Department of Environmental Protection told the 22News I-Team that their agency didn’t have any record of the land being designated conservation or wetlands. The I-Team also searched several other state data banks and found nothing associated with Slate Conservation.
Last week, the City Council voted to formally confirm the status of the property with the city’s law department.
Meanwhile, 22News also researched property records at the Hampden County Registry of Deeds which documents WMDC as the owner of the land and makes no mention of conservation designation.
“The plans for this airpark have not been prepared in secret, but to the contrary, they have been involving, over a decade, with the inclusion of state agencies and your municipal department,” Kathleen Bernardo, an Attorney for WMDC said.
The attorney that represents WMDC spoke at that March City Council meeting addressing councilors’ transparency concerns. The 22News I-Team requested an on-camera interview with Michael Bolton, the CEO of WMDC, but he declined.
Moving forward, WMDC can re-apply for a zoning change in two years or they can take the City of Chicopee to court. But before either happens, neighbors are rallying support for the city to buy back the Slate Conservation land.
“We have to see what can we do so the city can take back control,” said Tina Colucci of Chicopee.
“That’s our goal is to save this land for future generations so it can do what mother nature intended it to do clean the air and provide a habitat for nature,” said Mary Hayner.
22News also asked Chicopee Mayor John Vieau for an on-camera interview but his office also declined, citing pending litigation. It’s worth noting, 22News contacted Chicopee’s legal department and they told us there isn’t any pending litigation on books.