Too much SRO housing for Florence Center?
Now that Im in such a positive frame of mind, I should report that there is a good deal of grousing among business people in downtown Florence about the impending sale of the West Clothing building to the non-profit Valley Community Development Corp.
Two Florence businessmen have told me they bid on the property but could not match the price offered by Valley CDC, which, because of its public subsidy, could afford to pay more than the prevailing market value of the property. And they complain that as a consequence property taxes will be lost with the new ownership.
But, of equal concern is that more retail space is being lost through such conversions of private property to non-profit or public hands. They cite as an earlier example, the conversion of the former Florence Inn to subsidized housing and the subsequent loss of a retail component.
The same seems likely for the West building. Its corner location at the main intersection is an key psychological factor for Florences downtown.
Of continuing discussion is the growing impact of single residency units on the retail business district, which in many ways continues to be the anchor for the village of Florence and the west side of Northampton and the near Hilltowns.
The West building contains 23 single-room rental units, and has for some time; there is another subsidized building just north of Florence Hardware on North Maple Street, and just across the street from the Florence Inn. In addition, the population of the Forsander Apartment another block north on North Maple Street had changed dramatically in the last few years from exclusively elderly residents to a mixed population. The same is true of the Tobin housing units on Maple Street, a block south of the main intersection.
Some of those who complain about the steady increase in subsidized housing units in the village are philosophically opposed to such government activity, especially when it lures out-of-towners to the community.
But there are others who simply argue that the business district and its adjacent neighborhoods have value for Florence and Northampton too, and with the sale of the West building the balance tips further in favor of social goals at the expense of commercial and residential interests.
The issue is a complicated one, but genuine anger simmers in Florence these days.