New Bedford City Council Advances Golf Course Development Plan
NEW BEDFORD — The New Bedford City Council will vote Thursday on whether to formally ask the state legislature for permission to redevelop 100 acres of the Whaling City Golf Course into a new business park.
The council, acting as the committee on city property, decided to advance the measure by a 10-1 vote following a two-hour remote meeting Tuesday night where administration officials explained the plan’s details and presented it as a needed economic development project for New Bedford.
“We estimate 1,000 jobs at a minimum associated with the development of the golf course in New Bedford,” said Neil Mello, the chief of staff for Mayor Jon Mitchell, who also told city councilors that the administration had worked with MassHire New Bedford to estimate those jobs’ potential wages.
Mello’s presentation showed wages ranging from $41,000 a year for machinists to validation engineers earning more than $97,000 a year.
“All of those are a very good fit and very good incomes associated with the job types for the facilities,” Mello said.
However, despite administration officials’ promises that the “Advanced Manufacturing Campus” will create well-paying jobs and expand the city’s tax base by almost three million dollars, some councilors asked pointed questions about the project’s potential impact on traffic in the area, especially on Hathaway Road.
“Without enhancements to traffic flow on Hathaway Road, this is not a doable deal, period, end of conversation. There’s no way,” said Councilor-at-Large Linda Morad, a critic of the project who was the lone councilor to vote against advancing the measure to the full city council on Thursday.
At-Large Councilor Brian Gomes also expressed concerns about the capacity of Hathaway Road to accommodate 1,000 extra vehicles a day. He and Morad noted that the current traffic on Hathaway Road already makes it difficult for motorists looking to enter and exit off of Route 140.
“Safety is a big part of this,” Gomes said.
Still, other councilors, in their questions to Mello and department heads, emphasized the project’s economic development potential. Ward 3 Councilor Hugh Dunn mentioned that traffic mitigation and signalization would have to be part of the city’s request for proposals to redevelop the golf course.
Adding that the city needs to bring in more revenue and foster new investment in the area, Dunn said he saw the project as the only feasible way to bring in long-needed infrastructural improvements on Hathaway Road.
At-Large Councilor Ian Abreu asked about the potential tax relief residential property owners could see with more commercial tax revenue and about the operating deficit he said the city currently has with the current 18-hole golf course.
On Thursday, at its 7 p.m. meeting, the New Bedford City Council will vote on whether to petition the state legislature to enact special legislation granting the city the authority to develop the golf course, which is open recreational space that is normally protected from development. The project has the support of the city’s state delegation, which has promised to “fast-track” it through the Legislature.
Under Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution, the city is required to place comparable land elsewhere into protection. The administration’s plan is to place a conservation restriction on 156 acres at its 224-acre property on Woodcock Road in Dartmouth. Under that arrangement, the Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust would monitor the site for any prohibited development.
Dexter Mead, the executive director of the Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust, spoke on behalf of the move to place the Woodcock Road property – which he said has not been farmed in more than 100 years – into conservation. He said the conservation will create a nearly continuous seven-mile corridor of protected lands from Buzzards Bay to UMass Dartmouth.
“It’s a win-win on many different fronts,” Mead said.
Meanwhile, City Solicitor Mikaela McDermott said the city has no plans to close the New Bedford Police Department’s firing range on the Woodcock Road property, which is also used by area police departments for training and by recreational shooters.