Tuesday January 29, 2013

LENOX -- A zoning red light has turned to green for a long-established Berkshire artisan seeking to open an office at the Lenox Commons mixed-use complex off Pittsfield Road.

According to an initial ruling by Building Inspector William Thornton, Sam Kasten Handweaver -- now in a former schoolhouse on Melville Street in Pittsfield -- could not open its 1,100-square-foot office there because zoning rules bar "light manufacturing" in the Gateway Mixed-Use District just north of downtown.

Sam Kasten Handweaver, established in 1972, provides quality hand-made custom textiles for the interior design and architectural trades.

After the office manager, Ute Arnold of Lenox, pursued the issue, it surfaced at a recent Planning Board meeting and wound up with Town Manager Gregory Federspiel, who said he determined after a series of meetings and "gnashing of teeth" that the only production work at the office would be small design samples -- three hours a month of work.

Federspiel said on Monday that a "by right" permit would be issued because "the production aspect is minimal; it’s a minor use to the main purpose, administrative, customer service and sales."

Town Counsel Joel Bard of the municipal law firm Koppelman & Paige was "very comfortable that it doesn’t rise to the level of violating the bylaw," Federspiel added.

Federspiel pointed out that the bylaw does not allow manufacturing as a principal use. "The Planning Board may be interested in fine-tuning that and allowing some version of light artisan craftsmanship," he said.

"We’re happy that we’ll have a chance to use the space we’ve been waiting for," said Arnold. "The experience with the town was outstanding, and we’re grateful for the cooperation of Federspiel and the Selectmen. We feel very welcome."

Her landlord, Lenox Commons developer David Ward, said Sam Kasten Handweaver would open March 1. He said the samples produced at the office would be "the size of potholders."

"We’re delighted to have them," he added. "We went for the permit, Bill Thornton deemed it manufacturing, but in my head it was a business use, all the manufacturing is done overseas."

Thornton declined comment.

"Building inspectors are always looked at as the villains," commented Select Board Chairman Kenneth Fowler. "Bill’s job is very difficult and carries a lot of responsibilities. He works really hard to make sure people comply with the zoning laws."

Selectman Channing Gibson, who worked with his board colleague David Roche to help resolve the issue, said the building inspector "has a real responsibility to interpret the codes to the best of his ability.

It’s important to make sure we don’t do anything to drive business away and that we try to find solutions to code issues and to see if the law needs to be changed."

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@yahoo.com
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto.