PITTSFIELD -- A retail project to reuse a former Crane & Co. warehouse on Dalton Avenue has morphed into a request to raze the brick structure for another use -- prompting harsh criticism from several city councilors who had approved a zoning change to accommodate the plan.
Speaking at a Historical Commission meeting Monday, six councilors and several citizens denounced the demolition approval request from James Scalise of SK Design Group, LLC, who said his earlier proposal for reusing the circa 1929 brick warehouse had proved financially impractical.
The commission ultimately denied his request -- voting unanimously -- and recommended a six-month delay during which other reuse plans can be considered.
Scalise said recent marketing research had shown that the type of large retail tenant that would make a restoration feasible would not choose Pittsfield because of a median income level much lower than the firms usually require.
"I am not trying to pull a fast one," he said at one point, saying he wanted to save the building but has since determined that is not feasible. "If you delay this for six months," Scalise said. "I will keep trying, but at what point do I look at alternatives?"
The councilors and residents were not mollified by the explanation for the change, contending Scalise had laid out in December a detailed reuse plan for the warehouse, complete with conceptual drawings, and had not discussed the option of razing the building. The council that month approved a zoning change to facilitate business uses, with several councilors praising the plan precisely because it would save a historic structure.
Ward 1 City Councilor Christine Yon, who represents the area of the warehouse at 999 Dalton Ave., said, "I was very enthusiastic about this proposal, and my constituents supported it." But when word of a possible demolition surfaced recently, Yon said, she heard from many residents who were opposed.
Although Scalise maintained he had mentioned demolition as a last-resort option at a neighborhood meeting on the proposal, none of councilors or residents said they remembered hearing that.
The councilors present among roughly two dozen in attendance -- Yon, Churchill Cotton, Christopher Connell, Paul Capitanio, Anthony Simonelli and Kevin Morandi -- all stressed that they heard nothing about demolition and would have opposed a zoning change for the project if that had been their understanding. The council in December unanimously approved the zoning change that extended a light industrial district onto the front half of the 5.83-acre parcel at the Hubbard Avenue intersection.
Mary Ward, one of the residents who spoke to the commission, said she had retired from Crane & Co. and was involved with its on-site museum. She said the building's connection with the historic company that has manufactured paper for U.S. currency since 1879, makes it "definitely historical."
Scalise argued that the structure is more than 75 years old but otherwise does not meet the standards for a historic building worth saving.
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