GREAT BARRINGTON — The Planning Board has made recommendations to the town's Zoning Board of Appeals on the affordable housing proposed for a 2-acre parcel at 100 Bridge St.
Southern Berkshire Community Development Corporation Executive Director Tim Geller presented the nonprofit's development plans, which requires a 40B permit — a "catch-all" that blankets individual work permits — to allow the housing development to move forward.
The site's remediation plan focuses on capping pollutants, Geller told the board. The housing project is located on the former New England Log Homes factory site, which is polluted with pentachlorophenol, or PCPs, and dioxins.
The plan is to bury the polluted soil under at least 3 feet of clean fill, Geller told the board. He showed data indicating that capping was the best solution for the money the developer could spend.
Capping beat out the rest of the viable options in every regard save effectiveness. Geller explained that this was because the polluted soil would remain on the site.
The 100 Bridge St. property has been in development for two decades. The Southern Berkshire Community Development Corporation has cleaned the site of the twisted metal and refuse that defined the lot for years and the parcel is currently a meadow enclosed by chain link fencing.
The 40B permit represents the next step in the site's development. The ZBA has asked for input from the Planning Board before it issues the permit.
The Planning Board had some tough questions for Geller on remediation and the site's green space.
"Affordable housing next to a contaminated site is a nonstarter," board member Jonathan Hankin said. "The site has to be totally remediated."
"PCPs and dioxins are not migrating; they're not going deeper, not laterally. We can 'cut fill' the site, scrape out 3 feet of polluted soil and fill in," Geller said. "The parking lots and foundations in the rest of the site can act as caps."
The owner of the property, in this case the CDC, is forever responsible for the capping, Geller explained. In a follow-up interview with The Eagle, Geller said that the developer's status as a nonprofit gave it more leeway with remediation.
"As a nonprofit, we can take ownership and remediate the site," Geller said. "A for-profit developer would never take this on."
The placement of the housing was another sticking point. The current concept of the plan places the housing on the 2-acre parcel to the south of the lot, abutting the town's wastewater treatment plant.
Board Chairwoman Brandee Nelson expressed some misgivings on the placement of the housing on the south end of the property.
"Is there a chance this is the only way this would happen?" she asked. "The housing is sandwiched in the least desirable area."
"That's what they're asking for," Town Planner Chris Rembold interjected. "If they change it they change it, but that's what they're asking for right now."
Geller tried to assure the board the housing would be desirable. He pointed out that there would be a green space to the north of the 2-acre parcel and 1.5 acres of undeveloped riverfront on the west of the site that can never be developed.
"We have to go on the presumption the entire site will never be redeveloped," Hankin said. "So until it is, the property must be fully remediated and covered in grass and accessible to public."
"That's a completely different story, making it open to the public," Geller said.
"Are you going to put barrier down or clean dirt before you develop the land?" asked board Vice Chairman Malcolm Fick.
"Yes," Geller replied.
"So if you don't have another project going in the property, the other 6 acres will be cleaned?" Fick asked.
"That's the plan," Geller said, adding, "If this is the only thing that gets built, we're screwed, we're $50 million in the hole."
A compromise was struck that the board would recommend that the green spaces on the property be open to the public in perpetuity.
Geller confirmed to The Eagle that the CDC plans to keep the green spaces open to the public forever even without an order from the ZBA.
Other members of the board countered Hankin's call to act on the presumption that the site would never be redeveloped.
"We need to recognize this is an entire project grant waiver, knowing that this is part of a larger development," said Fick.
"I think I'd have less concerns if I think of this being developed," said board member Jeremy Higa.
"It's a leap of faith," Nelson said. "We'll put it in the preamble."
The board will present their recommendations to the ZBA ahead of the hearing on the 40B permit on Tuesday, July 26, at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall.