PITTSFIELD -- The Zoning Board of Appeals has rejected a developer’s plans to build a self-storage facility within part of the vacant, deteriorating former Pittsfield Plaza on West Housatonic Street.

By a vote of 4-1, the ZBA on Wednesday night denied Weisman Real Estate of Rye, N.Y., owners of the 13.8-acre commercial site, a variance to create a 320-unit self-storage complex as part of the 105,000-square-foot retail center.

The five-member board also turned down a variance for a caretaker’s apartment, which would allow for around-the-clock security to alleviate the "stigma" of the site being a haven for criminal activity, according to the developers.

Weisman, operating as Pittsfield Plaza Members LLC, sought the variances after the city’s building inspection department ruled a self-storage business isn’t permitted in a "business commercial" zoning district.

The ZBA suggested seeking a zoning change, instead of a use variance, would be the better strategy to get approval for the project.

"I would take another avenue," said ZBA Chairman Albert A. Ingegni III. "I see no criteria [for granting the variance.]"

However, several residents living near the 51-year-old center -- now called Gateway Plaza -- supported the project.

"This is an eyesore to the city," said Frances King. "Anything would be better than what’s there."

Representatives of Weisman Real Estate pointed out the self-storage business was the first step to revitalizing the once-vibrant shopping complex. They noted that a first new business would draw prospective retailers to the site, while providing storage space for additional tenants of the shopping plaza along with the public.

There’s also a need for self-storage units in the city, according to Beverly "B-Mile" Milenski of ReMax Integrity Realtors of Pittsfield, the leasing agent for the plaza.

"I’ve been creating a list of businesses who don’t have space when extra stock comes in," Milenski said.

The owners say they have also been working on lighting, sidewalks and clearing out the interior spaces of the retail facility in order to attract commercial tenants. In recent years, the developer created two large retention basins near the entrance to alleviate the problem of flooding on the property, fronted by 379 parking spaces.

Meanwhile, the ZBA on Wednesday delayed a decision regarding a child-care center wanting to relocate from Dalton Avenue to a former Catholic church on Pembroke Avenue. The board continued until Sept. 18 a public hearing on a special permit allowing Building Blocks Early Education Center to occupy the vacant All Souls Mission.

The ZBA urged the owners Diana and Keith Hadsell to meet with neighbors and address their concerns about the project. Several residents living near the church told the ZBA a child-care center would increase traffic and change the character of a relatively quiet neighborhood.

If the ZBA grants the permit, the Hadsells’ plan to purchase the property from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield and convert it into a larger child-care facility than the one they currently operate in the shopping complex at 457 Dalton Ave.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.