PITTSFIELD -- The owners of Building Blocks Early Education Center on Dalton Avenue have gotten a green light to move into the vacant All Souls Mission building at 51 Pembroke Ave. -- despite the opposition of some residents concerned about the impact on their neighborhood.
Members of the Zoning Board of Appeals voted unanimously on Wednesday to approve a special permit for the center, but they added fencing and natural screening conditions that reflect the stiff opposition expressed by residents of the immediate neighborhood.
Concerns, which also were expressed during a prior ZBA session, focused on noise, traffic and parking once the facility opens in the brick-walled former Catholic church.
Diana and Keith Hadsell, owners of the day care business, have said they expect their estimated $750,000 to $800,000 interior renovation of the former church will be completed by August 2014. The 10,000-square-foot church will increase the center's space by 3,000 square feet and hike its licensed capacity from 108 to 150 children.
Diana Hadsell, her attorney, Alan Righi, and several speakers reiterated reasons they support for the project, which they said represents a good use for the vacant church.
However, a half-dozen residents spoke against the project, saying it would disrupt the quiet nature of the neighbor by increasing traffic and creating noise from a planned playground area and when children arrived.
Righi told ZBA members that, after a recent meeting with only the neighbors and the center owners present, the two sides remained at an impasse. "I asked the opponents what we could do," he said. "The answer was nothing."
However, he argued that while there would be some noise from children on the playground and from traffic, the impacts would be similar to a school, and many in the city are located in similar neighborhoods. "Thirty-five years ago, this area was crawling with kids," he added, "but the neighborhood has aged out," and there now is less noise.
Among the opponents, Donna Merletto of Allessio Street said, "This will be loud" and "will destroy our peaceful neighborhood."
She and others said the activity and noise would likely be continuous, and the traffic during the mornings and evenings could snarl the narrow streets of the neighborhood, which is off Newell Street. Several requested solid fencing in an attempt to absorb noise from the playground and drop-off areas.
Before voting, board member Ben Kaplan said that "on balance, I feel this is a good use of the [now-vacant] facility."
John Fitzgerald expressed concerns about the negative impacts but eventually voted with the other board members in giving unanimous approval. His motion to require six-foot solid fencing on the sides abutting the playground and parking area, with vegetation facing the neighbors, was approved as a condition.
Righi argued Wednesday that the traffic impact would not be as great as some feared. The center has two vans that pick up about 75 percent of the children and take them home at night, while an estimated 30 parents drop off and pick up their own children.
The church lot, Righi said, has 40 parking spaces, which he said would eliminate the need for anyone to park on local streets.
Playground activity is expected to be limited to 25 children at a time.
Supporters argued that the activity level, which would be Monday through Friday only, would be in some ways less than when the church was the site of weddings or services.
Building Blocks currently employs 18 full- and part-time teachers and staff who care for and help educate youngsters from infants up to age 12.
To reach Jim Therrien:
or (413) 496-6247
On Twitter: @BE_therrien