By Adams Shanks,Berkshire Eagle Staff
ADAMS -- Members at a special town meeting on Monday approved funds to create a train station on Hoosac Street and for renovations to the Adams Free Library.
The meeting also saw the approval of new solar energy development regulations.
Town meeting members were offered eight proposals on the special town meeting warrant, many of which were land easements for various town projects. Three were major proposals -- renovation of the Adams Free Library, authorization to build a train station, and a new solar bylaw.
Town meeting members approved an expenditure of $165,000 from the town’s free cash account to purchase and renovate a former car wash on Hoosac Street. The .51-acre lot will become a train platform known as the Adams Station.
After much debate, the measure -- which required a two-thirds majority to pass -- was approved 88-13. A second warrant, authorizing the town to actually execute the purchase of the property, was passed by an 86-16 margin.
The station, already well into the design phase, would function as the southern hub of the Berkshire Scenic Railway’s Hoosac Valley Service between Adams and North Adams. The town set out to secure grant funding for the project in 2013 and eventually won about $386,000 in federal Parklands Acquistions and Renovations for Communities (PARC) grant, with the condition that town meeting members approve a matching $165,000.
Town Administrator Jonathan Butler has advocated for the purchase of the property, saying in previous meetings that the station will increase tourism and leverage federal funds for a town project. He noted that the property was purchased for only $4,000 more than its appraised value at $190,000.
"This project is symbolic," Butler said, of renewed energy and investment in Adams’ downtown.
Developer Jeff Cohen, whose firm is renovating the former mill building at 7 Hoosac Street into 150 apartments, advocated for support of the project. Cohen said that to further encourage development in the town, his firm planned to make a "seven-figure" donation to Adams.
Several town meeting members expressed disappointment in the final price of the acquisition, citing an assessment of less than $100,000.
"I can’t support that kind of money for that kind of property," said member George Haddad.
But many others said that the price shouldn’t hold up the entire project.
"The town didn’t have a tremendous amount of leverage in this negotiation," Butler said.
Voters also approved, without any discussion or debate, a $970,000 appropriation for the Adams Free Library renovation project, which could begin as early as this year. The project addresses much-needed fixes to a leaky roof, masonry repairs to an aging facade, and a number of American Disabilities Act compliance issues.
The town is expected to borrow the funding over 10 years, replacing a hole in the budget left by the now paid-off Old Town Hall renovation project. The $970,000 figure leaves wiggle room for a potential overhaul of the heating system, the merits of which are currently being weighed by town officials, according to Butler.
Longtime library Director Deborah Bruneau has advocated for several of the repairs for many years.
Town meeting members also approved a new set of solar bylaws -- by a margin of 91-10 -- written by the town Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals.
The proposed regulations limit solar installations in a number of zones, and set definitions for what constitutes a commercial solar venture.
A commercial installation is defined as consisting of ground-mounted solar panels, amounting to one-quarter acre or more. If the electricity generated is used primarily on-site, such an operation is allowed in any zone. If the energy produced is sent into the grid, the array would only be allowed in industrial park, business one, business two, business three, and residential one districts, and require a special-use permit from the planning board.
A new solar bylaw became a high priority for the Board of Selectmen and the Planning Board after a controversial proposal to build a 1.5 megawatt solar array on an East Road property, listed as a residential zone. The application was ultimately approved by the zoning board, resulting in a suit against the town by abutting property owners.
"That was a nightmare," said Planning Board Chairwoman Barbara Ziemba.
The new bylaws also set forth a number of design standards, including 100-foot setbacks from property lines.
The warrant also included a proposal -- approved by voters -- to allow the installation of new electrical gear at the Mauser Block, located on Park Street. The voters also approved a number of easements for the state’s roundabout project at the intersection of Route 8 and Friend Street, as well as an easement for the construction of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail extension.
To reach Adam Shanks:
or (413) 663-3741, ext. 225.
On Twitter: @EagleAdamShanks