GREAT BARRINGTON -- Plans to develop the former Great Barrington Fairground property will be back before the Selectmen on Tuesday as officials continue to weigh approval of a project they support but that is short on details.
After two hours of explanation, deliberation and frustration on the project, the Selectmen last week continued a public hearing on a special permit application until 6 o’clock Tuesday at Town Hall.
The good news for the fairground developers is the Selectmen seemed generally in favor of what was being proposed.
The not-so-good news is that the board was reluctant to sign off on the project without further study of one key point: Virtually the entire 57-acre parcel is in a 100-year flood plain.
Bart and Janet Ellsbach, of Sheffield, representing a consortium of area residents, are seeking a special permit to change the use of the fairgrounds to a community center and permission to work in a flood plain area.
The developers plan to renovate several buildings on the site, including the cow shed and the grandstand, set up an area for dog-walking, a spot for a community garden, and build a solar array.
All four participating board members seemed amenable to granting the permit. Selectman Sean Stanton, who participates in a weekly farmers market at the fairground in the summer, recused himself.
But on the matter of the flood plain, several board members said they were uncomfortable granting permission conditional on an engineer reviewing the renovation work in the flood plain, as well as the construction of the solar array.
"If someone can overturn our decision, then why are we here, talking about it?" Selectman Steve Bannon said.
The board also offered to provide a letter of support for the project, but the developers said having the special permit in hand is key to raising the funds necessary to begin planning at the level of detail that would satisfy an engineer.
"If we go to investors and say we may have town approval, that doesn’t really help," said Janey Ellsbach. "If we tell them we do have town approval, we’re in a better position."
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