Alley center of dispute in Great Barrington fire house sale

Saturday September 15, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON -- A long-delayed plan to sell the town’s old fire house on Castle Street has hit another bump in the road. Or in this case, an alley.

A group of Railroad Street merchants is asking the Board of Selectmen to push back the sale of the building and surrounding property to 20 Castle Street LLC if an agreement isn’t first reached to ensure continued access to a back alley they say is critical to getting merchandise and food into their businesses and taking trash and other refuse out.

As it stands, 20 Castle Street’s plans to transform the 113-year-old disused fire house into a vocational training center and cafe would convert the alley that runs between the current parking lot and the old fire house building into an outdoor patio, which would effectively block access to large garbage and delivery trucks.

"The impact of this proposal is huge for Bizen," said Michael Marcus, who owns the busy Japanese restaurant on Railroad Street. "Trash will not be able to be picked up, snow will not be able to be cleared, parking will not be allowed, deliveries, of which I get many every day, will not be permitted.

"I don’t want to be railroaded on my own Railroad Street -- [this] just doesn’t work and it’s not fair."

At their regular meeting earlier this week, the Board of Selectmen indicated support for a solution that addresses the concerns expressed by the Railroad Street stalwarts that include Marcus, Chef’s Shops’ owner Rob Navarino, Mark and Adrian Cohen, who own Crystal Essence, and others.

"It’s obvious that the concerns are legitimate and it’s also obvious that mistakes were made in this process, and all I can say is we’re sorry and we’ll have to figure out a way to correct it," Sean Stanton, the selectboard’s chairman, said at the meeting.

Though the sale has been pending for two years, merchants said they only recently discovered that the site plan would inhibit vehicular access to their rear entrances.

Stanton and the business owners met Wednesday with representatives of 20 Castle Street, which is a partnership between local lawyer Edward McCormick and James Mercer.

Both sides said they thought the meeting was helpful, but no immediate solution to the impasse emerged.

"I think it was fruitful in terms of establishing a good rapport between the buyers and abutters," Navarino told The Eagle on Thursday. "We’re willing to work on the details of it."

Navarino had put forward two schematics of possible workarounds that would allow for 20 Castle Street’s patio and maintain tractor trailer access to his back loading dock, which he said receives frequent deliveries of large pallets of merchandise that can’t be loaded through the front of his store.

Representatives of 20 Castle Street said those designs are unlikely to be implemented because of the associated cost. But they suggested that the town could secure a grant to improve the parking lot adjacent to the alley in question, potentially restoring access.

"We’re all trying to work to make everybody at least half happy," McCormick said. "Everyone left that meeting with a spirit of cooperation among all the parties and we just have to see what happens."

It’s unclear what recourse the town would have if no agreement is reached. The town has signed a purchase and sale agreement with 20 Castle Street that includes the alley, and plans have included the patio all along.

At the board meeting, Stanton suggested he could support delaying the sale until a solution is reached or removing the alley from the purchase agreement altogether. But 20 Castle Street indicated they would fight such a move.

"My advice would be that they should check with their attorney prior to doing that," McCormick said. "We’ve invested an awful lot of money into this and we have a signed contract."

To reach Ned Oliver:,
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