Demolition delay order change strengthens Pittsfield Historical Commission's hand


PITTSFIELD — After the City Council and Mayor Linda M. Tyer issued approvals this month, the Historical Commission is now empowered to issue a demolition delay order for up to one year.

Previously, delays of up to six months were possible to allow time to consider reuse plans for historically significant structures facing demolition. And the authority to issue the orders rested with the Community Development Board, after recommendations from the commission.

However, the recent amendments were proposed after commissioners objected to a March vote of the board to reject their delay recommendation for the former St. Joseph Parish convent building off North Street.

On Aug. 9, the council voted to approve the amendments put forth by the commission, and Tyer said Wednesday she had signed off on the changes.

Historical Commission members expressed frustration after a March Community Development Board vote rejecting their recommendation to delay demolishing the convent building.

The board voted 3-2 to reject the recommendation that demolition of the former convent building on the St. Joseph Church campus be delayed.

Board members said they believed the parish already had made considerable efforts over several years to encourage reuse plans for the convent.

The three-story brick convent, built in 1896-97, was proposed for demolition by St. Joseph Parish. Representatives told the commission that several reuse or development efforts over the past 15 years had fallen through, and the vacant brick structure was deteriorating and the cost for maintenance was beyond the parish's resources.

Parish representatives had sought to have the Historical Commission sign off on demolition of the building at 350 North St., which was last used by the Sisters of St. Joseph as a convent in the late 1970s. They ultimately won clearance from the Community Development Board for the demolition, but the structure has not yet been razed.

Commissioners said they had little doubt of the structure's historical significance. They said they were convinced after a tour of the building that it is essentially sound and could be restored or reused.

"We followed the [demolition delay] bylaw," Reilly said in March, referring to the conditions for imposing a delay.

City Planner C.J. Hoss afterward told commissioners that other Massachusetts communities had different requirements in their demolition-delay provisions, some giving full authority to the Historical Commission in deciding on a delay, designating certain buildings in advance as subject to the regulations, and allowing delays of up to 18 months or longer on historically significant properties.

The seven-member commission recently proposed to the council a revision to the nine-year-old ordinance, and it was reviewed by the council's Ordinance and Rules Committee prior to the council vote Aug. 9 to approve the changes.

Since the city's demolition delay ordinance was first adopted in 2007, the commission has approved more than 150 demolitions, while asking for a delay on three — a warehouse owned by Crane & Co., the former Plunkett School, which was razed after the six-month delay expired and no one stepped forward with a reuse plan, and the St. Joseph's Parish convent.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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