Great Barrington puts off affordable housing decision until Aug. 15
GREAT BARRINGTON — A decision on an affordable housing project has been delayed until later this month.
The Great Barrington Zoning Board of Appeals last week put off until Aug. 15 a decision on the 100 Bridge St. project after a long and detailed discussion of issues surrounding remediation, traffic and other topics.
"Our concern is to make this a successful project and in being successful has to match the character of the neighborhood," ZBA member Don Hagberg said.
The Southern Berkshire Community Development Corporation plans to develop the 8-acre parcel in phases. Eventually, the site will be host to affordable housing, upscale townhouses, and a large retail space abutting Bridge Street. A 1.8-acre strip along the river will be turned into parkland.
First, the group is moving forward with affordable housing on the southerly 2.2 acres through a state Chapter 40B program, which will allow the nonprofit to forego an arduous permitting process and regulations for a "one size fits all" approval of that aspect of the project only.
Tim Geller, executive director of the development group, spoke to the board at length, reading a letter he wrote in reply to project opponents who he said are having difficulty discerning fact from fiction and misrepresenting the attitudes of the people who would live in the development.
"It's interesting," Geller said, "that the loudest criticisms of 100 Bridge are actually coming from people of relative affluence."
He also read a letter from Cara Davis, the director of the local housing nonprofit Construct, explaining the need for the housing project. Davis said she was in favor of the project because of the housing opportunity it would provide.
"To miss this opportunity to move this plan forward would be a devastating loss," she wrote.
The ZBA asked Geller a number of questions. Foremost on their minds was the remediation of the entire 8 acre site. 100 Bridge St. was the home to New England Log Homes, a company that polluted the site with PCBs for decades.
When it comes to remediation, Geller said, the state Department of Environmental Protection will be in control. The board expressed some skepticism at this version of events and pressed for town control over the cleanup.
But Geller and fellow development group member Peter Pucilosky said that the decision and authority for dealing with the remediation lies solely with DEP. The plan, Geller said, is to have the site meet "S1 standards," or "20 nanograms of dioxins per kilogram of soil."
For the immediate need on the 2.2 acres, Geller said, the group plans to scrape the acreage and fill with clean soil.
"That's the permanent solution for the 2 acres," Geller said.
Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin read from an email she had received from the DEP on the topic of remediation going forward. The DEP told her that the site will be under a Site Activity and Use Limitation in perpetuity, requiring the current and any future developers or property owners of the site to continue the capping of the site.
A traffic study claiming the development would not add to the traffic stress on Bridge Street was widely derided by the board.
"I have not believed your traffic studies," board member Madonna Meagher said flatly. "An additional few more seconds at the Bridge Street and Main Street light defies logic given that it takes more time than that now. My experience it takes at least 5 minutes to go through the center of town from north to south."
"We need to separate the traffic situation and the particular traffic from the site," Geller said. "The science comes in from how much impact it will have to the situation you're not enjoying very much."
Hagberg asked how the study gauged traffic in the summer months, noting that it was conducted in the spring.
"The town provided traffic studies from June that were from the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission," said Town Planner Chris Rembold. "That's how they judged it, with some additional data for the later months."
The board questioned some choices Geller and his group had made for the site's plan. In particular, the orientation of the housing buildings has been an issue for other boards. The Planning Board had also asked that the orientation be changed.
The group decided to keep the same orientation, however, facing one end toward East Mountain and another toward the Housatonic River and the potential retail shops that will be placed along the riverfront.
The board also weighed in on the housing's proximity to the town's wastewater treatment plant.
Board member Carolyn Ivory asked Geller what he would do about the deciduous trees in front of the plant.
Geller said the group plans to plant pine trees that will eventually block the houses' view of the treatment center. Geller acknowledged that the trees would be put in at the end of construction and that it would take some time for the trees to grow tall enough to block the view. But, he said, the option was the best in the long run.
ZBA Chairman Ron Majdalany ran through the recommendations the ZBA had requested from other boards. Most issues had been addressed earlier in the meeting.
The public was invited to speak at the end of the meeting. The comments were almost universally negative and hostile to the project, with the exception of resident Seth Keyes who encouraged the town to embrace the project.
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