Great Barrington Select Board approves Bridge Street housing plan

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GREAT BARRINGTON — A proposal to build affordable housing on a former industrial site has the support of the Select Board — assuming it follows a certain set of conditions.

After a long and sometimes contentious meeting on Monday, the board issued its recommendation to the town's Zoning Board of Appeals about the development at 100 Bridge St.

The board debated the plan for over two hours in a packed meeting room, soliciting input from the project's proponents and opponents alike.

The Southern Berkshire Community Development Corp., which purchased the former New England Log Homes site in 2012, aims to build the affordable housing units on two acres adjacent to the town's wastewater treatment plant to the south of the eight-acre property.

It is part of a multiple-use development that would also include market-rate housing, commercial and retail space and a park. The ZBA has asked for input from the Select Board and the Planning Board on the project.

The Select Board issued a conditional recommendation on the entire project in February; Monday's recommendation dealt specifically with the two-acre parcel that would contain the affordable housing units.

The developer is asking the ZBA for approval under the state's Chapter 40B program, which allows projects with an affordable housing component to move forward with one all-encompassing permit. The discussion began with a presentation by Timothy Geller, executive director of the development company, who showed the board a slideshow of the plans.

"I understand that at the 11th hour, 59th minute there's been some concerns," he said.

Geller's presentation covered remediation of the property, which is contaminated with pentachlorophenol, or PCP.

Many residents bemoaned the end of a failed bioremediation project in the summer of 2015 and asked if it was possible to restart the project.

But Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin shot that idea down, telling the crowd that the Department of Environmental Protection was firmly against the idea.

Geller concurred, adding that he was "ready and willing to go ahead with bioremediation, however DEP has shut the door on it completely."

Therefore, a cap-and-seal solution will be used to contain the polluted soil under fill and asphalt — the most reliable option available, Geller said.

He also showed the board how his team had modified its plans to adapt to the town's concerns over putting affordable housing next to the treatment plant. He took issue with local concerns that the company was segregating the housing by pushing it to the back of the site.

"There will be a high quality of life in these apartments," Geller said. "This is a relatively affluent neighborhood. We're not talking about ghettoizing or hemming them in. We think this will be a spectacular site."

But some townspeople were not convinced.

Maia Conty told the board she believed the treatment plant's proximity to the housing could result in cancers and disease for residents.

Janet Brodeur said she feared a commercial development on the site would change the character of the neighborhood.

And Sharon Gregory argued that the economy made future commercial development on the site uncertain, and that the board should ask the developer to spread the housing out across the site.

Geller and two members of the group's board, Jeffrey Cohen and Richard Stanley, pushed back on the idea of spreading out the housing or changing its character.

Stanley referred to the housing as "workforce housing" and noted that the site was industrial zoned for decades. Cohen said that the housing on the two acres was at "a level that is economically feasible" for the company.

The Select Board recommended the ZBA should not issue a permit until the developers have a remediation plan approved by DEP for the whole site, and that no certificate of occupancy should be issued until the site has been remediated in full.

The board also asked the ZBA to ensure that the parkland proposed for the site be open to the public, that the housing be affordable in perpetuity, and that certain construction restraints be observed.

It also recommended construction only be allowed between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. — and be prohibited on Sundays.

"We can ask for what we want from you," said board Chairman Sean Stanton later in the meeting. "If we don't get it we're not any worse off than just giving you what you want."

The Planning Board will meet Thursday to consider the requested recommendations. The ZBA will meet on July 19 to consider whether or not to award the permit.


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