Great Barrington taking Cook's Garage mill for back taxes

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GREAT BARRINGTON — One of Housatonic's former mill buildings might soon be in town hands because its owner could not keep up with tax payments over the last five years.

The Park Street building known as Cook's Garage — named for the auto shop there since the 1950s — owes the town roughly $160,000 in both taxes and interest for 2016 and the beginning of 2017, according to town Tax Collector Karen Fink. Fink said this does not include costs for attorney and court fees. The town is now in the Land Court process, she added.

"I didn't get enough rentals," said owner Marie Cook, explaining why she was unable to keep up with payments to the town on the 15,000-square-foot property that was in her late husband's family since the 1950s.

Cook said the building, on the east bank of the Housatonic River, used to be full of tenants — mostly artists — renting a total of 17 spaces.

"There was a band upstairs, glass blowers, a graphic artist, lots of painters and the list goes on," she said, adding that she also had a tenant who took over the garage.

It was her main source of income for years, she said, until the last five years, "when it started to twiddle out."

"In the end I was only renting one or two," she said. "Now it's only storage, but the building is empty." One of her previous tenants left a pickup truck inside, she said.

The building, which is valued at $672,000, was where her father-in-law had started the garage, and which her husband, David took over.

The building is part of a larger complex of historic, aging mills that the town has for years hoped their owners would redevelop.

Unless someone comes along to scoop up this building, the town might find itself with another deteriorating property that needs care.

But Cook said while there are structural problems with the roof, there is a treasure inside: an artesian well that pumps 400 gallons per minute of pristine water.

"It's 52 degrees year-round," Cook said.

Cook owns half the well; another resident owns the other half. When asked what would happen to the ownership of the well after the tax taking, Cook said she had no idea.

Right now, she sells pool water from it. Indeed, on Thursday, a pool truck had backed up to the front of the building, attached the hose outside to the truck and filled up.

Cook said the tax-taking is a culmination of financial struggles, and not just hers.

"It was the rent and the heat that kind of got to everybody," she said of her tenants. "Though some got married and moved away."

Reach staff writer Heather Bellow at 413-329-6871.




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