Great Barrington weighs state program to promote housing growth

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Apartments in the mills? Condos by the VFW?

It could happen as the town of Great Barrington looks to take advantage of a state program that incentivizes housing growth in mixed-use zones.

"Mass General Law 40R allows you to put housing in 'smart growth' locations," Town Planner Chris Rembold told members of the select and planning boards this week. "And it qualifies you for incentive payments."

Representatives from the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission were also present at Monday's meeting to help explain the process.

The law allows towns to overlay special zoning onto mixed-use or commercial areas where developers could then construct high density housing. The overlay zoning adds the high-density zoning, but the prior zoning in the areas also remains in effect. Chapter 40S, which works alongside 40R, provides incentive payments of up to $600,000 to communities that adopt the new zoning.

The program provides an additional $3,000 per housing unit upon building permit. That would raise the town's potential revenue from the program to almost $2.8 million, Rembold said.

Planning Board Chairwoman Brandee Nelson explained the goals of the new zoning in a letter to the Select Board in advance of Monday's meeting, taking care to point out that 20 percent of the housing will need to be affordable, at minimum.

This would give the town more freedom in the future, Nelson said, as joining the program could give the town the ability to reject applications for affordable housing it doesn't care for on the grounds that the program is already being pursued.

She pointed specifically to 40B permitting, which allows developers to get a "one-size-fits-all" permit for affordable housing development if a community lacks 10 percent affordable housing, as affected by the new zoning. That process was used recently by developers of the 100 Bridge St. parcel on the east end of downtown Great Barrington.

"Instead of having no choice but to accept a poorly located and designed 40B development," Nelson said in her letter, "the commonwealth realizes that the town is 'zoning in advance' " for affordable housing.

Nelson said that the zoning would make a subsequent 40B rejection likely to be upheld.

The Planning Board identified five potential "subzones" for the new permitting — and most of the areas are familiar to Great Barrington residents.

The board proposed rezoning the entirety of the mill complex in the center of the village of Housatonic and also suggested rezoning the old Housatonic School to provide more options for the unused building that sits above the family park on the west side of the river.

Farther up the river, the board proposed rezoning the Rising Paper Mill as well to incentivize redevelopment for the historic building.

In downtown Great Barrington, the board suggested one corner lot south of the police station on the west side of Route 7 and a sprawling zone further south that stretches from the VFW building's area across the street to behind Botswick Gardens, an assisted living facility.

"In theory, if you wanted to permit this subzone it could be 85 units by the VFW," Rembold said. "And the area behind Botswick is where Botswick wants to expand anyway."

The Select Board seemed open to the new permitting.

Board member Steve Bannon got assurances that the permitting wouldn't force developers to develop housing and said he was in favor of the proposal.

All in all, the two boards seemed ready to take the next step toward the zoning overlay and accessing the state funds.

"This gets you what you want, where you want it," Rembold said.

What's next ...

The Select Board will meet at 7 p.m. Oct. 11, and the Planning Board will meet at 7 p.m. Oct. 13. Both meetings will be in Town Hall.


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