Pittsfield council votes extend overlay district, allow storage facility
PITTSFIELD -- The City Council has unanimously approved ordinance changes that extend the map of the Downtown Arts Overlay District and that allow enclosed "mini-warehouse" facilities -- as is proposed for the dormant Pittsfield Plaza center off West Housatonic Street.
The Arts Overlay District map was extended from the area of The Common along the east side of First Street to the East Street intersection. City Planner C.J. Hoss told councilors nine properties are included in the section, which now is in the downtown overlay district that is designed to encourage development related to tourism and the arts and preserve historic features of buildings.
The council last year approved language changes in the ordinance that expanded the types of uses, including brewpubs, bars, nightclubs or cocktail lounges, and "manufacturing and distribution of foods and beverages, including baking, cheesemaking, brewing, distilling and winemaking," according to the new wording.
One use that is prohibited in the overlay district is a drive-thru window operation. One currently is proposed at the site of the former Plunkett School at Fenn and First streets, but the developer, Cafua Management Co., has filed paperwork with the city that effectively freezes the current zoning in place for three years.
Cafua, owner of existing Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants in the city, including one in the extended map area on First Street, was rejected by the council in June for a special permit for a drive-thru at the Plunkett site but is appealing that decision to Massachusetts Land Court. The company also indicates it will build a new restaurant without a drive-thru, for which it has necessary permits, including permits to demolish the 104-year-old Plunkett building.
The current Dunkin’ drive-thru operation would not be affected by the mapping change because it is pre-existing.
The owners of Pittsfield Plaza, Alfred Weissman Real Estate of Rye, N.Y., had earlier received positive recommendations from city planners and the Community Development Board for a zoning change allowing enclosed mini-warehouse facilities in commercial zones. The change was required for a proposed facility the owners hope will "jump start" new development in the vacant 13.8-acre center off 434 West Housatonic St.
Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop, who as a member of the Community Development Board helped review the proposal, said the change allows flexibility for development while still requiring a special-permit process to evaluate each project.
He praised the plaza owners, who he said had made significant investments in the center to alleviate flooding and other long-standing problems.
Joseph L. Genzano, representing the owners, said the enclosed warehouse will be on the west side of the plaza, least visible from Route 20 -- which is expected to help convince retailers to move into the remaining space.
With approval of the zoning change, the owners now must apply for a special permit for the warehouse project.
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