Sara Clement: CPA will be a big boost for Pittsfield

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PITTSFIELD >> Now is the time for Pittsfield to adopt the Community Preservation Act (CPA).

Next week, the Pittsfield City Council will deliberate on whether or not to place on the November ballot a question regarding the adoption of the Community Preservation Act (CPA) for our city.

We came upon the CPA as an innovative, flexible and locally controlled tool already used in 161 Massachusetts communities. As we learned about the CPA, we found how it could leverage state funding for crucial community projects that create jobs, improve neighborhoods, reduce blight, and preserve the architectural landscape necessary to foster a dynamic 21st century business community.

In the 16 years since it was introduced in Massachusetts, CPA funding has supported over 8,100 projects; preserved 23,471 acres of open space; initiated 1,500 new youth recreation programs; and created or supported roughly 10,000 units of quality housing for communities who have adopted the CPA.

The group Save St. Mary the Morning Star came together last year because of the threatened demolition of St. Mary's church, following Plunkett School's demolition and subsequent unsightly lot. Urban blight invites crime, already an important consideration. Additionally, the continual loss of our historical and architectural treasures threatens to change Pittsfield's cultural fabric and very identity.

In contrast, by improving public spaces and supporting groups that contribute to Pittsfield's development, we'll continue to create a tourist destination, which will generate income for local businesses, restaurants and establishments. Great Barrington, Lenox, Becket, Stockbridge and Williamstown have used CPA funds to help preserve their treasures, like the Mahaiwe, Ventfort Hall, Becket Arts Center and more. Restoration work requires construction, which is an economic boost.

We heard concerned citizens ask what could be done here in Pittsfield to save these structures. In most cases, by the time public interest is generated, it's too late and the buildings have fallen too far into disrepair and cannot be saved. People say, why couldn't we have done something sooner? There has to be something to prevent these losses to our heritage. If only we had the funds

With that in mind, we petitioned the City Council to put this measure to the voters on the ballot this November. The Community Preservation Act seemed broad and flexible enough to respond to our concerns, and to also address other issues. It's Pittsfield's best chance, and in many instances, the only chance, to save historic structures and convert them for modern use

Variety of uses

CPA funds aren't limited to historic preservation, but may also used for community housing, open space development, and outdoor recreation projects. The CPA can be directed for a variety of things that couldn't otherwise be done with the current budget and funds. Whether you're interested in getting a dog park, improving Little League fields and Taconic's tracks, restoring the Springside and William Russell Allen Houses, saving the fire station on Tyler St., making a community center or a new trail — CPA can be used for all of this and more.

Pittsfield is, and has been paying into the fund since the CPA was enacted in the year 2000. Every city and town in Massachusetts has been paying — every time any property is bought and sold — but people just don't realize it. In the past few years alone, had we adopted CPA already, we would've had over a million dollars which could have been used to better Pittsfield. Instead, we are literally giving it away to the other 161 communities that have passed the CPA.

As stated on CPA's website, "Community preservation monies are raised locally through the imposition of a surcharge of not more than 3 percent of the tax levy against real property, and municipalities must adopt CPA by ballot referendum. The CPA statute also creates a statewide Community Preservation Trust Fund, administered by the Department of Revenue, which provides distributions each year to communities that have adopted CPA. These annual disbursements serve as an incentive for communities to pass CPA."

We are asking Pittsfield to adopt the conservative 1 percent, with various exemptions and we've calculated that the average single-family homeowner currently taxed at $176,000 valuation would pay about $14 more in the first year.

Our many supporters include but are not limited to: Friends of St. Mary's, Town Players of Pittsfield, Whitney Center for the Arts, Shakespeare in the Park, Pittsfield Historical Commission, Berkshire Environmental Action Team, Friends of Pontoosuc Lake, Hotel on North, Berkshire Historical Society, Shire City Sanctuary and Springside Park Conservancy, among others.

For those people and organizations interested in joining the campaign, you can write us at preservepittsfield@gmail.com. More information can be found on our Preserve Pittsfield group on Facebook and the preservepittsfield.org website.

We're proud to live in the Berkshires and join many Pittsfield residents who know what untapped assets we have, in our outdoors, in our parks, in our cultural venues, in our historic buildings and neighborhoods. the CPA can contribute to upgrading and improving the quality of life we are all seeking.

Sara Clement wrote this column on behalf of the CPA Committee of Pittsfield.


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