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Lenox Public Safety Complex

Lenox needs a public safety headquarters. Now, a new potential site is in play

LENOX — One of the town’s most urgent, high-profile projects needs a new home.

Brushwood Farm, the favored location for the proposed public safety complex to house the police and fire departments, including ambulance services, is unworkable, according to an update from the town’s consultants.

The second-place Sawmill Brook site at the northeast corner of Housatonic Street at the Route 7 and 20 bypass has its own challenges. The 23-acre property is in the hands of the town’s Affordable Housing Trust Committee, since the town purchased the land in 2011 for $600,000 from Community Preservation Committee funds designated for affordable housing.

The capital project, to be financed through borrowing if town meeting voters approve, has been pegged at an estimated $15 million.

Discussion of a new public safety complex reemerged last year.

“We remain in the basement of a 100-plus-year-old building and have outgrown its usefulness,” Police Chief Stephen O’Brien told The Eagle. “We need a new building that conforms to police accreditation standards and provides us with room to maneuver.

“It’s unfortunate that the space in the exact center of town next to the Marriott has become useless to accommodate a much needed part of our public safety plan for this community. We will have to continue to move forward, albeit in a different location.”

The 1909 fire station adjacent to Town Hall also is outmoded and can’t accommodate modern firefighting vehicles unless they are retrofitted.

Voicing her personal opinion, Marybeth Mitts — chair of the Affordable Housing Trust and of the Select Board — suggested that the Trust would support releasing the Sawmill Brook property if the comprehensive permit for Pennrose LLC’s proposed 65-unit mixed-income rental apartment complex at Brushwood Farm wins zoning board approval.

“The Affordable Housing Trust’s goal is to have more affordable rental housing produced for cost-burdened households,” Mitts told The Eagle. Approval of the comprehensive permit would get the town very close to the state’s goal for 10 percent affordability of housing stock in local communities, she added.

Noting that she can’t speak for the entire Trust, Mitts predicted that “if the permit were approved, the Trust would be in favor of releasing the Sawmill property for the public safety building. The town could repay the Community Preservation Committee’s housing ‘sleeve’ and those funds would be a large part of the town’s contribution to Pennrose, a show of financial support for this permit.”

Pennrose, the developer, is seeking $975,000 from the CPC for its potential $32 million investment at Brushwood Farm. “The town is leveraging 97 percent investment with a 3 percent total cash investment,” Mitts said. “That’s a significant return by anyone’s calculation.”

LENOXSAFETY-8.jpg (copy) (copy)

Clearance for modern firetrucks is measured in inches at the Lenox Fire Department. The town is discussing the possibility of building a multimillion-dollar public safety complex housing police, fire and ambulance services. The 1909 fire station adjacent to Town Hall is outmoded and can’t accommodate modern firefighting vehicles unless they are retrofitted.

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At a recent meeting of the town’s Permanent Building Committee, problems at the originally favored 4-acre Brushwood Farm site for the public safety headquarters were detailed by the town’s consultant, James M. Hanifan of Caolo & Bieniek Associates in Chicopee.

The primary obstacles at the centrally located location off Pittsfield Road (Routes 7 & 20) include:

• Wetlands adjoining the highway, requiring a 100-foot setback as a buffer.

• Adjacent development plans, including the proposed Pennrose project and the recently announced acquisition by Jason Smegal of an 8-acre site for a business park.

• Lack of availability for another parcel on the Brushwood Farm land owned by the Hashim family.

• Endangered-species plants protected by MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program.

But it was MassWildlife’s veto and the lack of other buildable, available land that was “the final straw,” Hanifan said.

Brushwood Farm was the top choice listed in the architectural firm’s original 2019 report on locations for the public safety facility.

The runner-up Sawmill Brook land off Housatonic Street has its own challenges, including conservation restrictions involving a vernal pool, wetlands, and a migration pathway for rare salamanders.

Nevertheless, there is more buildable land available, Hanifan noted.

“We’ve come to the realization that there’s no way this [Brushwood site] is feasible for us,” said Fire Chief Chris O’Brien. “So, we have to make the other one [Sawmill Brook] feasible for us as quickly as we can. The Housatonic Street site is our best bet. It makes sense, we just need to move on it.”

Edward Lane, a selectman and chairman of the Permanent Building Committee, voiced agreement that the public safety plan has to move forward as quickly as possible at that town-owned location.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.

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