Candidates weigh in on future of Berkshire Mall ahead of Lanesborough election
LANESBOROUGH — The hot topics of the police station and Berkshire Mall are key issues heading into next month's annual town election.
On June 18, incumbent Robert Ericson squares off against local businessman Gordon Hubbard for the available three-year term on the Select Board.
The Planning Board race for a five-year term pits Barbara Davis-Hassan against incumbent Ronald Tinkham.
Five candidates on the ballot are running unopposed. Tinkham and Kevin Towle are seeking reelection to the Finance Committee. Towle looks to succeed Rebecca Flood, who isn't seeking another term.
The remaining incumbents lacking opposition are Chris Dodig for moderator, library trustee Rachael Eramo and Robert Reilly for a spot on the Northern Berkshire Vocational Regional School District.
Ericson has been a key figure in the future home of the police department, which is currently housed in an aging, cramped building that is nearly 200 years old.
Four years ago, Ericson — on his own time, free of charge — began to tackle much-needed renovations at the station in an effort to save taxpayers money. With the project taking longer than expected, the police officers union and Police Chief Timothy Sorrell urged a different approach than a one-man job. They support a proposal before annual town meeting voters in June to study three options: hire a contractor to complete the renovations, build anew or buy property with several vacant buildings, one that could be conducive to being police headquarters.
Earlier this year, the town's insurer ordered a halt to Ericson's work, believing it lacked the necessary permits.
While Ericson recently joined his fellow selectmen to support a study, he stands by his project. "I always thought it was a good value program, and I haven't changed my mind," he told The Eagle.
As for the troubled Berkshire Mall, Ericson supports the Baker Hill Road District taking ownership of the commercial property that the municipal entity already legally oversees.
"If we take control, we either get a manager to run the place or lease it to someone who knows what they're doing and has a plan," he said.
Mall owner Mike Kohan has repeatedly missed tax payments to the district and town itself for a shopping complex that has lost several anchor stores and numerous smaller businesses in the nearly three years of Kohan's ownership.
If Ericson wins a third, three-year term, he will push for a bigger space to house the senior center located in the town hall's community room.
He wants Lanesborough to also look at shared equipment with other towns to save money and reduce the tax rate to reflect the town's demographics and household income levels.
A newcomer to Lanesborough, Hubbard believes his experience as a public school educator and leadership role in public safety, all in downstate New York, can be a valuable asset to the town. The owner of the Mt. Greylock Campsite Park was last an administrator/teacher in the Peekskill City School District. He was also president of and an EMT with the ambulance squad in Garrison, N.Y.
If elected, Hubbard will approach his first elected office with an open mind. "I'm willing to learn about the town government, and I will work to move Lanesborough to the next step," he said.
The next step for the police station, Hubbard says, is studying the three options for the public safety building.
"We need to make educated decisions of where we will be [with the police station] five, 10 years from now," he said. "It's sad it took so long to get to this point."
Hubbard wants to see how the town can reuse the Berkshire Mall, saying more people shopping online has made traditional malls obsolete.
"I can't see it coming back as a mall. I could be wrong, but we need to explore options for the mall," he said.
Economically, Hubbard sees tourism as the town's major industry He cited the various popular places in Lanesborough to eat, visit and enjoy the outdoors that should be promoted as "the whole package," especially through social media.
"We need to have some cohesiveness, because we're spread out. We have no common center," he said.
The Berkshire Mall is also an issue for the two Planning Board candidates, who say its future depends on a zoning change. Any zoning amendment would require a two-thirds vote at the annual or a special town meeting.
"We need to make sure the mall has the appropriate zoning that's not just about retail, not just about restaurants," Davis-Hassan said.
Tinkham added, "No matter what goes in there, we'll have to change the zoning, the Planning Board recognizes that."
A longtime town official who helped craft Lanesborough's zoning in the 1960s, Tinkham has been a Planning Board member since 2014 and currently chairs the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Tinkham says he seeks reelection because he and the board have done a good job addressing recreational marijuana, solar farms and the Route 7 business corridor. He says next on the list is finding ways to keep seniors in their homes and regulating Airbnbs.
Hassan decided to challenge Tinkham,wanting to bring her 30-plus years of experience as a realtor to help preserve the town's character while helping it grow economically. She's also an alternate on the town ZBA and chairs the Lanesborough Economic Development Committee.
"Being a member of the board will assist the committee greatly in participating and knowing firsthand what is being proposed and being more involved in the early stages of proposed zoning bylaws, giving them more clarity before they go to a town meeting vote," Hassan said.
Dick Lindsay can be reached at email@example.com and 413-496-6233.
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