East side residents in Great Barrington air concerns about property, closed bridge

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GREAT BARRINGTON — One said they'd like to see a single lane of a closed bridge opened to ease traffic hassles on the east side of town.

Another wants to see a home that for years has had junk cars and other detritus in the yard restored to its historic glory.

Residents were invited Monday to weigh in on two issues affecting neighborhoods on the east side of downtown — the shutdown last December of the Cottage Street bridge, and now, the future of a house on Grove Street, which the town took possession of this summer for $33,000 in back taxes.

The session, held at the Claire Teague Senior Center, is the second listening-style meeting in recent weeks designed to open communication lines with residents to get their input about difficult and sometimes sticky issues. The first was for Housatonic residents to tell officials what they would like to see become of the former Housatonic School, which the town long has been struggling to sell or repurpose.

One-lane bridge?

The Cottage Street bridge was shut down last December after inspections by the state Department of Transportation found it to be structurally unstable.

The town initially thought it would do temporary repairs until a replacement could be built — in 2023 — with the help of a $5 million state grant.

But when the cost of an interim span shot up to what could be as much as $750,000, it didn't make sense to spend the extra money — something that also could jeopardize the replacement grant.

Residents said traffic on East Street, which already was busy, has increased significantly since it was closed. Engineers said that one lane could be opened to relieve the pressure, but it will depend on cost, said Select Board Chairman Stephen Bannon.

"Anything is possible," said Andrea Lacasse, a structural engineer with Tighe & Bond, when asked if one lane could be reopened.

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Gordon Leedy, a landscape architect from the same firm, said he is working on "aesthetics" like "planters instead of jersey barriers."

Residents also asked if speed bumps could be considered for East Street, and sidewalks repaired on Gilmore Avenue.

Neighborhood character

For decades. a house on Grove Street was blighted, with overgrown grass and piles of junk, and a sewer break that affected other nearby lines. The building inspector said the three-bedroom house, built in 1910, is structurally sound.

The town has cleaned up the yard and cut the grass, but it still needs a full makeover. Neighbors asked that the town sell in a way that will restrict what a buyer can do with it, and return it to either single-family status, or an affordable duplex.

"I don't want to see this house go or see the land subdivided," said Linda Koons, who has lived in what was her parents' home across the street since 1950. "Kids walk and play in the street. I don't want to see this neighborhood ruined."

If it were turned into two units of workforce housing, "something a teacher can afford," the best way might be to use a sale mechanism that would control what happens there, said board member Bill Cooke, who also is chairman of the town's Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

Residents simply don't want the sale to change the atmosphere of the street. They had trouble enough with the way it was before.

"We've lived with a house that was derelict for many years," said Daniel Seitz. "The town has been slow to act — it has impacted the community. It would be a mistake to maximize units there."

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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