Lee moves nearer to breathing new life into vacant Eagle Mill


LEE — Redevelopment of the vacant Eagle Mill has moved a step closer to reality.

Special town meeting representatives Thursday were near unanimous in approving a Smart Growth Overlay District for the 6.2-acre industrial site and the nine properties fronting the shuttered paper-making factory. The creation of the zoning district would hasten redevelopment by allowing housing and other improvements to the property without the need for permits.

The bylaw doesn't address any specific project, yet the debate Thursday centered around Eagle Mill Redevelopment's estimated $70 million project for the property at the north end of Main Street. Principal developer Jeffrey Cohen has outlined plans for affordable and market-rate housing, commercial/retail space and possibly a hotel.

His plan calls for 80 percent of the residential units to be affordable housing, but a small, vocal group of town representatives wanted a cap on the number of affordable units. The bylaw says only 20 percent of housing units must be affordable.

"I can't vote for something we're not sure how to control," said Dayton DeLorme.

"I want to see the mill redeveloped with 20 to 25 percent affordable, the rest market rate," added Peg Biron.

Town officials noted that the conditions of the overlay district are under the auspices of Chapter 40R, a state regulation that encourages cities and towns to establish new overlay zoning districts to promote housing production and smart growth development of commercial uses.

The majority of the representatives who voted 30-4 to adopt the zoning change cited the growing need for affordable housing in Lee.

"My son won't be able to afford to come back here," said Jeffrey Roosa, the town's police chief. "My officers can't afford to live here."

Town officials emphasized that the overlay district is a tool to help a developer and that the Lee Planning Board would still have to thoroughly review any project in a public forum.

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Cohen said the project is subject to change, especially the housing component.

"We are talking to the state to have more market-rate housing on the site if we can afford it," he told the representatives.

Currently, the commonwealth has more incentives for affordable housing in the form of tax credits that can be leveraged to secure federal tax credits as well.

The eight other articles on the warrant also passed, including a medical marijuana bylaw amendment that would allow dispensaries in three of the municipality's eight zoning districts: rural business; industrial; and office park and light industrial district, better known as the Quarry Hill Business Park on Route 102.

The three districts chosen would, for the most part, keep the dispensaries on the outskirts of town and provide ample opportunity for siting the facilities, according to town planning officials.

The change doesn't address recreational marijuana, a zoning matter likely to be on this year's annual town meeting agenda.

Representatives also agreed to buy a new ambulance at nearly $263,000 — $34,000 below market value.

The price of the vehicle, a demonstration model the manufacturer wants to unload, includes new equipment, with the entire cost being paid with available money from ambulance revenue, according to Ryan Brown, the town's fire chief/ambulance director.

Once retrofitted to meet town specifications, the new ambulance should be in service by May, replacing a 12-year-old backup vehicle that is past its prime, Brown added.

Lee's model year 2014 ambulance, currently the first to respond to an emergency, will become the backup. Since Lee's ambulance service covers Stockbridge and Tyringham, those towns will be billed $34,163 and $7,884, respectively, for their share of buying the ambulance and associated equipment.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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