North Adams City Council pumps brakes on city zoning map revamp

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NORTH ADAMS — The City Council put the brakes on a new comprehensive, citywide zoning map amid concerns about the impacts it could have on residents and business owners.

On Tuesday, the council referred the proposal to its Community Development Committee for further review before final changes — spearheaded by city officials working along staff from the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission — are made to the city's decades-old zoning laws.

"I just think it's a little premature. I know a lot of work has been done on this — a lot of good work has been done on this — but it's not very clear," said Councilor Wayne Wilkinson.

Specifically, multiple councilors expressed a desire to see a comprehensive list of property owners who would be directly impacted by a zoning change — and have letters sent to those property owners ahead of the Community Development Committee meeting.

Chris Gruba, a senior planner with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, estimated that more than 100 property owners would see their zoning change. He said it would take about a week to finalize a list of affected property owners to be notified of the potential changes.

"If my property zone was changing, I would want to be informed," said Councilor Benjamin Lamb.

The effort to update the city's zoning laws launched in May when the City Council approved a $5,000 match for a $10,000 District Local Technical Assistance grant from the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.

David Moresi, owner of Moresi and Associates Development Company, sent a letter to the City Council voicing concern about the proposal. The company owns the NORAD Mill on Roberts Drive and, since purchasing it last year, has worked to convert the former industrial building into a multiuse complex with businesses ranging from a winemaker to a record store.

Under the proposed zoning map, the NORAD Mill would be changed from an industrial zone to a local business zone, which Moresi noted would bar activities such as warehousing, research and development, storage of products, publishing, manufacturing and processing, and assembly.

"These are key uses to the redevelopment of the NORAD Mill and the success that it has had in bringing businesses and jobs to North Adams," Moresi wrote.

Under the new zoning proposal, there would be five types of residential zones ranging from low-density residential to high-density residential.

Other districts include affordable housing, local business, general business, service, industrial, airport and urban renewal. The city's downtown would be encompassed by a central business district.

Wilkinson leaned on his decades-long experience as a real estate appraiser in North Adams and intimate knowledge of current North Adams zoning maps, which he acknowledged are dated and "archaic."

But, he said, "I have absolutely no idea what the present changes are."

"This is not a little change, this is a comprehensive change," Wilkinson added, noting that the zoning of his own house will change.

Councilor Jason LaForest echoed Wilkinson's sentiments.

"With changes of this magnitude, there are always nuances that are discovered with the passage of time and as questions come up," LaForest said.

Councilor Marie Harpin said the zoning efforts are "a great project," but the process should not be rushed. "To get more people engaged in the process and get the public to understand what's actually happening would definitely be beneficial," she said.

The new zoning proposal was first unveiled at an Aug. 21 joint public hearing between the City Council and the Planning Board, which voted to recommend its adoption.


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