$40 million commercial, residential development slated for Log Homes site
Great Barrington — Twenty years after New England Log Homes, Inc. went belly up on Bridge Street, the polluted eyesore left behind by the company is soon to be an uber-sustainable, ecologically sensitive complex on the restored banks of the Housatonic River. The project, now known as 100 Bridge, will — if all goes according to plan — feature an expanded Berkshire Cooperative Market as an anchor business in what will be an eco-commercial retail, housing and green public space complex.
And in the process, the commercial and retail district of Great Barrington could be expanding eastward down Bridge Street.
Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire (CDC) Executive Director Timothy Geller appeared before last week’s Planning Board meeting with a developer in tow and preliminary renderings in hand for the $35 million to $40 million project. Geller, with Benchmark Development principal Michael Charles, unrolled the working plans for the board to see.
The new Co-Op Market, now 4,400 square feet of retail space, will roughly double its retail space.
Co-Op General Manager Art Ames said the Market had a statement of understanding and purchase and sale agreement in the works with the CDC, but said it is “certainly not a done deal.” It is a “complex project involving many resources and the CDC…there are interesting and fascinating challenges to this project.”
The hope is to break ground summer of 2015 and open summer of 2016, Ames said.
Ames said the Co-Op does $9 million in sales. “Based on size alone,” he added, the national average says we should be doing around $4.5 million. “It tells us that our owners and customers are trying to use our store as a full shop store.” He said the Co-Op’s size has prohibited that, but with an expanded building they could better “serve owners’ needs.”
Ames said a changing world in which gas prices may go up and affect food deliveries requires a larger storage space, which right now is minimal. The Co-Op wants to “stay downtown in the center of a vibrant hub,” he said, and have space for more programs. Right now the Co-Op also has separate offices on Main Street, he said, and it would be better “for the culture” to have all employees under the same roof. Ames hopes this move to the new site will be “the last move, home for many decades.”
The 8-acre site will also feature 30 market rate “luxury” condos with river views, ADA (American Disabilities Act) friendly units, and mixed-income housing, which — once built — will possibly be managed by Construct, Inc., Geller said. Each mixed-income housing unit will contain about 900 square feet with either one, two or three bedrooms. There will be 284 parking spaces total in the complex, including parallel parking spaces on Bentley Avenue and Bridge Street.
The affordable housing aspect of the project will be partially funded by state and federal “Low Income Housing” tax credits, Geller said, and the CDC, he added, has also applied for Community Preservation Act funds to partially fund the project for both affordable housing and open space/recreation.
Geller said in addition to the Co-op space, the plan calls for about 8,000 square feet of additional retail space on the first floor “for which we are actively looking for locally owned businesses to either purchase or lease.” The same goes for office space on the second floor, he said, where there will be 10,000 square feet, including a couple thousand for the Co-Op. The building will contain approximately 40,000 square feet total.
The preliminary plans were executed with sensitivity to the residential neighborhood that surrounds the site on two sides, and the Housatonic River at its western border. The site is 95 percent floodplain, and the water level 8 or 9 feet down, Geller said.
“It appears we can balance the site,” Charles said of the floodplain issue.
The river is the jewel of the complex, however, and the preliminary plans indicate it will be treated as such. The plans show a restored riverfront, a natural environment along it, and “park-like town green,” Geller said.
Charles said he hopes “to make a connection between the Co-Op and the river.”
“The way the building is positioned is that the Co-Op café spills out between the plaza and the river, and the Co-Op has always wanted to emphasize its connection with the river,” Geller said. “We have always talked about [the Co-Op] programming that space and the town green for community purposes.”
“All of this is still in development,” Charles said at the meeting. “We’re just starting to talk about the look and feel…still working on the details.”
Charles said the buildings will have “New England characteristics,” a “light industrial” aesthetic and a “more downtown-building feel.” Geller said they were shooting for a “contemporary mill look.”
“The idea is to create what would have been there if this had developed as an industrial site that we wanted to reclaim,” Charles said. His company, Benchmark Development, is a Lenox-based firm.
Wide eyed, planning board members stood over the plans. With a public common of almost an acre, board chairman Jonathan Hankin noted the importance of “animating that space.” Geller suggested the possibility of a stage there, and board member Suzie Fowle exclaimed how lovely it would be to have an in-town hockey/skating rink as a community gathering spot.
But Geller doesn’t seem concerned about attracting people. “We’re hoping that Bridge Street will continue to redevelop and draw people down,” he said.
Certainly, the character of Bridge Street is about to transform, and not only because of this project. The retail heart of Great Barrington is expanding eastward, pulling commerce along with it. The world headquarters of Jane Iredale Mineral Cosmetics is in the process of moving into its newly restored digs in the old Bryant School; the old Searles School is now in the hands of a mystery developer, rumored to be a boutique hotel; Christine’s Home Furnishings has taken up the old Foster’s space, and Gypsy Joint and Bridlewood furniture have moved in across the street.
Before the CDC and Benchmark break ground next spring or summer, however, the dioxin and PCP-contaminated soil at the site will continue to undergo a revolutionary bioremediation process in which the native bacteria are boosted to degrade the chemicals.
The process was hindered last summer due to excessive rainfall and the inability to work the soil, creating odor issues that forced a shutdown by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection until the issues were resolved and the air tested for dust, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and chlorine. Preliminary results show concentrations to be lower than would “pose a health risk to the community,” according to the report. Final results are not yet available.
The highest concentrations of ammonia and tetrachlorethylene, however, “were detected in the upwind sampling” next to the Waste Water Treatment Plant, which is under construction as part of an upgrade.
The bioremediation process was created by North Carolina-based Biotech Restorations. Biotech’s Christopher Young says given all the setbacks of last summer, initial sampling shows positive movement. “In the areas that weren’t flooded, we saw an average of 70 percent reduction of dioxins, and significant reductions of pentachlorophenol (PCP),” he said.
The CDC held a neighborhood meeting last week, Geller said, to inform surrounding households of the plans and update them on the air quality tests. Neighbors have been mostly supportive throughout what has been an inconveniently smelly process, but some had dust from Biotech’s product land on their porches during application on a windy day last summer. Others have fretted about unknown health risks of the product itself, and worry that because it is not yet patented, not all the ingredients are known, even to the regulatory agencies that approved it.
Geller said the bioremediation work will continue in the spring when temperatures have warmed; Biotech Restorations will reapply their product to the soil and go through the process again. If by groundbreaking time, any contaminated soil is left, it will be capped, Geller said. “There might be parts not totally cleaned up, but we have flexibility to move dirt around and cap it for zero human exposure.”
“This is a big impact,” Geller said of 100 Bridge. “But the sum of the impact will be extremely positive.” Geller said he is “encouraging a neighborhood association that CDC would be part of.”