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David Scribner
The village of Housatonic at dawn, as seen from the Housatonic School.

A plan for Housatonic Village revitalization

By Tuesday, Aug 20, 2019 Viewpoints 43

This is an open letter to the Great Barrington Select Board, Planning Board, Finance Committee, Community Preservation Committee, Economic Development Committee.

*     *     *

Recently, the Select Board of Great Barrington rejected the proposed renovation of the Housatonic School. Some board members wanted to address the School in a more comprehensive manner, driven by a larger vision. Due to the confluence of forces, we have just that opportunity.

A vision should address the necessary integration of our two village centers (Great Barrington and Housatonic), the beautification and improved use of a revitalized town center, the reuse of town properties, housing needs, and the creation of an economic development template that would attract community members and investors. The renovation of the Housatonic School and Housie Dome would play an important role within that context.

SITUATION: According to the Master Plan, housing is much more affordable in Housatonic than in Great Barrington. However, the amenities needed such as shopping are centralized in Great Barrington with little integration between villages.

The former Housatonic Elementary School commands the core of Housatonic village. Photo: David Scribner

Since the closing of many mills and the relocation of the Housatonic Elementary School in 2005, Housatonic Village has reduced its vitality. Recent developments point towards positive change including:

  • New CPA funding for the Housatonic School
  • Purchase and renovation of the former Country Curtains’ warehouse by a furniture-making artisan and artist which houses additional businesses
  • Partial funding to renovate Ramsdell Library
  • The Town’s “tax taking” and ownership of Cook’s Garage.

FIVE YEAR OUTLINE: It is my hope that Great Barrington’s committees (many are addressed here) would consider this 5-year outline of goals:

VILLAGE CENTER

  1. Reposition Housatonic School as a central Village magnet within a broader context.
  2. Combine the Housie Dome property with the Housatonic School project, developing an RFP to address broader functions, including possible underground parking.
  3. Relocate the adjacent Housie Dome functions and expand its facilities elsewhere, providing a more economical infrastructure (e.g., HVAC and maintenance) than exists today for all ages.
  4. Create a “Housatonic Center” with new functions such as business offices, meeting facilities, maker spaces and childcare center.
  5. Along with other town properties, modernize Ramsdell Library, making it a central resource for all age groups.
  6. Address Village deficiencies in utilities (gas, water, high speed communications) by negotiating broad contracts and creating a more economical and livable Village, starting with its center.

VILLAGE INTEGRATION AND HOUSING

  1. Re-zone Van Deusenville Road (VDV) from an “industrial zone” to being a part of the Housatonic Village Overlay District (HVOD), grandfathering current businesses:
  2. Design VDV as an artery for bicycle, walking and vehicles over this 4-mile stretch linking village centers.
  3. Institute an experimental bus shuttle.
  4. Increase workforce housing, using the Housing Trust Fund to encourage small, single and multifamily residences.
  5. Explore potential uses of the Town-owned Cook’s Garage to encourage development in the adjacent mill complex. Consider broader usage of the water source that was commercially sold from the Cook property.

FINANCE and PLANNING

  1. Use new Town “marijuana revenues” to plan and invest in revitalizing Housatonic, similar to what was done in 2006 in an effort to market Town properties;
  2. Continue to apply CPA funds to favor Housatonic economic development.

The Housatonic Elementary School playground with the former Country Curtains mill in the distance. Photo: David Scribner

CONCLUSION: Housatonic is experiencing positive changes that support revitalization: its housing stock is much more affordable than other parts of GB. Housatonic prides itself with inherent community spirit. It has capacity for additional housing that we need.

In part, Housatonic‘s renaissance is supported by Great Barrington’s Master Plan. ​ By embracing a common vision, the separate arms of town government including the Select Board, Planning Board, ZBA, Community Preservation and Economic Development Committees can work together toward collective improvement.​

If we could mobilize our planning efforts this year, we would encourage people to invest their time and money in Housatonic that we do not now have.


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