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‘Careful decision-making’ needed on Manville Place project

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By Saturday, Jul 7, 2018 News 15

 To the Editor:

If we are not careful, we will allow the haven that is the Berkshires to slip away. As you read, please remember that this soon may be the plan for your idyllic street.

Shaded by old growth trees, Manville Street in Great Barrington is quiet and cozy, with no through traffic. Graced by just a few small capes and modest homes with classic New England architecture, the street is the kind of neighborhood where dwellers delight. Children ride up and down on their bicycles (there is no park nearby) and neighbors with a variety of special health support needs and abilities come and go and get their needed exercise without restriction.  

It is here on this bucolic street that Framework Properties has big plans. According to Ian Rasch of Framework, he and his colleagues purchased and plan to remove three modest single-family homes on the street. And what will they build in their place? They plan to construct three 15-unit apartment buildings, with units ranging from one to three bedrooms.  

What will become of the mature old growth trees in the process? And what will the street look like with huge apartment buildings dwarfing the small capes they neighbor? To boot, the company plans to include a commercial entity on the grounds, like a gym or a café.  

Framework’s plan will bring 150 residents to space on a street where six lived a few months ago, and an at least 200 percent increase in automobile traffic to this small street. The street will be lined with cars trying to make a left turn onto South Main Street — and those trying to make a right will be lined up right with them. No more children bike riding. No more leisurely strolling. No more sense of safety for those with special health needs. Only lines of cars and their exhaust fumes.

Now picture this. Mr. Rasch said that he is legally required and only plans to provide 45 parking spaces — one space per living unit. But what of the inevitable multitude of vehicles from the rest of these new residents? What about their guests, the commercial customers, complex employees, and visiting service workers? How is it that all this traffic and all of these parked cars will fit into the end of this little street where six people recently lived and six cars once parked?

Framework Properties calls its venture “Manville Place.” Great Barrington taxpayers take note: suddenly installing this kind of development on such a small street will require infrastructure improvements and investments, upgrades to utilities (such as sewer, water, electrical), more frequent road surface repair — perhaps a traffic light on South Main Street so that the lined-up cars can eventually turn. Existing sidewalks that are in complete disrepair will need attention and new sidewalks will need to be installed where now there aren’t any to allow for pedestrian traffic on the street. 

We support the growth of our community. But we also must ask one another how we grow while still caring for the needs of our current neighbors and the neighborhoods we cherish? The decisions we make together today will affect the Berkshires we share for generations to come. We need careful decision-making about where new housing complexes are placed. 

Taking over Manville Street from its current residents and creating a parking and traffic nightmare is absolutely the wrong way to do this. There are many places in Great Barrington that could support a development of this size. Manville Street is not one of them.

John & Dorothy Fetherolf

Miriam Cohen & Mike Hanagan

Vicky Fleming

Rit & Gail Heady

Ivan & Miral Kruh

Alice Leason

Laura Meister

Katherine Willis

Great Barrington

 The signees are residents of the Manville Street neighborhood.

15 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Pam Ivey says:

    This development is , in a word , outrageous! I don’t know how or why the town fathers would approve such a large development on a dead end street.
    I’m pretty sure if one of our elected officials lived on Manville St this development would NEVER happen.
    Do we need affordable housing in our beautiful town?……Absolutely!……NOT on a quiet, dead end street.

  2. John Grogan says:

    While we’re on the subject of development downtown, what has become of the hotel project at Searles? The building is starting to slip beneath the waves with many windows being smashed out now via vandalism, crumbling mortar, etc. Did the developer run out of $$$? I thought initially that was slated to open for this season, yet not a brick has been touched.

    1. Al says:

      You must be referring to the “Hotel Homeless”

  3. Fleming Rutledge says:

    I am familiar with Manville Street from walks around the neighborhood and am distressed about these plans. Surely there are sites for affordable housing that do not disastrously disrupt a quiet, tree-shaded, dead-end residential street. GB is developing very rapidly and requires sensitive oversight that takes the long view before irreparable mistakes are made.

  4. dennis irvine says:

    This is Gentrification. Loss of existing community neighborhoods to development that serves the upscale housing market. Even if a fractional affordable unit quota is required these sorts of projects are not sustainable nor resilient in the long run.

  5. Carol Diehl says:

    Those of us who have bought homes in Great Barrington did so with a particular lifestyle in mind. Either we grew up here and love the way of living, or we came from a city and want a life that’s about nature and community. The residents of Manville Street invested in our town with certain values in mind that deserve respect. Yes, we need affordable housing. But apartment blocks–like the “projects”–at the price of our country lifestyle are not a way to go about it. Affordable housing could be spread out through the community in a more natural, neighborly way if the Town were to invest in helping residents improve their homes and add affordable income-producing units. Our way of life here is our most valuable asset. Let’s not screw it up.

    1. Ivan Kruh says:

      Your points are very well taken Carol. But let’s be careful not to conflate issues. This proposed development, with units beginning at $1800 a month, is not about affordable housing.

      1. bob gray says:

        yes, ivan…affordable to whom?

  6. Michael Wise says:

    Some context, FWIW: the site at the end of Manville street is bounded on the west by the Housatonic railroad tracks, on the north by the Construct group house and a professional building (converted from a house) on Mahaiwe St., on the east by single family homes on Manville St., and on the south by a corner of Ward’s nursery (not sure from the Google Earth view whether this actually touches the edge of the site) and the largest apartment complex in town, whose entrance is on Silver Street. At the corner where Manville St. meets South Main St., about 350 feet away, is a three (or is it four?) story apartment building; this building and the apartment complex on Silver St. have been there for decades. Under the town’s zoning bylaw, this is the MXD zone, where office, retail, mixed use and multi-unit housing, as well as single-family homes, are permitted as of right (although multi-family dwellings with more than 8 units require a special permit from the Selectboard).

    1. Ivan Kruh says:

      There is nothing inaccurate in what you have said. Of course, legal does not mean practical nor does it mean wise. Though maybe your point is that we should blame less the folks at Framework and blame more the Town of Great Barrington. As the moderator of the May 1, 2017 town meeting that rezoned this area as MXD, Mr. Wise, I am curious if you can explain why impacted residents were not specifically notified of the town’s consideration of rezoning this area in this way prior to that meeting so that resident input was considered – and why impacted residents were not specifically notified of the change in zoning once the rezoning was approved? Pope Street and Mahaiwe Street each have very few residents. It seems like the residents of Manville Street were thrown to the wolves – even though one of the stated goals of the rezoning was to “maintain the existing character of the area.”

      1. Michael Wise says:

        Before a zoning bylaw can be presented at town meeting, the Planning Board must announce and hold a public hearing about it. I hope someone from the Planning Board can contribute to this discussion a more complete description of the process that led to their proposal for the MDX zone, which the town meeting adopted.

      2. Ed Abrahams says:

        Before zoning bylaws are brought to Town Meeting, the planning board must hold a public hearing, advertised and posted on the Town website. It’s easy to subscribe to town committee and board meeting agenda through the website if you are interested in what decisions are being made, and in following the process.

        All zoning bylaws must pass with a 2/3 vote at town meeting. Town meeting is also advertised and postcards are sent to every voter as a reminder.

        The planning board and the Selectboard don’t have the power to make zoning laws. That power goes to anyone who shows up at town meeting, typically fewer than 1/10 of voters.

        I’m not familiar with this particular project since they haven’t come to any town committee with plans yet. I don’t know if they will need a special permit, but if they do, that process will also, require a public hearing.

  7. Ivan Kruh says:

    Since the archive on the town website doesn’t go back that far, Ed, I am curious if you can send me the agenda from the public hearing in which the rezoning of Manville Street was discussed. If I recall, there were a number of zoning issues receiving a lot of attention at that time, but the change to our neighborhood didn’t seem to get much attention. By which I mean 20 impacted residents of Manville Street were unaware that the change occurred. I am interested to see if these announcements and agendas in any way could have alerted impacted residents to the issue.

  8. Lawrence Davis-Hollander says:

    Sounds like a bad idea whose greatest asset is to enrich the developers

  9. bob gray says:

    right, ivan…affordable to whom? what a joke…

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