Double standard applies to parking lot proposals

When it was suggested that the Planning Board should advise the Select Board, the Assistant Town Manager was adamant that doing so would be a violation of the law.

I would like to address members of the Great Barrington Select Board:

Please forgive me as I am confused.

Having watched closely the three sessions of the public hearing for the School Street parking lot on CTSB, it appears that there has never been an actual threat to close the Foster’s lot tied to this application.

January 13, opening of the public hearing 

Matt Puntin, engineer for the applicant, asserted that it is a private lot and has always been a private lot. He acknowledged that it has historically been open to the public evenings and weekends, serving the Farmers Market, and that even he has parked there. When pressed by the Select Board, he was unable to commit that it would be open or closed to the public evenings or weekends without getting a definitive answer from his client.

February 24, continuation of the public hearing

Matt Puntin stated, “I do know they are definitely open to the existing Foster’s parking lot to remain as it currently stands… being open to the public evenings after hours and weekends.”

April 13, continuation of the public hearing and closure of the hearing

Dennis Egan, attorney for the applicant, stated, “The applicant… agrees to keep the Foster lot open nights and weekends for public parking… None of the current parking open to the public nights and weekends will be lost.”

The public hearing was closed April 13. When Leigh Davis stated at the April 27 Select Board meeting that she had been informed by the Town Manager, after the public hearing had been closed, that if the special permit were not granted, they would close the Foster’s lot, no member of the Select Board, the Town Manager or Assistant Town Manager expressed the slightest concern that this new, critical information was received from the applicant in violation of the public hearing/special permit process and would clearly be a — perhaps the — major determinant in the deliberation.

At the Planning Board’s April 23 meeting, the board voted unanimously to commit this coming year to re-examining the B-3 district zoning, which had previously been found to make redevelopment of the smaller lots in the district not financially viable for developers. Relaxing open space requirements and lot area per dwelling unit could address this issue.

When it was suggested that the Planning Board should advise the Select Board of this decision, in order to inform its deliberations on the School Street parking lot matter and how the value of the property might be significantly increased, the Assistant Town Manager was adamant that doing so would be a violation of the law as this was new information and the public hearing had been closed.

This strikes me as a significant failure and double standard on the part of the town to allow one potentially critical bit of new information, but not the other. The one builds the applicant’s case while rejecting the other diminishes the Select Board’s presumed ability to make a fair and balanced decision about the special permit and the best long-term interests of the town.

I hope someone will clarify this issue for me and for the public.

The writer is a member of the Great Barrington Planning Board.