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Great Barrington desperately needs 100 Bridge Street’s affordable housing

By Tuesday, Jul 19, 2016 Letters 8

To the Editor:

As a resident of Great Barrington, I am delighted that the unsightly, unhealthy brownfield site at 100 Bridge Street that we have endured for as long as I can remember is very close to being transformed into something critically needed by our community. I am in full support of the Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire’s (CDC) plan for the first phase of development: affordable housing.

Working for more than 25 years with this community’s housing needs, I am keenly aware that the need for affordable housing is critical. Both public and private landlords experience a less than 2 percent vacancy rate. Waitlists for public housing can be a 2-6 year wait. Families with children leave the area because they cannot find housing (lower school census at BHRSD). Elders who do not need a subsidized apartment in senior housing, but rather a safe, energy efficient, accessible and affordable apartment, cannot downsize. New prospective residents with jobs in Great Barrington cannot find a place to live. This is especially true for persons without cars who need to be within walking distance of their jobs. Supporting a car AND housing with the jobs available in Great Barrington is a challenge. So they go elsewhere, leaving merchants on Main Street scrambling for good employees. The eight pages of employment ads in the Shopper’s Guide and the two (or less) pages of rental apartment ads week after week tell you we have a serious problem.

The sooner Great Barrington can generate more affordable housing stock, the more robust will be our social and economic vibrancy.

Sites for housing development are at a premium in South County. When one eliminates the wetlands, ledge, mountainside, and open space, when one looks to infill to create housing for people with limited means of transportation or who choose green and prefer bicycles or walking to work, there are precious few sites left. When a property such as 100 Bridge Street is found, it is critical to keep moving to make housing happen, lest it be lost. Yes, this site comes with an enormous challenge in that it is a brownfield. And over the last 20 years it has been well researched and a viable plan put forward by the CDC with the state environmental agencies’ full support. Brownfields can and are adapted for re-use and make a win-win for the community.

Yet some are concerned the affordable housing project is too big. It is my experience that the optimal size for a tax credit project in south county is 45 units. Any experienced developer will agree that going smaller is not economically feasible with the costs of developing and managing a tax credit project. Anything smaller also does not make best use of a precious site. There may never be another 8-acre site in town, so one must be very astute at making the highest and best use of the space relative to the community’s needs and the constrictions the site presents. The CDC has generated a practical vision with a creative use of space mixing commercial/retail, with market rate housing, with housing affordable to families of differing incomes.

The three buildings that comprise the affordable housing are placed at the back of the site in a lovely location with views to the river on one side and views to the mountainside on the other side. It has been my experience managing a project with proximity to a waste water treatment plant that there is negligible to no impact on the residents. In the 10 years since it was completed there has been no complaint from tenants about the location of the project, about lights, noise or odor from the WWT plant. In fact, the opposite – tenants are quite pleased with the natural beauty of the site, the wildlife that abounds, and the quiet placement back from the noise and dirt of a busy roadway.

As I review the plans of 100 Bridge Street I see a beautiful 8-acre property alongside the river in a lovely neighborhood, up against a mountainside, a step or two from town center. I see a creative, yet practical vision for the site. To miss this opportunity to move this plan forward would be a devastating loss. Our community needs this housing for our families and our workers, and needs it now.

Cara Davis

Great Barrington

The writer is the executive director of CONSTRUCT INC.