Great Barrington ZBA should reject 100 Bridge Street affordable housing project

To the Editor: 

We saved the Searles School, now it’s time for more citizen action toward preserving the character of Great Barrington. Before the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), which will meet at Town Hall on Monday, August 15, at 7:30 p.m., is a longstanding proposal for affordable housing at 100 Bridge Street, the former log homes site, currently a brownfield tainted with chemicals from years of industrial use. The proposal is for a four-story, 45-unit apartment block on the far edge of the site, in close proximity to a waste treatment plant. Already you might be asking…wha…??? This is a place for people to live? Especially as the Community Development Corporation (CDC), a nonprofit entity, is proposing it for just part of a site that is not yet fully remediated and without a development plan (commercial? residential?) for the remainder.

The ZBA is charged with negotiating with developers on behalf of the community to protect it from ill-conceived (and presumably unhealthy) projects. Let them do so!

This is not a NIMBY community, but one that is eager for more affordable housing—just not something that ghettoizes those with low incomes in sub-standard housing that resembles “the projects.” Instead, we need plans that respect the residents’ needs and rights, and architecture that will enhance, rather than detract from, the attractiveness and livability of Great Barrington.

No doubt there will be some who will say that the CDC has been at this so long, and invested so much, that they deserve to complete it. But is that any reason to build a below-average project in an above-average town? There is idiomatic wisdom in not throwing good money after bad. Given the intelligence of the community and the substantial creative resources available to it, instead of rewarding mediocrity, we should be at the forefront of affordable housing design, engaged in formulating models for other towns to follow.

As with the Main Street renovation, there will be no excuse for complaints if we all don’t get involved. Come to the meeting!

Carol Diehl