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Ground expected to be broken soon on Great Barrington’s latest affordable housing project

The 910 Main Street site is the future home of five apartment buildings on six acres, with a completion date of early 2023.

GREAT BARRINGTON — The Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire will break ground on its latest affordable housing project at 910 Main Street next month, as it weighs the possibility of adding more units to a controversial Bridge Street development that was completed last year.

Executive Director Allison Marchese confirmed that the CDC plans to begin construction in the next few weeks on South Main Street for Windrush Commons, a housing complex with 44 affordable units and four workforce apartments. The units will be for families with incomes of up to approximately $53,000 per year.

An architectural rendering of Windrush Commons. Image courtesy Elton and Hampton Architects

On the other side of town, just across the Housatonic River at 100 Bridge Street, the 45-unit Bentley Apartments were completed last year are now fully occupied. The property had environmental problems that were partially resolved before the apartments were built, but the CDC is considering building more units on the eight-acre site.

“We are considering some options for building more affordable housing at 100 Bridge Street, but I want to chat with neighbors at the start of the year before we go ahead with any plans, of course,” Marchese told The Edge.

Bentley Apartments in Great Barrington, 2020. Photo courtesy CDCSB

Bentley includes 12 one-bedroom units, 22 two-bedroom units, and 11 three-bedroom units. The $17.5 million project also includes a one-acre restored riverfront walk along the Housatonic River. The CDC is the co-sponsor and developer. The managing agent will be the Berkshire Housing Development Corporation.

The site has a long and controversial history. In 2016, the CDC received the go-ahead from the Zoning Board of Appeals to build the 44 affordable housing units. Eventually, the then-$40 million project was expected to add a mix of market-rate residential units and retail space but the proposed anchor, the Berkshire Food Co-op, decided to locate at Powerhouse Square, so the project was scaled down to its current size.

The 100 Bridge Street location is the former site of the New England Log Homes factory, which used chemicals to treat wood for log cabins and homes there. The company closed in 1994 and what was left of the factory burned in a fire in 2001.

Artist rendering of the 100 Bridge Street project’s Bentley Apartments. Image courtesy Craig Okerstrom-Lang

The CDC purchased the polluted property in 2007 and the charred factory ruins were demolished and removed some four years later. It should be noted that the property had been used for industrial purposes even before New England Log Homes started its operations there.

An attempt at bioremediation was shut down by the state Department of Environmental Protection and removal and disposal of the contaminated soils proved prohibitively expensive, so CDC’s ultimate plan, which was accepted by DEP, was to remove the toxic soil and pile it up on three separate berms on the property. The contaminated soil was covered with a hard protective layer that includes Geofabric. Clean soil was then added over the top and vegetation planted.

The beginnings of the remediation and construction of Bentley Apartments for the 100 Bridge Street project. Photo courtesy CDCSB

Activists have questioned the safety of the site and the possibility of dioxins polluting a water source for the town of Sheffield. Others bristled at the decision to build affordable housing in a section of the Bentley lot that abuts the town’s wastewater treatment plant. For its part, the CDC has insisted the site is safe and the soil capping plan was approved by the DEP.

Funding for Windrush Commons was made public in March when the state Department of Housing and Economic Development announced that CDC and project co-sponsor Way Finders, Inc. were awarded approximately $14 million toward the funding of the $19 million project.

The existing structure, formerly known as the Waldrum House, was used by the now-defunct Kolburne School as a residential facility until it closed in 2011. It will be demolished to make way for five apartment buildings on six acres. The CDC says the project is expected to be completed in early 2023.

The future site of Windrush Commons, looking north. Photo courtesy CDCSB

The 910 Main Street site, just south of the Big Y Plaza and across the street from Bostwick Gardens, is located in Great Barrington’s Smart Growth Overlay District, which the zoning bylaw says is designed for this kind of development: “high-density affordable housing within walking distance of shopping, health services, public transportation, and downtown attractions.”

Marchese and others have pointed to an affordable housing crisis that is acutely felt by working people in the region. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the problem worse, in part because higher demand for housing from people moving into the region from cities has driven up the costs of buying and renting.

Click here to see what constitutes “affordable,” according to Chapter 40B, the state’s affordable housing law created in 1969 that allows developers to skirt local zoning bylaws in order to increase the stock of affordable housing in municipalities that haven’t met the 10 percent state goal. Officials say Great Barrington is at or near that goal and so is likely to be a “safe harbor” where it is not vulnerable to a so-called “hostile 40b application.”

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