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In response to criticism, CDC modifies affordable housing plans for GB brownfield

Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire's executive director Tim Geller noted that these changes are “insubstantial” enough not to trigger another public hearing, as state regulations require it for “substantial” changes to the comprehensive permit, which was already granted last fall.

Great Barrington — After finally getting clearance from the state to prepare a brownfield for affordable housing and other future development, the Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire (CDC) has made adjustments to the housing plan after months of controversy.

CDC's executive director Tim Geller explains the modifications to the affordable housing plans. Photo: Heather Bellow
CDC’s executive director Tim Geller explains the modifications to the affordable housing plans. Photo: Heather Bellow

The Community Development Corporation has spent two decades trying to find a way to remediate 100 Bridge St., a highly contaminated 8-acre site in the middle of town. The CDC had started a bioremediation process that was shut down in 2015 by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), which threw off a $40 million mixed-use development plan.

MassDEP said the dioxin- and PCP-laced soil at the site had to be sealed off, or “capped,” in a way that wouldn’t threaten the health of the affordable housing residents and insisted that the entire site be remediated at once.

Many aspects of the plan to build 45 units in three buildings caused community outcry and uneasiness in some town officials over its location up against the sewer plant and its proximity to the remaining acreage, which the CDC had previously planned to remediate in stages.

There were complaints about the positioning of the buildings, the views and, mostly, the 4-story height in a mostly residential area. And some people just plain didn’t want the area developed in the way it had been envisioned by the CDC, with retail and office space and market-rate housing — all of which would add traffic and noise.

Bentley Street in Great Barrington. To the left is the eastern side of the 8-acre brownfield. Photo: Heather Bellow
Bentley Street in Great Barrington. To the left is the eastern side of the 8-acre brownfield. Photo: Heather Bellow

CDC’s executive director Tim Geller told the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) Wednesday (Feb. 8) that he had made modifications in response to the relevant feedback.

“These are now 3-story buildings in response to the buildings fitting into the neighborhood,” Geller said.

Two of the three buildings will be linked by a stair and elevator tower; there are minor changes to the number of units and parking; and the open space has increased by moving the property line 23 feet to the north.

He explained how the site will be remediated to make the land at the housing site and along the Housatonic River bank clean to a strict residential standard. A first foot of that contaminated soil will be scraped into the middle of the site and replaced by clean soil, he said.

“It’s as clean as you can get,” he added.

The remainder of the site will be “closed,” however, until future developers come in and pour foundations and parking lots that will add a final “cap.” Right now, everything but the affordable housing development is up in the air.

“What happens in the future on that area, we don’t know,” Geller added. “But it will be developed. We got closer today to a development agreement on the site.”

Bridge Street resident J.B. Brodeur, saying the affordable housing should go along Bentley Street to be part of the residential neighborhood rather than up against the sewer plant. Photo: Heather Bellow
Bridge Street resident J.B. Brodeur, saying the affordable housing should go along Bentley Street to be part of the residential neighborhood rather than up against the sewer plant. Photo: Heather Bellow

Geller did not elaborate. And he noted that these changes are “insubstantial” enough not to trigger another public hearing, as state regulations require it for “substantial” changes to the comprehensive permit, which was already granted last fall. Town counsel backed the CDC up on this.

But some people are still displeased with the housing’s location on the south end of the property up against the sewer plant.

J.B. Brodeur, a Bridge Street resident, said this location was “inappropriate.”

“Why can’t they be here on Bentley?” she said, pointing to the residential street that abuts the eastern side of the site. She suggested pushing all that contaminated soil up against sewer plant instead and moving the housing to the Bentley Street side.

“It completes a neighborhood,” she added.

Town planner Chris Rembold said it was too late for that. The only thing the ZBA could consider now were these small modifications to the CDC’s plan.

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