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Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire (CDC) presented adjustments to its affordable housing plans at 100 Bridge St. last week, telling the Zoning Board of Appeals it had lowered the buildings from 4 to 3 stories, linked two buildings with a stair/elevator tower and added more open space, in addition to a few minor changes. The units are clustered on the south end of the 8-acre parcel. The CDC made the modifications in response to public criticism. Image courtesy Dietz & Company Architects Inc.

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

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By Friday, Feb 10, 2017 News 14

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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14 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Leonard Quart says:

    Understand there are justifiable objections to the site for affordable housing. Still, it’s imperative for some affordable housing to be built in town.

  2. New resident says:

    A 25% reduction in square footage, addition of what is probably a couple hundred thousand dollar elevator and stairwell, and attached two buildings which were previously detached.

    I wonder what is considered “substantial change”?

    Maybe they could propose building one 9-story building and creating more open space…same net effect on change of building plans.

    What is wrong with this town? Deny clean energy on a small piece of farmland, allow building housing on severely polluted property, fight small storage sheds for local airplanes…


    1. Mark Silver says:

      You misunderstand a few facts.
      1. The new plan doesn’t add an elevator, it eliminates one.
      2. The “town” didn’t deny clean energy on farmland. The zoning board, a group of volunteer citizens who are elected by majority vote, declined to accept a lawyer’s opinion that any property owner, on any piece of land, anywhere at all, can put up as much solar as will fit within the building code. That’s what a yes vote would have meant. They were not ruling on one particular project.

      Welcome to town, New Resident. Please take a little time to learn how town government works and please get involved.

      1. New resident says:

        Thanks for the clarification Mark.

        1. Still sounds like the change in plan is “substantial”.
        (As an aside, I like the way it is tucked away from any potential line of sight from the new multimillion. Dollar condo complex the co op is looking to participate in. And the low income housing is on polluted ground tucked in back by the sewage plant – I presume where “those people” belong, but don’t worry our unspecified build out will ensure they stay out if sight).

        2. So thus boars opened the town up to a lawsuit? Brilliant.
        I guess anyone who sells electricity back to the utility instead of using it directly for their home is in violation of zoning restrictions on “light industrial use”. Where was the building inspector for all of those. And maybe I missed it – did the GB Fairgrounds get rezoned to light industrial? How about where that house stood next to Guido’s?

        If I decide to stay, I will get involved…still trying to figure out if this town is what I thought it was.

      2. Ellen Murtag h says:

        Thanks, Mark, for welcoming our new resident and for taking the time to explain zoning and CDC ‘s efforts to create a housing plan that satisfies all concerned .
        Ellen Murtagh

      3. Cathy Fracasse says:

        New Resident, it’s not clear at all what is intended by the use of the term ‘boar’ (perhaps you mean ‘boor’?), but, again, gaining a better understanding of the actual concerns of abutters of the large industrial solar installation might be worth your while. No one is against implementation of clean energy; however, it’s reasonable to engage in discussion that might result in a compromise solution that won’t have such a significant impact on the adjacent school. Name calling (while you remain anonymous) might not be the most neighborly way to join the community.

      4. New resident says:

        *this board

  3. Patrick Fennell says:

    Since there doesn’t look like an anchor business is coming why not move housing to the middle and away from sewage treatment plant?

  4. james m says:

    It is close to being painful to watch those charged with developing and configuring 100 Bridge St., groping for solutions when the answer has been available to those with eyes to see. It is known as the block, lot, and street system. It has been evident since the inaugural condition of Great Barrington and has produced the highly beloved, desirable, and valuable neighborhoods that exist today. It is bewildering why overlaying this system upon the site was not the the first reflex on healing the site, and stitching it together with Bentley and Crosby. Many different building typologies are could be used integrating affordable housing choices while fitting in with the neighborhood removing the mistakes of prior efforts by concentrating people of lesser means and stigmatizing them. Stop experimenting with the poor! Experiment with the wealthy. They can always move. At the very least, it would be wise to listen to J.B. Brodeur, and start with having the buildings front Bentley and Bridge.

  5. Jonathan Hankin says:

    The obvious answer is to move the affordable housing to front on Bridge and lease the perfectly south facing cleared site to solar developers. It would reinforce the streetscape/neighborhood, buffer the housing from the waste water treatment plant, could exist on a brownfield sit in the floodplain, would generate substantial tax revenue for the town as well as funding to support CDC and its efforts to provide affordable housing, would generate no noise or traffic adversely affecting the neighborhood and, perhaps best of all, would give CDC 20 more years to come up with a viable plan for redevelopment of the rest of the site!

  6. Eve Schatz says:

    I agree with Jonathan that town needs are better served by facing the apartments toward existing residential streets (Bridge, Bentley and Crosby). Where new development ideas have failed GB, is that the projects haven’t tried hard enough to match existing neighborhood culture forming a cohesive townscape in looks and function-ability. Some time ago, I proposed that the residences face the existing neighborhoods-same as Jonathan’s proposal so as to preserve and protect the neighborhood feeling. I hope CDC incorporates this feed back, and further, designs the structures to fit in. Thank you CDC for reducing the project’s height from 4 to 3 floors.
    I also support Jonathan’s idea to place a solar field on the uncapped section of the brownfield next to the waste treatment plant and add that generated solar energy provide free or reduced utility fees to residents in the income-qualified low income apartments. This benefit will significantly mitigate the struggle to survive for those living check to check, and, is just the type of practical, integrative and compassionate thinking our town needs to meet 21st century problems.
    Just want to comment that while New Resident could be more transparent about identity, Cathy didn’t disclose that she has strong personal ties to the Steiner School. Let’s be less harsh with one another and accept that while intelligent minds disagree, folks are more forthcoming when they feel safe. I’m taking a risk, here, suggesting we operate peacefully without pointing fingers, and hope I am not attacked for voicing my opinion as I have been in the past in the Edge.

    1. james m says:

      Just for clarification Eve, it was my post suggesting integrating the site with the existing lot, block, and street context. And at the minimum have whatever housing to be built to be of mixed typologies fronting Bridge, and Bentley. Jonathan”s contribution was the PV array.

  7. Sage Radachowsky says:

    I also think the most sensible design is to put the dirty soil back toward the sewage treatment plan instead of poor people’s “affordable housing”, and cap it and use the space for solar power if it makes sense. Thanks for reducing the buildings to 3 stories. That’s a good step. But still it’s so painful to me to think of “affordable housing” right by the sewage plant and surrounded by toxins (from the river and the land). I like them on Bridge Street and the corner with Bentley. I know it’s not my project but that’s where i would put things if we could have our way. Housing is important and hard for many people including myself to afford in the Berkshires. I’m a working carpenter and yet can barely survive in the Berkshires. It’s a “Tale of Two Berkshires”.

  8. GMHeller says:

    By building an ugly apartment complex hard up against a sewage treatment facility, Great Barrington’s hand-wringing Liberals are guaranteeing creation of a local ghetto that in time can only spread beyond its initial boundaries and into the surrounding neighborhoods. It’s called ‘ghetto creep’. For an example of this phenomenum, look only as far as Pittsfield, where growing sections of that formerly prosperous city are plagued by poverty, drugs, violent crime, falling property values, deteriorating housing stock and properties no longer deemed worthwhile by owners to maintain. Pittsfield city officials regularly have little choice but to demolish decrepit housing that once generated tax revenues. And ultimately, remaining city residents are faced with making up for the resulting revenue shortfalls via higher property taxes and cut-backs in city services.
    Intentionally building a ghetto in Great Barrington equates to the town shooting itself in the foot.
    Is this what the residents of “the best small town in America” really want to do?

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