Letter to editor: New Berkshire Co-op design is flawed

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By Tuesday, Jan 31 Letters  10 Comments
A rendering of the proposed Berkshire Co-op Market, on Bridge Street, looking west toward Main Street in Great Barrington.

To the Editor:

As a long time member/owner of the Berkshire Co-op (back to Rosseter Street), I am concerned about the design of the new Co-op Store and the associated development. (There is so much demanding our time and attention right now it is hard to remember that this project is very much in need of community input.)

Edge-placeholderslide-etters1-W1The project as it stands has several significant flaws. It will greatly change the look of the entrance to the southern end of downtown Great Barrington. The proposed design is not in character with Great Barrington, and the materials are not likely to be the type of long lasting and/or low environmental impact materials that are ideal.

Most importantly, this looks like a big supermarket store. The design does not incorporate the concept of a community gathering place, one of the essential functions of the Co-op. It is not just a place to buy food, but in fact a vital community center. The developers appear to have made some “nods” to gathering places or outdoor tables, (who wouldn’t want to have a lunch meeting next to a loading dock?) but they don’t really seem to comprehend the role the Co-op plays in the lives of its members, customers, and the town. There is a lot of asphalt in this design.

The Co-op Board of Directors and the General manager Daniel Esko, really need to hear concerns from the community and especially from the Co-op owners, whose voices will be taken seriously. We want and need a new Co-op. I am in favor of development in the Berkshires, but development that makes sense and serves the needs of the community, retains the character of the various towns, and continues to attract the visitors to the Berkshires who are so vital to our economy. It is a developer’s job to create development that meshes well with the character of the area, meets the needs of the community, and is functional. Benchmark needs to go back to the drawing board on this. This project as it stands meets few of those needs.

Here are the previous Edge articles that show the plans and renderings:





Beth Carlson


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10 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Mark Silver says:

    So, that’s one opinion, stated as fact. Here’s another: This design is a huge improvement over what is there now. Change is hard for a lot of us, but it’s also a fact of life and it’s what keeps towns breathing.

    Yes, it will change the look of Bridge Street. It’s about time somebody cleaned up that run down part of town. They are also cleaning up a toxic dry cleaners at no cost to the taxpayers.

    You don’t find the building materials ideal or in keeping with the 150 year old buildings of our downtown. I also prefer the intricate designs of the upper floors of our Main Street buildings. But then, you and I aren’t paying for them. Maybe the developers could hire stone masons and other artists and build the building brick by brick, but that isn’t how it’s done now. Projects are driven by budgets.

    Yes, there will be a lot of parking. There is already a sea of asphalt in that location. This design, by demolishing the the current coop building, will open up the view of the park and the mountain. It will also add landscaping to the parking lot, an improvement over what is there now.

    The outdoor seating at the current location sits in a loading dock and it’s my favorite outdoor place to eat. Why is this worse?

    The Coop is a community gathering place, as you say. And that managed to happen in an old car dealership. It isn’t the current building that makes the Coop so inviting. It’s us.

    With every new development project there is a chorus of people who say, “I don’t mind development as long as you do it my way. With your money.” I promise you, if the developer took every one of your suggestions (which aren’t specific and may have structural or building code issues you haven’t had to account for) and built the new coop exactly as you want, there would still be a chorus of people who didn’t like it. That’s the thing about opinion.

    1. Karen Smith says:

      Ditto sir, you are more polite than I would be…Simple fact: a municipality raises revenues one of two ways. 1. Either raise the rate on the tax base or increase the base. That is it:no lottery tickets, no sugar daddies and no wishful thinking. If you ain’t buyin’, stop your cry in’. I for one am thrilled with the project and support it 100%. Is it exactly the way I would do it? No, but I am so done with people who sit on the sidelines and live on the sidelines that lob grenades at development. Change is inevitable, pain is optional get with the program and allow well designed growth.

    2. Tim Newman says:

      I think Mark and Karen’s have this right. For starters, Beth Carlson’s statement: “It will greatly change the look of the entrance to the southern end of downtown Great Barrington.” Indeed it will. Adding my opinion to her’s, I would say “for the better.” As to her characterization of the design aesthetic resembling a supermarket: none that I have shopped at. To my eye the builing it refers to early 20th century industrial loft architecture vernacular and is—also an opinion—appropriate to the character of downtown Great Barrington. The “sea of asphalt,” is an unfortuante necessity to accommodate that evil of modern life, the automobile. This development and its multiple uses will be a significant benefit to the community. I salute the developers and wish them great success.

      1. Bobby Houston says:

        Tom, the answer to your question is no. They do not own any of the properties in question, at least not yet.

        Tim, Karen and Mark – The fact is, the building is a multi-colored box designed by a NJ firm (a branding firm, not primarily architects) -that has fast-food diners and a Las Vegas speedway prominently featured on their website. Please visit gruskingroup.com. The design pushes condo square footage and parking to the limit at the expense of the CoOp’s outdoor dining.

        All three of you are hoping for ‘well-designed growth’ but that’s not what we’re getting – and the developers have not shown much willingness to hear the CoOp board and CoOp members asking for improvements.

        As for the more personal tone in the comments, Karen: you can hardly accuse Beth of standing on the sidelines simply because she’s not a real estate developer. Plenty of people DID sit on the sidelines as MassDOT raped Main St. Those days are over: citizens of GB have woken up and are paying attention. Its not appropriate to silence comment (‘if you ain’t buyin’ stop your cryin’.) So kudos to Beth, and perhaps lighten up, Ms Smith.

        One more bit of information: the developers were very aggressive with the Historic Commission initially, truly pissing them off and insisting that rules be bent so they can put their block of Phase 2 condos and parking on historically protected property (Searles Castle). The Historic Commission did ‘give’ on the issue, but the developers’ dealings with neighbors thus far have created enemies. Just sayin’.

        Just because GB is desperate for growth in the tax base is no reason to jump on community members who are giving feedback and keeping their eye on the ball.

      2. Shawn G. says:

        The “sea of asphalt” could easily be broken up with some strips of grass and trees (as some parking lots have). This would be pleasing aesthetically as well as provide shade in the summer.

  2. Tom Blauvelt says:

    Have these developers even purchased any of the properties in question?

  3. Joyce M Hawkins says:

    What is with the outside stairway? In the Berkshires? In winter? I will certainly never go up that!

  4. Lucinda Hastings says:

    When I first saw the design I thought of Cambridge, MA particularly development between Harvard and Central Squares where big, boxy, brick building eclipsed the remaining smaller buildings. It’s an urban look to me. It seems a mistake to develop Great Barrington in this direction. We should seek to retain a sense of place.

  5. james m says:

    The building behaves well urbanistcally. It meets the street, correct, and is permeable meaning lots of windows making it interesting to walk by and through. The stairs are unfortunate I’ll agree. As far as stylistically fitting in, all that would need to be done is to add a parapet to the cornice and presto. Just like its neighbors.

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