Site preparation begins at 100 Bridge St. in advance of CDC housing project construction
Great Barrington — For the first time in perhaps five years, there is actual physical work going on at the controversial 100 Bridge Street site.
On the morning of Thursday, Aug. 8, a crew from D.R. Billings of Lanesborough arrived with heavy equipment to knock down grass and other vegetation on the 8-acre property that had, in some cases, grown to 6 feet tall.
The 100 Bridge Street project developer, the Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire, will build 45 affordable housing units, known as the Bentley Apartments, that will be sited on 2 acres at the southern end of the property on the banks of the Housatonic River and next to the town sewage treatment plant.
Original plans had called for a mix of other uses on the property, including a retail anchor. But CDC executive director Tim Geller has said he is in “advanced talks” with a company about building an 80-unit senior housing complex on the northern end of the property with both independent and assisted living.
In an interview, Geller said he expects environmental remediation to begin late this month and construction on the apartments to commence in late October. He emphasized that the mowing had nothing to do with the remediation beyond the fact that the contractors expected by the end of the month needed to be able to do their jobs.
“We basically just need to get it mowed down so the people who are working on it can actually see it,” Geller said.
Still on the property are the remnants of the smokestack once used by the log home company that occupied the site until about 25 years ago. Geller said he had an informal agreement with town historical officials to preserve it.
“We’re going to save that base and turn it into some sort of monument or sculture,” Geller explained.
Last month, the now-$17.5 million project received final approvals from the selectboard for work in a floodplain and the town’s water protection overlay district. In April, the zoning board of appeals reversed course and ruled that changes proposed for the project were not substantial enough to revisit the approvals process.
CDC’s latest plan, which was accepted, was to remove the toxic soil and pile it up on three separate berms on the property. The contaminated soil will be covered with a hard protective layer that includes Geofabric. Clean soil will then be added over the top and vegetation planted.
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 45 affordable housing units. Eventually, the then-$40 million project was expected to add a mix of market-rate residential units and retail space.
The project also received the endorsement of the selectboard. The comprehensive permit was issued under Chapter 40b, a state law that streamlines the process and waives some of the requirements for the construction of affordable housing.
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.
The CDC purchased the property in 2007 and the charred factory ruins were demolished and removed some four years later. The property had been used for industrial purposes even before New England Log Homes started its operations there.
For at least a decade, the CDC has tried to redevelop the lot, designated by the state as a brownfield, soon after obtaining ownership of the site that sits in a residential section of Great Barrington near downtown and is bordered by the Housatonic River on one side, the town’s sewer plant on another, and homes on the other two.
In 2014, CDC began to remediate the site using a process known as bioremediation, but the state Department of Environmental Protection put a stop-work order on the operation after neighbors complained about the odor during a summer of heavy rains. Eventually the department shut down the process altogether, leaving CDC to come up with another strategy to deal with the PCPs and dioxins left by New England Log Homes.
Geller has said the budget for the clean-up is approximately $1.4 million, with most of it spent on heavy equipment and excavation. Disposal of the contaminated soil off-site, he has said, “would be prohibitively expensive,” so the DEP approved a capping strategy.