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Planning Board adds 9 conditions for 100 Bridge St. affordable housing plan approval

One of the principal conundrums is what to do with the other 6 acres should the affordable housing be developed before everything else.

Great Barrington — The struggle over plans to put 45 affordable housing units on 2.2 acres of polluted land continued last Thursday (July 14) as the Planning Board determined what recommendations to make to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), which will decide Tuesday, July 26, whether to issue a comprehensive permit to the developer.

Planning Board Members Jeremy Higa, Malcolm Fick, Jonathan Hankin and Chair Brandee Nelson. Photo: Heather Bellow.
Planning Board Members Jeremy Higa, Malcolm Fick, Jonathan Hankin and Chair Brandee Nelson. Photo: Heather Bellow.

Originally the ZBA was to consider a permit for the entire $40 million mixed use development but, because the state told the Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire (CDC) its oversight would involve placing the same profit limitations across the site, the CDC decided to separate out the 45 affordable housing units for financial feasibility and permitting.

It is this split-off that has had everyone worried that the housing units, to be set on two acres at the south end of the 8-acre site, may never be part of a larger development ecosystem and be alone up against the wastewater treatment plant.

The entire site, polluted with dioxins and pentachlorophenol (PCP), is a puzzle for both remediation and development economics. CDC’s executive director Tim Geller said the whole site would have to be remediated at once, easing some concerns that residents of the housing units, who would fall in the $45,000 to $60,000 income level, might be living amid a toxic wasteland should the rest of the site fail to be developed as envisioned.

From Bentley Street, the south end of the 8-acre site where, on 2.2 acres next to the wastewater treatment plant, the CDC plans to build 45 affordable housing units. Photo: Heather Bellow.
From Bentley Street, the south end of the 8-acre site where, on 2.2 acres next to the wastewater treatment plant, the CDC plans to build 45 affordable housing units. Photo: Heather Bellow.

On Monday (July 11), the Selectboard had attached 21 conditions to its recommendation to the ZBA that the project go forward. And the Planning Board, after laboring over this and other issues for more than three hours, attached nine conditions (reproduced at the end of this article) that it agreed upon unanimously, including possibly reorienting the housing for better views, and that a certificate of occupancy not be issued unless the entire site is remediated at once.

The board also agreed to grant three waivers for adjustments to density, setbacks and parking.

Like other boards, this one found itself puzzling over so many what-ifs.

“This plan could change when you get developers on board,” said member Jonathan Hankin. “Having it next to a contaminated site is going to be a non-starter. I’m concerned because it’s a shifting puzzle.”

Geller is himself aware of the maze this project presents. “Every time you move something, something else wants to move,” he said. But, Geller said, “the way to get off the dime on this is with a strategy that is approved. When [circumstances] change, we will adjust the strategy.”

“It’s not like we’re talking to developers who aren’t real developers,” he added, noting they all have experience with brownfields.

The density issue is just one confounding aspect that’s cropped up given different zoning requirements.

Jonathan Hankin and Brandee Nelson listen to CDC Executive Director Tim Geller (standing). Seated are Town Planner Chris Rembold, right, and secretary Kim Shaw. Photo: Heather Bellow.
Jonathan Hankin and Brandee Nelson listen to CDC Executive Director Tim Geller (standing). Seated are Town Planner Chris Rembold, right, and secretary Kim Shaw. Photo: Heather Bellow.

“It’s hard to just look at this as this without the rest,” said member Jeremy Higa, of the struggle to focus only on the 2.2 acres and affordable housing.

Board chair Brandee Nelson agreed. “It’s a leap of faith on our part.”

It’s confusing. Nineteen units are permitted for multi-family housing regulations, 38 units in the B3 multi-use zone.

Resident Gabrielle Senza said she thought regulations for affordable housing prohibit segregating it from market-rate housing in the same project.

Geller pointed out that this project, carved from the larger 8-acre site, is separate for permitting and financial purposes.

“This seems like selling your kids,” Senza said.

Board member Malcolm Fick said he “respectfully disagrees with some of the comments from some of my friends in terms of [matching] the character of the rest of the community.” He said five-story buildings are allowed in this zone, and “this project is actually in compliance. The only non-compliance is density, parking and the side setback.”

He further said “this project has attempted to minimize” how much is built there.

Nearby neighbor Mark Cohen tells Tim Geller he has "underplayed" what he says are the adverse effects of living close to the town's wastewater treatment plant. Photo: Heather Bellow.
Nearby neighbor Mark Cohen tells Tim Geller he has “underplayed” what he says are the adverse effects of living close to the town’s wastewater treatment plant. Photo: Heather Bellow.

Nearby residents Mark and Adrienne Cohen voiced their concerns about the proximity of the housing to the wastewater treatment plant which, they say, is a source of noise and possibly of pollution. Mark Cohen said Geller had “downplayed the effect the treatment plant has had on the neighborhood.” The Cohens both want the town to consider addressing these issues and possibly look into covering the plant.

But since one of the greatest conundrums is what to do with the other 6 acres should the affordable housing be developed before everything else, the discussion headed straight into the murky waters of the contamination issue.

“I think we have to go on the assumption that the rest of the site is never going to be developed,” Hankin said. In that case, he said he’d like to see anything that sits undeveloped remediated then seeded with grass until developed, that way it can at least be used.

“It can’t be an eyesore, and you can’t have a chain link fence around it,” he told Geller.

Town Planner Chris Rembold reminded everyone that the Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) is in charge of this site and, since different sections are to be remediated (capped and monitored) to different use standards, MassDEP may block such an idea.

“There may be areas MassDEP doesn’t want the public to have access to,” Rembold said.

Nelson suggested that, for the ZBA’s permit hearing, Geller “get more clarity” around MassDEP’s rules about this soil and what is possible here.

Geller said, while he would try, he had to put faith in the larger project going as planned.

“If this is the only thing that gets built,” he said of the affordable housing piece, “we’re screwed. We’re a million dollars in the hole.”

PB recomm to ZBA July 2016

 

PB recomm to ZBA July 2016 page 2

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