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Powerhouse Square developer gets special permit for GB complex; new Co-op groundbreaking to start soon

Developers Michael Charles and Brian Cohan are still due for their site plan review at the planning board and will continue to work with the historical commission. They will also collaborate with the town on a number of conditions attached to the permit. The Powerhouse Square project is expected to break ground by summer.

Great Barrington — Benchmark Development got its special permit Monday (Feb.27) from the Selectboard, pushing the Powerhouse Square developers closer to a groundbreaking that will likely be just several months away.

Developers Michael Charles and Brian Cohan are still due for their site plan review at the planning board and will continue to work with the historical commission. They will also collaborate with the town on a number of conditions attached to the permit. (See text of special conditions below.)

Benchmark Development's Michael Charles hands out documents at Monday's Selectboard meeting. Pictured from left are board chair Sean Stanton, vice chair Steve Bannon and Dan Bailly. Photo: Heather Bellow
Benchmark Development’s Michael Charles hands out documents at Monday’s Selectboard meeting. Pictured from left are board chair Sean Stanton, vice chair Steve Bannon and Dan Bailly. Photo: Heather Bellow

The first phase of the $15 million mixed-use development at the top of Bridge Street will feature a Berkshire Co-op Market expanded to 14,000 square feet in the area next door to its current location. Powerhouse Square will also offer retail and office spaces and 22 modern condominiums. The parking lot will go where the Co-op currently sits.

The second phase will see the construction of a 32-unit condominium complex and parking garage set back closer to the John Dewey Academy property, also known as Searles Castle.

Charles said Benchmark had anticipated a March 2017 groundbreaking, but “the permitting process and so many meetings pushed this back.”

Conditions include work with the town to improve the Memorial Field baseball park with oversight by a town-approved engineer. Benchmark plans a retaining wall between the parking lot and the field that would allow for more places to sit and view games or to simply sit outside.

Benchmark will also be required to consult with the town on the upcoming Bridge Street, Bentley Avenue and Church Street infrastructure improvements made possible by a $2.1 million MassWorks grant. The grant was awarded in 2015 due to the expected growth set off by several large proposed development projects on Bridge Street that include a hotel, another future mixed-use development, and Powerhouse Square. All three will come on the heels of the redevelopment of the old Bryant Elementary School by Iredale Mineral Cosmetics Inc., which installed its world headquarters there in 2014.

The Berkshire Co-op Market will move to a new 14,500-square-foot building at the site of its current parking lot and the former Laramee's Cleaners block. The current Co-op building will be razed for a parking area. The illustration shows the location of the current Co-op building (Site-2 in green to left of 'Searles Castle Property Street' in purple). Phase one of the project is in green and red and will begin in the next few months. Phase two is the construction of a separate condominium building; that is 'Site-3' in purple.
The Berkshire Co-op Market will move to a new 14,500-square-foot building at the site of its current parking lot and the former Laramee’s Cleaners block. The current Co-op building will be razed for a parking area. The illustration shows the location of the current Co-op building (Site-2 in green to left of ‘Searles Castle Property Street’ in purple). Phase one of the project is in green and red and will begin in the next few months. Phase two is the construction of a separate condominium building; that is ‘Site-3’ in purple.

Also, Benchmark must install a sidewalk along the north side of its building.

Meanwhile, the Co-op is getting ready. It just completed a first round of “loan raising” for a $1.3 million goal, said board president Dan Seitz. About $430,000 has been promised so far.

In a letter to members, Co-op general manager Daniel Esko said the board would take a break from loan-raising efforts to focus on the new design.

Seitz says this new expansion is a result of the Co-op’s growth and requests from members and shoppers to carry more and varied products.

The Berkshire Co-op Market squeezes as much as it can into its current location. But the natural foods supermarket needs to grow and thus will expand next door. Photo Heather Bellow
The Berkshire Co-op Market squeezes as much as it can into its current location. But the natural foods supermarket needs to grow and thus will expand next door. Photo Heather Bellow

“We’ll have a better meat and fish department, more produce, and we’ll do more with local farmers; these are things many people asked us to do,” he said.

Seitz and Esko have both noted the importance of the Co-op staying downtown and have said this project is the best way to make that happen.

And Seitz says the 12- to 13-month construction period won’t impact Co-op business, though it may require some creativity with parking.

“It’s an advantageous arrangement,” he added. “We didn’t want to interrupt our service.”

Like so many proposed projects in rural towns seeing big changes and growth, opinions abound about so many things, particularly design, and especially in a historic district. Seitz hopes everyone will look at the big picture.

“There are different perspectives on design, et cetera,” he said. “But don’t lose sight of benefits of the Co-op.”

Special conditions attached to permit:

A building permit shall not be issued for any phase of the development until the Developer executes a License Agreement with the Selectboard in order to enter into and perform work on Memorial Field and to connect into the Town’s storm drain system. At a minimum, the agreement shall require:

  1. a)The review and approval of Memorial Field improvement plans by the Parks Commission and DPW Superintendent prior to demolition or construction activities taking place on Town property. Such approvals need not occur all at once but may be segmented as each component occurs.
  2. b)The Developer to post a bond of $1 million payable to Town in the event the Town would have to repair any damage to Town property and infrastructure (including but not necessarily limited to Bridge Street itself, the sanitary sewer system, the storm drainage system, and Memorial Field); and
  3. c) The Developer shall indemnify and hold the Town harmless from any claims.
  • A building permit shall not be issued for any phase of the development until the Developer posts $7,500 into an escrow account to pay for a consulting engineer of the Town’s choosing who will review and approve developer’s construction plans as they relate to work in or on Town property and infrastructure, and who will provide construction phase coordination and observation for the Town.
  • A building permit shall not be issued for any phase of the development until the Developer receives a driveway access permit from the Selectboard for the Memorial Field work.
  • Developer shall convene weekly project meetings to coordinate design and construction of improvements to Bridge Street and Memorial Field work.
  • Prior to removal of existing equipment at Memorial Field, Developer shall certify its ability to install ball field backstop fencing (temporary or permanent) and dugouts, acceptable to the Parks Commission. Such ability includes any required building permits and the replacement equipment on-hand.
  • A certificate of occupancy for Building 1 shall not be granted until the Developer executes an Operations and Maintenance agreement with the Town in order to provide for the winter maintenance of the Memorial Field access road, retaining wall, and parking area, and periodic maintenance of the stormwater system.

A certificate of occupancy for Building 1 shall not be granted until the Developer installs a public sidewalk along the north side of Building 1.

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