Great Barrington Selectboard endorses top of Railroad Street redevelopment projectMore Info
Great Barrington — Plans for a new complex of sleek apartments and commercial space at the top of Railroad Street got a green light last night after the Selectboard Monday (October17), in a unanimous vote, issued Framework, formerly Benchmark Properties, its special permit.
Local and New York-based development team Ian Rasch and Sam Nickerson plan 12 market-rate rental units, a garden deck on the roof, and five commercial storefront spaces in their building, 47 Railroad is best known for a string of restaurant tenants beginning with Pearl’s. An old building in the back will be demolished and a new, larger one put up to expand the existing footprint.
Rasch and Nickerson specialize in adaptive reuse of historic buildings, using high-level design and energy efficiency.
At 47 Railroad they also plan to open up the alley wall for retail spaces, creating a more vibrant walk-through that leads to Castle Street. “A new pedestrian corridor,” Rasch said.
Rasch had previously told The Edge he and Nickerson planned to curate the retail aspect at 47 Railroad by only bringing in tenants — and possibly a wine bar or coffee shop — that will enliven the development and complement that part of town.
Project engineer Jim Scalise from Pittsfield-based SK Design Group said the project had not met with resistance from any town boards, and that all other permits were in place.
He noted one impact of such projects on the local economy. “It promotes revitalization,” he said. “Property values go up when you have mixed-use buildings.”
In an email Rasch said the 12 units will bring new residents to downtown. “This will increase the demand for services, support cultural and civic institutions and bring new purchasing power.”
Rasch says he and Nickerson have done their homework. “The trend nationally is that both baby boomers and millennials are migrating back to downtown centers for greater mobility options, access to shopping, restaurants, cultural venues, recreational facilities and healthcare options.”
Apart from developing an historic building in a prime location, Rasch also wrote that he and Nickerson were attracted to the project because the property sits in the Great Barrington Village Center Overlay District. “VCOD criteria include: greater pedestrian activity, historic preservation, mixed-use projects, economic revitalization.”
At the meeting, Framework architect Michael Valenti of SK Design rolled out the renderings. “We’re trying to keep the rhythm and historical value, but in a new and innovative way,” he said.
Valenti said the buildings will keep to the industrial period look with brick and corten steel, which rusts only up to a point over the period of about a year. And those shutters everyone thought were part of the original building design are coming off.
“They’re not useful,” Valenti said. “Just a decoration.”
As it turns out, Rasch researched it. The shutters were put up in 2001.
Rasch says work to the alley and the back of the building will be inconvenient, but will improve conditions there. But some abutters are concerned about access during construction.
“Crystal Essence is worried,” Rasch said. “But it’s all up to the building inspector,” who, Rasch added, may have to cut off access for public safety.
The only sticky point was the 11 parking spaces required by zoning regulations to accommodate the storefronts. Framework got a long-term lease for 12 spaces between Barrington House and Triplex Cinema, but Selectboard Chair Sean Stanton thought displacing those who already use those spaces was a bad idea. Stanton thought the parking requirement should be waived as part of the permit, and in the end, that’s what happened.
Scalise said he was concerned about it, too. “To revitalize downtowns you’re always going to run into that issue,” he said.
But in the end, the town and developers agreed to enter into an agreement for a larger downtown parking solution that may, with a bit of artful legal work, end up on the empty lot across the railroad tracks.
“If the town got involved, we would lease even more [spaces] from you,” Rasch said. “We are incentivized as merchants and owners…if we come up with a financially feasible model…we would be more than happy to figure out how to partner with you guys because we need spaces.”
Chef’s Shop owner Rob Navarino had also suggested a “public/private partnership for new parking.”
Board member Steve Bannon said these parking issues were not a bad thing.
“If we have a parking problem, then we have a healthy downtown,” he said.