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The future of Stockbridge is Tuesday

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By Sunday, May 19, 2019 Letters 4

To the editor:

The Berkshires have attracted very wealthy people for more than a hundred years. Drawn by its scenic beauty and culture, they have invested in multimillion dollar homes. This is particularly so in Stockbridge, where select boards and planning boards have historically staunchly defended residential neighborhoods against outside developers, making these residential homes better investments than the stock market. As a side benefit, Stockbridge full-time residents have also profited from higher home values and lower taxes. About 90 per cent of the town tax income comes from residential properties. For most of us, our home is our biggest investment, one that we will eventually pass to our children. For Stockbridge, the real economy is its high residential home values and solid residential tax base.

Not everyone in Stockbridge is wealthy. Most of us need jobs with a steady income, and the prospect of lowering taxes even further looks awfully appealing. How to do that without spoiling what we already have is challenging. The consulting firm of Standard and Poor reported that further development of Stockbridge’s tourist and hospitality sector is not advisable. There is evidence in neighboring towns that such overdevelopment may already have occurred. It was recently reported that hotels and B&Bs in Lenox, for example, have been struggling with an off-season occupancy rate of 30 percent. To correct this problem, planners are looking to increase off-season tourist attractions, encouraging expansion of existing ones. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. S&P warned of the susceptibility to economic downturns of local economies that were too dependent on tourism and hospitality. Preservation makes good business sense for our town.

People in small towns like ours are often trusting and easily convinced by outside developers that we will profit from “more jobs” and “lower taxes,” like high-pressure salesmen who convince us to buy more of their wares than we really need. We don’t need more hospitality jobs in the Berkshires; we need more workers. The towns in the Berkshires that have more commercial development than Stockbridge also have higher tax rates and lower home values than Stockbridge. Our future development must make sense on sound economic grounds.

Short-term rentals loom on the horizon as a growing part of the hospitality sector. Because Stockbridge has not yet over-extended its development, we are in a much better position to consider how to implement this 21st century concept than some of our neighboring towns. We must not let such rentals jeopardize the character of our residential neighborhoods or our existing hospitality businesses. Can such rentals lure young and middle aged people to town?

Location is a most important aspect of future development in our town. The Berkshire Mall was pushed through with the short-term goals of jobs and tax reduction. The Mall lured businesses, workers, and patrons away from the main street in Pittsfield. North Street became a ghost town. We must take care to protect and complement our existing business district and not make the same mistake.

The Stockbridge Bowl highlights the interdependence of the environment and our economy in the Berkshires. A first-time cyanobacterial bloom last August forced the closure of the lake. Some individuals have sought to minimize the devastating potential of such blooms. Whether it is out of ignorance or personal agenda, or a combination, is hard to tell. Let it be clear to all that such blooms can devastate a tourist industry. The prevention of such blooms requires scientifically, not politically based management.

The natural beauty of Stockbridge is its greatest asset and its greatest vulnerability. Stockbridge select boards, planning boards, and conservation committees, past and present, deserve credit for steadfastly protecting what is a foundation of the Berkshire tourist industry. Hundreds of thousands of people come every year to Stockbridge and the Berkshires as a result of the arduously achieved preservation of our natural environment. This courageously protected beauty sets the stage for the arts and supports all the tourist venues we have. Preservation is easily misunderstood as obstructionism by people who primarily seek short-term profit from this beauty. Fortunately, those who fail to understand this have thus far not been in charge in Stockbridge.

The future of Stockbridge will be decided in its coming election Tuesday. For the sake of Stockbridge, we must reject the delusional thinking of some who claim Stockbridge only belongs to them. For the sake of the Berkshires, we must make sure that how we proceed in Stockbridge is based upon sound long-term principles and reality-driven consideration of the future for everyone.

Charles Kenny

Stockbridge

The writer is candidate for a one-year place on the planning board.



4 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Jim Balfanz says:

    Voters need to know that Charles Kenny is severely conflicted if he should win tomorrow. He is a direct abutter to a major project in Stockbridge. He was asked by a town resident why he even sought the APPOINTED position on the Planning Board, which he is now seeking to be elected to. His comment “To save my property.”
    Electing Kenny will actually hurt our town’s ability to have a fully functioning Planning Board, that will be open minded, follow the legal requirements, and yet also use good sense when deciding on ALL issues that come before it.

    Charles Kenny is simply not capable of avoiding his conflicts, nor his temper as shown by this excerpt from the Eagle…

    Opponents blast proposed redevelopment of DeSisto School site in Stockbridge
    Posted Wednesday, January 4, 2017 5:40 pm
    Excerpt of the Eagle article –
    Kenny turned aside board Pitney’s pleas to avoid specific discussion of the DeSisto proposal, angrily lecturing him about “a gross error in these cottage amendments and what’s going to happen there. I think you need to listen to me a little more, and then you’ll understand.”
    Martin, the attorney for the developer, objected to the discussion “so exclusively directed” to a project not on the agenda of the Planning Board meeting.
    But Kenny shouted him down, declaring that “this doesn’t have anything to do with the project, this has to do with the general effects of these amendments on misdirecting people and underestimating the heritage and the values of our town. So, I wish to speak and continue.”
    As Pitney attempted to lower the emotional heat, Kenny shouted, “This is not for another day, if you people pass these amendments, you’re opening yourself up for a massive outrage.”
    “I have a hard time separating this bylaw discussion from DeSisto when we’ve said there are only three properties that fall into the Cottage Era estates,” said Planning Board member Ruth Pearce.
    “I would like Mr. Martin to sit down,” Kenny pressed on. “It’s not proper for him to interrupt me; I’ve been recognized to speak.”
    “If you could all just calm down,” Pitney urged as some audience members joined the verbal fracas.
    “These developers are too big, they don’t know our priorities and they will make blunders they don’t perceive, which we’ll have to make up for in the future,” Kenny said.
    Later in the meeting, Kenny accused Shatz of making light of neighbors’ concerns.
    “This is our home, and any levity you attempt to bring to it is going to incite a reciprocal concept that you don’t seriously consider the effects on us,” he said.
    Shatz restated the serious nature of the amendments, adding: “I’m sorry you object to my style in the way I present matters and the way I engage in the discussion. I will not be drawn into any discussion of a project until it is in front of me as a legal matter, and it is not.”
    “I know there’s a lot of tension and anxiety about where this is going,” Pearce said.
    “As we’re addressing each other, I’d really like to see that everyone feels they are representing the best interests of our town,” she told the audience.
    “We may not agree with each other, and there’s a lot of healthy debate here, but personalizing it and making it something like somebody’s doing something bad and everybody else is against them, that’s not how we are. Everybody here loves Stockbridge, or we wouldn’t be here having this conversation.”

    This is only one example of why Stockbridge needs Nancy Socha, Christine Rasmussen, William Vogt and Marie Rafferty on the Planning Board.

    1. Charlie Kenny says:

      Why I am not a conflicted candidate for Stockbridge Planning Board:

      It is important for Planning Board members to know the law and what is legal and what is not.

      The issues that have come before the Stockbridge Planning Board over the last two years were general zoning bylaw changes that affected the entire town. With respect to the Desisto proposal cited above, the presenters argued that these were general changes and not zoning targeted to Desisto because, if they had been directly for DeSisto, they would have been illegal. Such spot zoning is illegal under state law.

      I would have no legal conflict weighing in on such general zoning bylaw changes for the town if I were on the Planning Board. The above assertions that I would are incorrect. I believe Mr. Balfanz is confusing one’s having a different opinion from his with one’s having a conflict.

      Charlie Kenny
      Democratic Candidate for Planning Board – 1 Year

      1. Robert Jones says:

        “Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I’m contradicted.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

  2. Henry Schwerner says:

    Dr. Kenny’s letter presents a thoughtful and well reasoned approach for the Town of Stockbridge. On the other hand the response by Jim Balfanz is another example of his pro massive development approach without considering the effect on the character of our town. Balfanz and his hand picked candidates should be rejected. We all must understand that Balfanz will try to control all of his hand picked candidates. Do the residents of Stockbridge want our Select Board and the Planning Board in the pocket of this racist hot head. I certainly hope not! Please support Charles Kenny M.D., for Planning Board along with the other Stockbridge Democratic Town Committee endorsed candidates for Planning Board. And, please vote for Don Chabon for Select Board. These candidates will keep the Town of Stockbridge open and in good hands.
    Henry Schwerner, M.D.
    Stockbridge

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