Great Barrington — If funding becomes a reality, Great Barrington will likely have a two new recreation trails along the Housatonic River and yet another one near water will receive a substantial upgrade.
Those three projects are among 10 still being considered for funding by the town’s Community Preservation Committee. All of the aforementioned projects have been self-categorized by the applicants as recreational because it is one of the possible criteria for receiving a grant from the committee.
This year, the CPA application requests from the town of Great Barrington and other organizations totaled more than $1 million. Numbers from the state are not yet clear but the committee expects to be able to award about $500,000.
The first, proposed by the Great Barrington Land Conservancy, would essentially connect a short but scenic existing trail, the Housatonic River Walk, with Brookside Road, 1.25 miles to the south. Click here to view the application, which asks for $175,000.
As proposed, there will be two sections of the new trail: one from Bridge Street to Olympian Meadows, a municipal ballfield; and another from the ballfield through the a portion of the former fairgrounds and on to Brookside Road and Bostwick Gardens, a senior housing complex.
The precise route was recommended by trail designer Peter Jensen, based on multiple site visits. The route would mostly follow the town’s sewer easement on the north and south segments of the trail, while the route would vary from the easement alignment in the middle segment in order to take better advantage of the scenic views.
CPC member Karen Smith wanted to know why the proposed route would take the trail through a playing field at Olympian Meadows.
“The trail goes through the football field; it’s cutting it right in half,” Smith said. “I think we need to go around the back.”
Dale Abrams, vice president of the land conservancy’s board of directors, told Smith the trail designer “thought it made the most sense.” Abrams agreed to revisit the issue with the designer.
The trail route passes through a number of sensitive areas, including a floodplain, wetlands and natural heritage areas. The land trust says it has contracted with Foresight Land Services to prepare and file notices of intent with the town Conservation Commission and the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program of the state Department of Environmental Protection, and that it will “will ensure that the trail protects the habitats in the area,” the application states.
The application says the total cost of the project, including a second phase for which no maps were yet available, could run upwards of $700,000. Additional funding is being sought from the Massachusetts Recreational Trails Program and the Fields Ponds Foundation.
The application includes letters of support from abutting property owner Dale Culleton, Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin, John Dewey Academy, the Great Barrington Youth Foundation, the owners of Bostwick Gardens and John Dewey Academy, which is located in the Searles Castle.
Also under consideration is a joint application from the town and Community Health Programs (CHP) for phase one of the restoration of the Old Route 7 Greenway.
The applicants are seeking $25,000 toward a new 2,000-foot recreational trail that will connect CHP with the Jenifer House Commons at 444 Stockbridge Road. Town Planner Chris Rembold, who also doubles as CPA administrator, described the project as “a rare opportunity … to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety along Stockbridge Road” that provides a “walking/biking link between two community service centers [CHP and the Berkshire South Regional Community Center].”
The trail bed is owned by the town and would likely be constructed with asphalt in order to facilitate snow removal in the winter. At this point the application only seeks funds for design, permitting and engineering, so a total cost estimate is not yet available.
Town officials emphasize that the Old Route 7 Greenway project complies with a key component the town’s CPA criteria: it’s consistent with the town’s award-winning 2013 master plan’s vision and goals, which include support for “people of many ages, incomes and ethnicities” and “walkable neighborhoods.”
The application includes letters of support from Rembold, CHP, the land conservancy, the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, Berkshire South, state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli (D-Lenox) and Gary Happ and Andrew Mankin, who own the Barrington Brewery and the Jenifer House building. In addition, there are letters from CHP clients who do not drive and are concerned about walking to the facility on busy Stockbridge Road, which at that point has no sidewalks.
Two other related projects include an application from the Great Barrington Conservation Commission for almost $19,000 to remove invasive species from the McAllister Wildlife Refuge near the Green River.
And the town is also applying for $15,000 to complete the accessible trail system in the Lake Mansfield forest. The project would complete a loop — currently only half finished — that finishes a popular quarter-mile trail and makes it accessible to wheelchairs.
Other applications under consideration include:
- The Great Barrington Municipal Affordable Housing Trust seeks $250,000 to provide “down-payment and/or closing cost assistance” and additional Community Development Block Grant funds. In a related application, the trust also seeks $150,000 for land acquisition for future housing.
- The town is also applying for $120,000 toward the rehabilitation of the original brownstone steps at the front entrance of the historic Town Hall. According to DPW Superintendent Sean Van Deusen, the steps are “seriously deteriorating” and will require “extensive work.”
- Clinton Church Restoration is applying for $100,000 toward the restoration and repurposing of the Clinton AME Zion Church on Elm Court.
- Finally, the Housatonic Valley Association is proposing to eradicate invasive species and install canoe access to the Housatonic River along Division Street on property owned by Rising Land, LLC, which has a large solar-power installation on the site.
The state Community Preservation Act is a voluntary state law that allows municipalities to fund projects that support open space preservation, affordable housing, historic preservation and the creation of recreational resources.
In Great Barrington’s case, applications must also be consistent with the town’s master plan. The town adopted the CPA in 2012, both through town meeting and a ballot vote, by a two-thirds majority.
The CPA also provides for a significant annual contribution of state funds to each participating municipality through the Massachusetts Community Preservation Trust Fund.
The state’s contribution varies but, on the local level, the CPA is funded by a three-percent property-tax surcharge on the value of residential and commercial properties above the first $100,000 of assessed value. Great Barrington itself expects to raise about $350,000 locally each year.
According to the Community Preservation Coalition, 172 municipalities in the state — or almost half — have adopted the CPA. Eleven out of 16 cities and towns that voted on it last November passed it. The list of municipalities that approved it last year was a hefty one that included Boston, Holyoke, Pittsfield and Springfield. Of the six towns voting against, two are in western Massachusetts: Palmer and South Hadley.
Rembold has cautioned that slices of the state CPA trust fund, which is funded by real estate transfer fees, could be smaller in the future now that the state’s larger cities have joined. But both Rembold and CPA advocates are confident that the state will replenish the badly needed funds.
The committee will meet on Tuesday, Nov. 28, at 5:30 p.m. at the fire station to recommend which applications should receive funding — and how much. Taxpayers will vote on the CPC’s recommendations at the annual town meeting in May.