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Town hall briefs: special town meeting items; pot shop host agreements; relocation of town employees from old firehouse

Sean VanDeusen, who heads the town Department of Public Works, said contractors currently performing work on Town Hall found the chimneys "to be in worse shape than previously thought." Two of the chimneys need to be completely rebuilt.

Great Barrington — By special town meeting standards, it will be quite a production. In Great Barrington, these special meetings are typically called to deal with one or two relatively minor issues, with the great bulk of other items being put up for vote earlier in the year at the annual town meeting in May.

Laura Keefner. Photo courtesy Laura Keefner

But a special town meeting called for Monday, Aug. 6, by petition for one item has mushroomed into something considerably larger. The original petition for the meeting was filed by town resident Laura Keefner to rescind a bylaw passed at the annual town meeting in May that would ban the sale of smaller, single-use plastic water bottles.

Technically, items on a town meeting warrant must be reviewed by the state attorney general’s office before they actually become law. Keefner’s petition (click here to read it) says its purpose is to call upon the selectmen and the voters “to hold a special town meeting for the purpose of voting to repeal this law.”

Michelle Loubert, speaking at a selectboard meeting. Photo: David Scribner

If the attorney general has not approved the plastic water bottle ban bylaw by Monday, Aug. 6, then some residents, including finance committee member Michelle Loubert, have questioned whether in fact a vote to repeal a law that hasn’t taken effect would accomplish anything.

The short answer is that, according to the town’s law firm, approval from the attorney general isn’t necessary to repeal a vote taken at town meeting. Click here to read the entire opinion of town counsel David Doneski, as emailed to town manager Jennifer Tabakin July 12. Here is the “money” quote:

The fact that the plastic water bottle bylaw has not yet been approved by the Attorney General does not alter the additional fact that the bylaw reflects a vote of Town Meeting – a vote which Town Meeting has the authority to modify or undo, by virtue of an amendment to or repeal of the bylaw.

So the repeal of the bottle law will headline the special town meeting. The warrant has not yet been made public but it must be published two weeks in advance of the meeting, which means it would have to be finalized and published by Monday, July 23.

But at its meeting July 16, the selectboard voted not only to place the repeal of the plastic water bottle ban on the warrant for the special town meeting, but others, as well.

In 2017, the Community Preservation Committee voted to award the town $150,000 to replace the roof on Town Hall. At that time, the roof was in urgent need of replacement. Water infiltration during heavy rains and snow melt was leading to rot and moisture issues. Both the roof and the cornices needed complete replacement. The chimneys needed repointing.

Great Barrington Department of Public Works Superintendent Sean VanDeusen. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Town officials said both the structure of the building and its distinctive historic features were in jeopardy. The project was estimated to cost $250,000 and the town applied for $100,000 in state grants, as well.

But Sean VanDeusen, who heads the town Department of Public Works, said contractors currently performing the above work found the chimneys “to be in worse shape than previously thought.” Two of the chimneys need to be completely rebuilt.

So the town is asking for an emergency grant of $20,000 from the CPC. VanDeusen said he is confident that amount “is sufficient to cover this extra expense.” The CPC has called a meeting Wednesday, July 18, at 5:30 p.m. to vote on the grant application. Click here to see the application.

Residents will also vote on whether to appropriate $60,000 to finish the transfer station (aka the recycling center) on Stockbridge Road. Tabakin said the money would not come out of an existing fund but would be borrowed.

An article concerning 11 Roger Road. As reported yesterday in the Edge, the town is in negotiations to buy the property from the company of businessman Gary J. O’Brien. Neighbors are upset at the noise and other nuisances. They have put enormous pressure on the town, which is currently being sued by both O’Brien and neighbor Roger Belanger.

Steve Bannon. Photo: David Scribner

Selectboard Chairman Steve Bannon said Monday that that the town has not yet reached an agreement on the purchase terms but he is confident that it can by next Monday, when the warrant for the special town meeting must be published.

The special town meeting is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 6, at 6 p.m. at Monument Mountain Regional High School.

In other selectboard news, the board approved host agreements with two companies that want to open retail recreational marijuana shops: Highminded and Commonwealth Cultivation. Those two now join Theory Wellness and Calyx Berkshire Dispensary, both of which also have signed host agreements. None yet have licenses from the state, however.

The town is trying to relocate its building and health departments, which are currently renting space in the old firehouse across Castle Street from Town Hall. Plans were drawn up last year to reconfigure Town Hall to accommodate the extra employees and files. But Bannon said it looks like that won’t be necessary. He is hoping to relocate the employees in the next three months and will bring the revised plans soon “to a public meeting.” Click here to read about the controversial history of the Castle Street fire station, which the town sold in 2014 to retired banker Tom Borshoff.

Four organizations made presentations on their applications to the Mass Development Collaborative Workspace Program: Grayhouse Partners; Berkshire Community College; the Studio for Integrated Craft, which occupies the former Housatonic Curtain building; and architect Diego Gutierrez, who represents a client who wants to turn 406 Main St. into a working space, perhaps related to a healing practice.

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