Coal, Truck Business Sparks Noise Concerns
A proposal to put a coal stove and truck parts business at 456 Ashland St. drew concerns over noise and traffic from neighbors behind the property.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A Florida couple's plan to open a coal stove and truck-parts business on Ashland Street ran into opposition at Monday's Planning Board meeting.
The board voted to continue the special permit application of Kennard and Janet Sherman for property located at 456 Ashland St. and to schedule a site visit after neighbors complained the operation would disrupt the neighborhood.
Ken Sherman said his business is selling bagged coal and coal stoves and performance parts for light diesel Ford trucks, some of which will be installed on the site. All materials and work would be done inside the building, he said, and the hours would be 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., although the business is not expected to be open regularly that late. A waste-oil burner is going to be installed that would take care of any oil drained from vehicle work.
"Right now it's out of our house on Florida Mountain and it's just starting to grow bigger than what we can do up there," said Ken Sherman. "So we're looking to move to an area where we can start the business up. ...
"Three years ago, we had one truck of coal, now we've got 10 trucks of coal and we haven't advertised yet, we haven't been down here."
The Shermans plan to buy the property from Mark and Natham Braman if the permits are approved. Sherman said he planned on putting new windows in and cleaning up and painting the building, and cleaning up the old container wall and area with the expectation of having it either removed or restored.
But neighbors on nearby Corinth and Davenport street listed concerns about lighting, traffic and noice.
Alice Cande of Corinth Street said her outdoor space was a major consideration of her home and understood the train was a trade off when she moved there.
"I have the train a couple times a day and I have a nice, quiet, rural atmosphere," said Alice Cande of Corinth Street. "I'm now faced with a 7 to 8 o'clock business, which by his own estimate, is too big for his house, so it's going to be busy.
"We're talking about trucks, we're talking about coal, we're talking about floodlights on all night. ... if this is a rural community I should have quiet enjoyment of my house."
Ann Marie Belmonte's gallery sign didn't get any love. (The editor thinks it's creepy cool).
Former Mayor John Barrett III, who also lives on Corinth Street, said he, too, was concerned about noise but also the site improvement and traffic safety because of the proximity of the trestle underpass.
"That's an entrance coming into the city and there didn't seem to be any plan put forth for cleaning up the property," he said. "There's no plan before the board tonight and I'm very concerned about trucks going in and out ... It's a very dangerous corner.
"I know this is zoned for this particular area but at the same time, I'd ask the board to go down there and take a look at the site. ... it's just not right for this business from what I can see."
The board approved two applications submitted by Moresi & Associates for the operation of an early intervention program for children at 26 Union St. and the storage and production of theater supplies at 1470 Massachusetts Ave.
David Moresi said his company was representing the owners in both cases, although he is working toward the purchase of the Union Street property, better known as the Wall-Streeter shoe mill.
The long-vacant first floor is being renovated as space for United Cerebral Palsy programs. UCP Executive Director Christine Singer said the organization was seeking space to work with families with infants and toddlers during the day and for life and employment skills later in the evening with adults.
United Cerebral Palsy is expanding into the former Wall-Streeter Shoe Co. building.
Singer said the classes are small, highly supervised and would not go past 8 p.m. (Planner Donald Keagan abstained from dicussion and vote because he is a member of the UCP board.)
Also approved was a special permit for Galo Lopez, operating as Espana Inc., to open a Spanish restaurant at the former Isabella's at 896 State Road on condition that screening be installed around the trash container in the back. Lopez, who also owns Coyote Flaco in Williamstown, expected to open later in the summer.
Board members gave the OK for Ann Marie Belmonte to sell handmade items such as soap, jewelry and "coffin furniture" at 28 Eagle St. but a couple balked at her Warped Gallery's bizarre sign.
"I think it looks kind of ghoulish," said Vice Chairman Paul Hopkins, which made Belmonte laugh. She said she wasn't opposed to just putting Warped Gallery on the outside; the windows were large enough to let passers-by know what was inside.
Chairman Michael Leary, too, said he preferred something "a little plainer," but Planner Brian Miksic said, "I would not like you to get very plain with your signage; this is going to reflect what's inside your store ... but if you could find something that can balance [the taste of the board]?"
"Let me rephrase," said Leary. "More plain."
In other business:
• An application of Dana Ritcher to open an automotive garage at 537 Ashland St. was denied without prejudice. The matter had been continued from last month pending Ritcher's written withdrawal. "Everyone here knows it is not going to go forward at the applicant's request; we just don't have the letter," said Meranti, but the letter had yet to arrive.
• A request from Yaling Wang of the Sushi House at 37 Main St. to put tables on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant was continued because Wang was not present.
• An application of BVS 5401 Investors LLC for property located at 1519-1525 South Church St./Curran Memorial Highway (the Super Walmart) to move a subdivision line was approved. The area has no frontage and is not a building lot.
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Councilor Asks For Solicitor's Opinion on Planning Board Authority
Councilor Marie Harpin questioned why relocating and new downtown businesses weren't going before the Planning Board. Councilor Michael Bloom, second from left, worried about micromanaging businesses and Coucilor David Lamarre, next to him, said the Planning Board should be concerned with standards, not matters of taste.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday referred questions about the purview of the Planning Board to the city solicitor.
The request was prompted by Councilor Marie Harpin, who expressed concern that downtown businesses were not being properly vetted by the Planning Board.
"The Planning Board doesn't just fall under the city ordinance; it has to comply with that state law," she said, referring to Chapter 41, Section 81 of the General Laws. "By not coming through the Planning Board, even if it's an existing business, it still has to through for the signage and parking and all those other issues."
Harpin pointed to the recent musical chairs on Main Street in which Shear Madness, I Got Goodies and Shima relocated to larger quarters, and to the reopening of a restaurant on Marshall Street as the barbecue joint RUB.
"I attend every Planning Board meeting and I haven't seen any of those people," she said.
(RUB, I've Got Goodies and Shima submitted letters to the Planning Board notifying the board of changes and two were approved for new signage; Shima kept its original sign.)
Mayor Richard Alcombright said the none of the businesses needed site plan review because they were a pre-existing conforming use.
"When you have an existing business that's basically moving two doors down to expand their business, they don't have to go before the Planning Board," he said. "I don't think we're outside the ordinance and I don't think we're breaking any laws here."
Councilor Michael Bloom, also a local business owner, said the board would not be out of the loop because any business would have to contact the building inspector, who would tell them the planning process.
While Harpin worried about broken rules, Bloom was concerned that the rules would be too tight.
"If we're going to micromanage, it's anti-business," he said. "If you want to have cookie-cutter signs that are all black and gold throughout the entire city, all one exact look, that's your opinion ... I think diversity will attract more people to the city."
Harpin, however, thought the proliferation of colorful nonstandard signs, like those at an Eagle Street pizza parlor, wasn't putting the city in the best light.
"So we become the city of the rainbow," she said. "We have to abide by the rules we set up, otherwise why have them?"
Councilor Lisa Blackmer said she had had a long conversation with former Administrative Officer Jay Green shortly before his departure about site plan review and how the city's practices compared to those of other municipalities.
Blackmer said she was of the opinion that "we're actually lucky that someone didn't have the financial wherewithall to sue us in some cases because of some of the things we denied or hoops we made people jump through."
Harpin said planners had expressed their concerns to her.
As part of the agenda, Robert Cardimino spoke against the biomass plant being proposed across the border in Vermont, citing concerns over air and water pollution, logging and the effect of heavy traffic that will come with it. Alcombright agreed, noting up to 100 trucks a day are expected to arrive at the plant — most of which will come through the city.
The mayor said he has been in contact with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and Williamstown officials and had sent a letter to the BRPC, which has been granted intervenor status, to be included in the consortium.
Cardimino asked the council to adopt a resolution against the plant; Harpin believed former councilor Gailanne Cariddi had started one before taking up her duties at state representative. Alcombright asked the council to keep him apprised of their decision on a resolution or letter "so we're working together on this."
In other business:
• A zoning change for 420 Curran Highway first sent to the city solicitor was referred to the Planning Board at the recommendation of the solicitor.
• The council approved the reappointment of Shaun Daugherty to the Airport Commission to a term to expire Feb. 1, 2014.
• An application by Terrance Brown to drive a taxi for Lori Smith was approved.
Edited on March 10, 2011, to clarify an opinion expressed by Councilor Blackmer is her own.
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West End Market Permit Still in Effect
The Planning Board tries a new table configuration.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The owner of the West End Market has until 2012 to find a tenant after the city solicitor determined his special permit had not lapsed.
Barry Garton had expected to move his BrewHaHa cafe to the West Main Street location but found the renovation of the historic building ate up all his investment. Last month, he approached the Planning Board with a request to extend his special permit to give him time to find a leasee and to prevent the commercial building from reverting to residential.
Mick Callahan of Callahan Sign Co. holds a mock-up of new MCLA signs.
The board delayed a vote until it received a legal opinion on whether Garton's continued renovations since 2006 could be categorized as "substantial use" according to zoning ordinances.
The opinion of DeRosa Dohoney LLP was that the construction from 2006 to December 2010 could be considered substantial use. "Mr. Garton may seek a tenant for the property and seek a change in his permit once the tenant has been been secured," the letter states.
The Planning Board took no action since the special permit remains in effect for two years once "substantial use" ceases. Garton said he hoped to find a tenant.
The board approved new signage for Porter Street buildings owned by the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts Foundation. Chairman Michael Leary, who teaches an adjunct class at the college, abstained from participating.
"We put all these buildings in our admission materials as numbered buildings — 92 Porter, 100 Porter, 72 Porter — so having the sign on the building helps with our mission to people finding them," said James Stakenas, vice president of administration and finance. "They are also listing the departments in the buildings."
Mick Callahan of Callahan Sign Co. provided a mock-up of the design. Stakenas said a free-standing sign also would be installed at 132 Corinth St., the administration and finance office building.
In other business, the board:
•Reviewed a letter from Cariddi Auto Agency stating it had temporarily moved operations to Ernie's Auto Sales former location on Curran Highway. The business had suffered a devastating fire last month. Building Inspector William Meranti said all sales and dispatch service was at the new site but the tow trucks will be parked off-site and the impound lot would remain at the original location.
Michael Leary and Paul Hopkins laugh at Leary's 'opposition' to their re-election.
•Approved signage for the new RUB restaurant on Marshall Street in the former Gramercy Bistro location. Alexander "Sandy" Smith, chef-owner of Gramercy, which moved to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art campus, will operate the barbecue joint.
•Approved the application of Matthew Berger to open a musical instruction school with ancillary retail sales business at 40 Eagle St.
•Welcomed new members Joanne DeRose (again) and Brian Miksic. Re-elected Leary as chairman and Paul Hopkins as vice chairman of the board, and named Kyle Hanlon as representative to the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. Leary's mispoken response to the vote, "show myself and Mr. Hopkins as opposed," ended the meeting with laughter.
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New Planner Appointments Going Before Council
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The mayor will be submitting a eight nominations for various boards to the City Council next week, including two for the Planning Board.
Joanne DeRose and Brian Miksic are being recommended to fill the seats of the late Edna Rudnick and David Babcock, who is retiring after more than two decades on the board. Miksic is president of Develop North Adams, a nonprofit organization created to bring merchants, educators and the community together to enhance the city. DeRose is active in Democratic politics and works for National Grid.
They are the first additions the mayor has made to the nine-member board since taking office last year.
But there has been a bit of mixup: DeRose took her seat on Jan. 11. That caused a couple councilors to check the rules and notify the mayor they hadn't signed off on her nomination.
"I have a matrix [for nominations] that didn't indicate I needed the council's approval," said Mayor Richard Alcombright on Monday.
The city charter doesn't say the council has approval over planning appointments but state law does. Once a community reaches a population of 10,000, it must establish a planning board and "such members shall in cities be appointed by the mayor, subject to confirmation by the city council," according to Chapter 41, Section 81A.
DeRose, who will complete Rudnick's unexpired term, voted to continue a permit hearing at her first meeting. That vote won't count but won't change the outcome; DeRose was not required for a quorum and the vote was unanimous with eight other planners in attendance.
"I'll meet the [Feb.] 8th with City Council, that's before the Planning Board meets on the 14th so it will be OK," said the mayor.
The appointments will begin to shape the new mayor's policies toward development and planning. The other planners have served for several or more terms; Wayne Wilkinson was the latest to be appointed, in December 2009, by the former administration but was a veteran of the board who'd been off a few years. Alcombright, who had just been elected, had voted as a city councilor to approve his nomination.
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West End Market's Time Running Out
Joanne DeRose makes the acquaintance of her colleagues on the Planning Board. DeRose was appointed to replace the late Edna Rudnick.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Planning Board is awaiting a legal opinion before it continues a permit for the West End Market at 437 West Main St.
Barry Garton purchased the historic market four years ago from Charles Huberdeau, who operated a secondhand and antiques shop there, with the intention of relocating his coffeehouse Brewhaha from Marshall Street. But time and money has forced him to change his plans.
"The extent of the renovation was such that we just decided to do everything that needed to be done," said Garton. "Basically, the money that I borrowed to move there, to shut down and to buy new equipment, all got eaten up by the renovations."
Garton now wants to lease the space but is running into a two-year permit deadline that could see the commercial site revert to residential.
"I'm a little at a loss to be honest with you," Building Inspector William Meranti told the planners. "I think that in all fairness to Mr. Garton, he has been working on it and it has not been abandoned ... for that period of time."
According to the city ordinance, the variance runs out after a property has been unused or abandoned for two years. There's no spot zoning to grandfather it so it reverts to residential.
Chairman Michael Leary said it was obvious a significant amount of work has gone into the building but the board couldn't extend a permit without having the legal authority to do so, particularly not knowing who might be taking over the property or when it might happen.
He cited the 2006 permit as stating "this permit shall lapse on Oct. 16, 2006, if substantial use has not started at that time."
"It doesn't say substantial construction, it doesn't say substantial work, its says substantial use," said Leary "... the question is how does the city define substantial use?"
If the permit lapsed in 2008, the question is moot. If the permit is good throughout the "work period," even if it's four years, then the two-year deadline begins now. That would give Barton time to find a leasee for the spot.
David Babcock's last meeting was Monday. After serving on the board for more than two decades, Babcock is retiring.
"I see an art gallery or an office of some kind but the storefront would remain the same," he said, because the intent had been to maintain the historic porcelain front with the West End Market name.
Planner Wayne Wilkinson described the opinion as a "test case."
"There's a bunch of commercial buildings in North Adams that are in the exact same situation," he said. "They haven't been used in two years; their obvious only use is a commercial use."
He pointed to the former NAPA store on State Road as one example that's sitting vacant because it can no longer be used for commercial purposes because it's reverted to residential after two years being vacant. "We need to change the ordinance or come up with a new idea," he said.
The board continued the matter until its next meeting pending an opinion from the city solicitor.
The board also welcomed a new member and bid farewell to an old one.
Joanne DeRose attended her first meeting as the mayor's appointment to fill the seat held by the late Edna Rudnick. DeRose is an account executive at National Grid and member of the city Democratic Committee and the North Adams Rotary Club. Rudnick died last fall.
David Babcock ended his term on the board at 22 years, three months after asking the mayor not to reappoint him. Babcock is retiring from BerkshireWorks on Sept. 9. Leary personally thanked him for the years of service he's given the city of North Adams.
Wilkinson and Paul Senecal were selected as the nominating committee for the Feb. 14 election of officers.
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