Planning Board to Look at Ordinance Change
Planners are concerned that once-commercial properties are now useless because of a two-year time limit.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Planning Board will work on a solution to a vexing issue that's left some properties in limbo around the city.
The board next month will begin discussions on changing an ordinance that limits buildings that were grandfathered under zoning to a vacancy of no more than two years before they revert to the current zoning, which is often residential.
"There are several properties in this city that have defaulted on that status and are nonconforming but no longer in continuous use. Therefore they are kind of in a state of limbo," said Chairman Michael Leary on Monday night. "I want to generate a discussion at the next meeting to see if there are options that we can recommend to the City Council to amend ordinances so we can get those properties out of limbo and help the owners of those properties."
The issues came up earlier this year when the board sought an opinion from the city solicitor as to the fate of the West End Market. The building had been under renovation but owner Barry Garton was running into a two-year deadline that would revert the commercial building to residential use. The solicitor found the renovation could be determined a "substantial" enough use to allow the board to extend his special permit.
Planning Board member Wayne Wilkinson said the most blatant example of the problem is the former NAPA auto parts store on State Road.
"Technically, the building is rendered useless," said Wilkinson. "The only use that's allowed there is residential; for someone to spend the amount of money to develop that proerpty for residential ... I don't even know if you could because of the size of the lot.
"Eventually, it will be taken by the city for back taxes and there will be nothing left at that time but to demolish it."
One option the board will look at is removing the section that refers to a nonconforming structure being "abandoned or discontinued."
The ordinance states: (Section 12, Part 2) Abandonment of a nonconforming use: A nonconforming use which has been abandoned or discontinued for a period of more than two (2) years or has been replaced by a conforming use shall lose the protection set forth above in Section 12.1. (Ord. of 8-14-1990, § 1)
Building Inspector William Meranti said an ordinance change could run into state law.
"We're an old city ... we have some of these properties that seem like they're in neighborhoods but they're commercial, storefront-type properties that have absolutely no use," said Building Inspector William Meranti, who added there is no process for reviving the nonconforming use.
Meranti said changes may run into the state's 40A zoning but "there could be avenues we can take."
The meeting was a continuation of last week's regular Planning Board meeting, which was cut short when Planner Kyle Hanlon fell ill and was taken to the hospital. Hanlon was in attendance last night and said he was feeling much better.
In other business, the board approved:
• The move of pet supplies store Bark 'N Cat from Eagle Street to 28 Holden St. Owner Christa Abel said the business is outgrowing the space it currently occupies with Persnickety toys; she expects to open in late September.
• The development of six artists studio/residential lofts in the Blackinton Mill
• The relocation of J Star Gymnastics to 69 Union St., part of an overall redevelopment of the former automobile dealership by Scarafoni & Associates. Two of the buildings on the property are slated for demolition beginning this week.
• Signage for Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts presented by Mick Callahan of Callahan Signs. The signage for the new location for the campus police in what was the Brewer Perkins building at 277 Ashland St. is in line with a re-identification plan for the college. There will also be signage to aid motorists and others in locating departments during the ongoing construction on campus.
• Snoford LLC for property at 76 Union St. was postponed to September at the request of the applicant.
• The reaffirmation the community development plan, which has changed little over the decades. The plan is reaffirmed annually; Leary anticipated that the document will change to align with the master plan currently being formulated.
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Curran Highway Zoning Change Set Aside
Bart Raser of Carr Hardware tells of the Planning Board of his plans to relocate the business to Route 2.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A proposal to rezone a section of land along the Hoosic River was put on the backburner on Monday night over concerns it would limit business opportunities on State Street.
Charles Fox, owner of the former K-K Home Mart property at 420 Curran Highway had applied to have the parcel under one zoning. It is currently split east/west as commercial (CC1) and industrial. Building Inspector William Meranti had suggested in March the strip of industrial zoning along the river be rezoned as CC1 from the Noel Field Athletic Complex to Foundry Road to prevent spot zoning.
"The purpose is to move that CC line back to the river so additional uses that are allowed in that zone can be allowed in the entire property," Meranti told a joint public hearing of the Planning Board and City Council.
Fox said he was looking to develop the property more along the lines of a human service hub, considering among its current tenants are a Berkshire Family and Individual Resources' program and United Cerebral Palsy.
"We thought it might possibly include a residential component," said Fox. He referred to studio living space for those "not historically artists" who may be unable to move into the Eclipse Mill. "I believe we could apply with a residential permit but in the case of a CC zone, we could do that by right."
However, Paul Cummings, representing McGill Properties Inc., said changing the industrial zone would have a negative affect on its property, specifically the building behind the radio station that had been leased by Verizon.
|Charles Fox wants his Curran Highway property rezoned to all commercial to allow more opportunities for mixed commercial and residential. A section of it is now zoned industrial. The board suggested he return with a legal option.
"We really have no interest in a zoning change ... period," he said. "It would reduce the value of our property. We aren't interested in residential. We have not been marketing it in that sense, we have been marketing it for commercial and industrial."
The loss of industrial zoning would limit the building's possible uses for light or heavy manufacturing, packaging, distribution and truck delivery, or contracting and building trades, Cummings continued.
David Moresi of Moresi & Associates, who is currently managing the building, said he would no longer be interested in purchasing the property because he wouldn't be able to base his electrical division and other contracting there.
"I feel the change would be counterproductive," he said. "Our industrial zoned areas are very, very valuable to us. We're always talking about getting manufacturing in the area ... changing these parcels will make it hard to bring that in here."
"We don't have a problem changing Charlie's property, but don't touch ours," said Cummings.
Fox said his attorneys believed that since part of his property fell within the CC1 zone, it could be extended east to the river without being spot zoning.
Board Chairman Michael Leary said he didn't think the board should vote on a recommendation for the City Council to act on; Fox asked if the application could be withdrawn or tabled. The board agreed to set it aside and invited Fox to submit a legal basis for changing the zoning only on his property.
"I think we would need a legal opinion on what that change would require," said Leary.
In other business:
• The board swiftly approved an application by Carr Hardware to relocate to the former Scarafoni Ford building on State Road. "I think it's an outstanding use for that property," said Leary.
• An application by Dana Ritcher to operate a garage on Ashland Street in an I-1 zone was continued pending the written intent of Ritcher to withdraw his application.
• Renee and Mark Lapier, owners of Big Shirl's Diner, were approved for dinner hours of 5 to 9 and added morning of 6 to 2 on Mondays.
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Conte School Option Prompts Protest
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A presentation by Margo Jones Architects and Strategic Building Solutions on the proposed school building project to the City Council on Tuesday veered little from recent ones to the public and School Committee, and many of the questions covered similar ground.
City councilors and residents quizzed representatives on the costs, efficiency and process. The four options presented stem from a $680,000 feasibility study approved in 2008 that was required for any project approval and reimbursement by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
The city is hoping the MSBA will allow a two-school project to fulfill the state's charge of finding educational solutions to 620 students. Of those options, the preferred one is the construction of a new Greylock School and the renovation of Conte Middle School, both to serve kindergarten through Grade 7.
But the proposed resurrection of the old Drury High School as an elementary school hasn't been welcomed by everyone.
"A fifth option does exist," said John Bedard of Meadow Street. "The same exact solution of the Greylock School by putting a new school at the Sullivan site."
Bedard said the West End has gotten new fields and lighting, and now would get a new school so its property values would go up. But the Kemp Avenue area would lose its neighborhood school and see its the property values go down. And he's argued that downtown Conte isn't safe or appropriate for younger children.
"I see this feasibility study as a last-ditch effort to save that building on Main Street," he said. "... this should be about the children ... anyone who says the children would be better off downtown is either an idiot or a liar."
Councilor Keith Bona, a member of the School Building Committee, said there was no expectation the feasibility study would find a solution in Conte, which was closed as a middle school in 2008.
"Clearly, we thought Conte was off the board," said Bona. "At no point was anyone given any instructions to save Conte ... We thought it was going to be too costly."
Kristian Whitsett of Margo Jones Architects also said Conte wasn't really considered an option but the architects were surprised to find it worked well with the "clustering" configuration for teaching and also offered a way to be "green" in terms of reuse.
The Sullivan site, too, had been studied extensively, he said, in terms of additions and building a new structure but the steep terrain around the site limited location, parking, bus drop-offs and "we couldn't figure out where to put the ballfield."
The SBA will only cover site work up to 8 percent of the construction
Renovating and adding on to the current school would mean five levels that would require children and residents going up and down stairs to get from one end of the school to the other, making it difficult for the gym to be used by the community.
Diane Parsons said she was "biased" against using Conte and council President Ronald Boucher, "a fan of neighborhood schools," asked if there was an option to build a new Greylock and fix up Sullivan if the SBA rejected a two-school project.
Wittseg said they couldn't "spend a little bit" on Sullivan because it would trigger more expensive renovations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Bedard was not convinced of the argument against Sullivan and was getting signatures on a petition to keep the school open.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said another public session on the project would be held on Tuesday, April 28, at 7 p.m. at Sullivan School. "We need people, we need people to give their input."
In other business,
• The council approved a tax incentive agreement that would allow Scarafoni & Associates to purchase the North Adams Transcript building on American Legion Drive and renovate and lease it to the nonprofit Brien Center.
The agreement sets the property's assessment at $767,200, guaranteeing about $21,000 a year for the next 10 years. Abstaining from the discussion and vote were Councilors David Bond (who works for Scarafoni) and Keith Bona (who rents from Scarafoni).
• The council approved a transfer of $83,000 from the technology account to upgrade the city's aging servers, particularly for the Department of Public Safety. The transfer will leave $50,000 in the account, which is replenished through a percentage of the contract with Time Warner Cable.
Information technology officer Kathy Wall said last week that the funds would be used to replace equipment more than a decade old.
"It's hardware that's going to position us so we can handle all of the infrastructure we have now and in the future," Wall told the Finance Committee last week, including the coming installation of fiber optic in the region. "It's a smart purchase because it's going to let us look at our hardware ... it's looking at all of the infrastructure we have, all of the servers that we have. It is going to give us flexibility for technology coming down the road."
• Set a joint public hearing of the City Council and Planning Board on a proposed zoning change on Curran Highway for Monday, May 9, at 6 p.m.
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Planning Board Mulls Rezoning on State Street
Building Inspector William Meranti shows planners where the Industrial-1 zone is located.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A slice of land along the Hoosic River and State Street could be rezoned away from industrial to commercial.
The Planning Board is requesting the City Council hold a joint public hearing to review the possibility rezoning the area after the owners of 420 Curran Highway asked that their split property be zoned in a single category. The council had referred the matter to the board last week.
The city will schedule a public hearing on changing a section of the I-1 zone along the Hoosic River to commercial.
The property, once occupied by the Registry of Motor Vehicles and, before that, K-K Home Mart, was purchased by Charles Fox and Gordon Leete several years ago. The pair had approached the city a few months ago about the possibility of rezoning the three-acre lot. The front of the parcel is zoned CC-1 and the back section Industrial-1.
The industrial zoning allows greater use — but prohibits residential — while the commercial zoning has limits but allows residential. Fox said the partners had no immediate plans for the property but single zoining would "enhance the redevelopment of the property."
"We had considered the possibility of live/work studios for artists ... there's some need for people who don't quite fit into the niche at Eclipse Mill," said Fox. "But we wanted it in uniform zoning because it just makes sense."
Planners seemed amenable to the change but were concerned that it could be construed as "spot" zoning, which is illegal in the state.
"We would have to look at changing zoning for the entire area not just Mr. Fox," said Planner Wayne Wilkinson.
Chairman Michael Leary agreed. "We could make a recommendation for the entire lot outside the property be rezoned so we avoid even the appearance of rezoning," he said, adding, howevever, "I would be uncomfortable recommeding to approve this not knowing the impact on other businesses."
The section under consideration runs along the west side of the river and behind a number of parcels from the Noel Field Athletic Complex to Mr. Tire. Building Inspector William Meranti said he did not know how the change would affect businesses along what was the old foundry road.
"It baffles me why it is this way," he said, suggesting it was because industry was likely situated on the riverbanks. Fox said it might have been because the river was used for waste disposal.
"My opinion would be to rezone the whole thing," said Mayor Richard Alcombright, who was in attendance. He noted the city has been talking about river revival and using its natural resources to greater advantage. "This makes a lot of sense."
The board, with Planner Joseph Gniadek absent, unanimously voted to refer the matter back to the City Council to schedule a joint hearing. Leary said property owners and abuttors within 300 feet would be notified of the hearing.
In other business:
• An application by Steven Burbank for a special permit in a CC-1 zone to operate D&S Auto automobile repair at 350 State Road was approved. Burbank said the business, in the former Dan's Service Station where he had worked, would cater to basically the same customers and he did not anticipate difficulties in parking. The permit and signage was approved with the condition that the garage have no more than 15 vehicles on the lot at any time.
• Delayed response on a request by Mark Piechowski of Berkshire Transmissions Inc., 758 Massachusetts Ave., to double the number of vehicles parked on his lot until the planners could visit the site. They expressed concern over the condition of the property and number of vehicles already on it.
Piechowski said a bout with the flu and recent snowstorms had resulted in a pileup of work and less-than-tidy yard.
"We're trying to get rid of the stuff we don't use or we'll never get to," he said, adding that neighbors had complimented him on keeping up the lot. He did admit that "a few weeks ago when Mr. Meranti stopped by it was out of control."
Meranti concurred. His most recent visit found it "neater than the last time I was there but there's good number of vehicles there and car parts outside."
• The board reviewed and accepted a letter from Suzy Helme on the relocation of Shima from 105 Main St. to 65 Main St. (Planner Brian Miksic, Helme's husband and partner in Shima, abstained); and approved interior signage for Interfaith Headquarters and Food Pantry at 43 Eagle St. and Cumberland Farms to install new signs at both locations that will have LED lights to show gas prices.
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City Council Looks at Zoning, Borrowing Issues
The City Council on Tuesday, Oct. 12, will be asked to authorize the borrowing of $650,000 to complete the airport project and $150,000 to renovate and construction bathrooms and a concession stand at Windsor Lake and its campground.
The Finance Committee heard both issues at its meeting Thursday. The committee has recommended adoption of the borrowing order for the airport and, while not formally endorsing the lake spending, reacted favorably to it. The lake spending had not been presented to the council nor referred to the committee to act on.
The council will also be asked to call a joint public hearing of the council and Planning Board at the behest of Planning Board Chairman Michael Leary. The city is pursuing a state Green Community designation that will require "by-right zoning" for certain green businesses. Leary said the city has by-right in three zones but still requires a special permit if a site plan approval is needed. New language would clarify a site plan review is not part of a special permit process.
Christopher Lamarre quit as chairman of the Board of Assessors to become the chief assessor in Great Barrington last month. In a letter to the council, Mayor Alcombright said that the qualifications for assessor made the position difficult to fill.
He is asking that the residency requirement for the full-time, chief assessor be removed. "It will always be my preference to hire a resident, if qualified," he wrote. The residency requirement would not change for the two part-time assessors.
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