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Donald 'Chip' Elitzer speaks out against the proposed reconstruction project for Great Barrington's downtown.

Great Barrington Gives Greenlight to Downtown Project

By Nichole DupontiBerkshires Staff
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Selectman Sean Stanton speaks in favor of the reconstruction project.
GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Voters at a special town meeting on Wednesday night rejected an attempt to sideline a $3.8 million reconstruction of the town's main thoroughfare.

The Main Street project, slated for 2013, became embroiled in controversy after downtown merchants concerned about business dropoff objected to the scope and the length of time it would take to complete.

But Article 2, a petition asking the town to "immediately withdraw its application" for funding from the state Department of Transportation, was defeated 178-119. The vote pushes the plans beyond the 25 percent phase.

Fewer than 10 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the auditorium at Monument Mountain Regional High School.

But the decision wasn't quick; voters voiced their concerns for two hours before ballots were cast. Donald "Chip" Elitzer, for instance, said the plan to move forward could prove disastrous.

"I'm in favor of refurbishment as opposed to reconstruction," he said. "The lack of local control is one strike against reconstruction. The second strike is its scale. It is massively destructive. Roads, sidewalks and trees are what people really care about. We should be doing targeted replacement of specific sections of sidewalks as needed."

This "piecemeal" suggestion drew immediate concerns from Selectman Sean Stanton, who addressed the necessity of continuing with the design and entering a discussion period with the DOT, which will be funding most of the project.

"I don't want to do any fear moderating," he said. "We should take the opportunity to talk about the process. There is still time to assess. The design and the process must be about the town as a whole. The needs of the business owners are a priority for the board."

Stanton went on to say no matter which way the vote swung, sacrifices would have to be made but that the ends justify the means.

"We want to make people know that we are open for business," Stanton said. "We can create a stronger community and a vibrant downtown. There is still time."

Sean Barry, a resident and co-owner of the Music Store, was adamant that the reconstruction would destroy the character of the town.

"I was a floor finisher for 25 years and put a new floor in an 1830s house. When it was completed, the floors looked great but everything else in the house looked like hell," he said. "My concern about Great Barrington is the quaintness of imperfection. I moved to the Berkshires for the crooked sidewalks and the people with wrinkles and the aging trees."

Selectmen have said the reconstruction was not just for beautification but a matter of safety along the heavily traveled main drag.

Karen Smith, who encouraged voters not to pass Article 2, said the most important thing to come out of the many meetings and discussions was the increased participation of many residents in the town's affairs.

"It's a Wednesday night, it's about time a lot of you showed up here," she said. "The process must go on."

Article 1, which would establish a "municipal lighting plant" to allow the town to participate in the WiredWest initiative, also passed by secret ballot.
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