The North Adams Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses are hoping to build a new Kingdom Hall in Clarksburg.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The North Adams Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses searched for 7 years to find the perfect location for their new Kingdom Hall.
Unfortunately, their might-be neighbors think that location is perfect, too — just the way it is.
Some 20-odd residents and abuttors of the property at the corner of Cross and Middle roads raised objections at an informational hearing on Wednesday about the congregation's proposal to build a 4,000 square foot hall on the vacant land.
Planning Board Chairman David Sherman said the issue wasn't the religious facility building in a residential zone, but the 1/2 acre parking lot situated in the 100-year floodplain.
"Any district can have a church, anywhere in town," he said. "This wouldn't be a conversation if it didn't fall within the floodplain."
David Morgan, representing his congregation, said they wanted to become a good member of the community.
"We're really interested in making it a fine building for the community with as little impact as we can," he said. "It's a fine location and we'd love to be there."
Morgan said the about 80-member congregation was outgrowing its hall off the Mohawk Trail. The 40-year-old building couldn't accommodate the accessibility needs of its aging members or the child-care needs of its younger families.
"We did an exhaustive 7-year search," said Morgan. "We looked at everything."
When the Oakes property went on the market, the congregation saw an opportunity.
Residents, however, were particularly concerned about the water runoff from the 66-space parking lot, lighting and traffic, as well as the impact on wildlife.
John E. Dupras of Trinity Engineering spent some time going through the details of the stormwater management plan. The proposal includes a retention basin to slow and weep stormwater to the east and southeast, away from the roadways and toward Hudson Brook.
Dupras said the 10-year storm average was used to calculate the water runoff at cubic foot per second. While flooding could still occur, he said the basin and other elements would negate the impact of the building and parking lot.
Sherman and others, however, was concerned that intensity of recent storms, and predictions they will increase because of climate change, would overwhelm the basin and the brook.
Selectmen Chairman Carl McKinney said the impervious surface of the parking lot was the problem.
"We've had a lot of failures in this town because of Hurricane Irene," he said. "Is this going to endanger our neighbors to the south."
Several residents spoke of flooded basements or well problems because of work done around that area, including the installation of the sewer line.
"I'm concerned about the sewer going right into my well," said Lori-Anne Aubin of Middle Road, who added her home had flooded during Irene. "Where are our protections as homeowners?"
McKinney also pointed out the property is in a residential zone, and wondered what could happen if the congregation moved on in a few years.
"I need to be convinced that this isn't the case," he said. "Otherwise we're stuck with a building in a floodplain that nobody wants and nobody can use."
Morgan said the congregation planned to stay a "long, long time." They were willing to modify the plan, such as taking out one of the two parking lot entrances, limiting the lights and even offsetting the $500 loss in taxes on the land by donating to a town need, such as the Senior Center.
"Any conditions the community places on us, we'll be willing to work with," he said. "We want to be as amenable as we can. ... We think we'll add a real service to the community. We think it's a good use for us and for the property."
Clebe Scott, however, noted the use wasn't in the master plan. And a survey of residents had found what they most liked about Clarksburg was "the unique natural and scenic areas."
"This is one of the most scenic areas in the town."
Should the congregation move forward, the Planning Board will hold a public hearing on the application.
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