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Mayor Daniel Bianchi addresses the City Council.

Pittsfield City Council Accepts Common Grant; Extends Arts District

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo and at-Large Councilor Churchill Cotton reviewing documents.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council accepted a $1.7 million grant to finish the First Street Common project.

The second phase of the Common has just been completed. The new grant funds the last two phases, which includes adding a performance pavilion, new basketball courts, facilities, seating, walkways, community gardens and a spray ground. The project was originally planned to be completed in four phases but Gov. Deval Patrick allocated the funds to do the final two phases together.

"This will speed things up," Mayor Daniel Bianchi said.

James McGrath, parks and open space project manager, said the goal is to put the last two phases to bid as one in April with construction following in May. The project is a "legacy" one for Patrick and the city hopes to complete it by the end of the year.

"This will be a fast-tracked project but I think we can do it," McGrath said.

During the construction, McGrath said the park will remain open for passage and the playground will still be available.

The grant is requiring a match of about $170,000, which has already been allocated in the fiscal 2013 capital budget, McGrath said. Asked about the city's total contribution, McGrath said the city is paying out about $750,000 for the project.

The city also approved extending the Downtown Arts Overlay zoning district to First Street. The city had already expanded which types of development or redevelopment in that district and the map coincided with that change.

The city's Downtown Arts Overlay District is a zoning structured to preserve historic buildings while encouraging mixed-usages. The extension includes all of the side streets from North to First Street as well as the parcels on the east side. Nine parcels — from the Common to East Street — on the west side will also be included.

Also Tuesday, the council again got mired in the process of forming a subcommittee to review city ordinances to ensure they don't conflict with the new charter. Last month, the council spent hours debating if the term "immediately" meant they needed to form the committee then or wait until the new council was seated. They ultimately adopted a structure consisting of five people including City Clerk Linda Tyer and appointed member Barry Clairmont.

However, completing the committee proved difficult when seven names were submitted for the three remaining seats. For about an hour Tuesday the council debated how to move forward — ultimately putting it in the hands of Council President Melissa Mazzeo.

"There are seven very qualified, great people's names that are down there," Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli said.

The Council referred the creation of an ordinance review committee to Council President Melissa Mazzeo.

Six people — Jody Phillips, Victoria Kane, Pam Green, Franz Forester, Dave Murphy and Robert Cornwell — were all suggested by Vice President Christopher Connell while at-Large Councilor Kathleen Amuso suggested Matthew Kerwood. Other councilors said they didn't know they could submit more for consideration.

Ward 6 Councilor John Krol said he expected the council president to have already selected three names and he was willing to vote on those. He said he wants to "get it going" and hopes at the next meeting the president will have narrowed it down.

However, now that seven more names were now discussed in public, Councilor at Large Barry Clairmont said it is embarrassing to those who aren't picked for the committee. He said the process was handled improperly.

The councilors also voted to change their — and the council subcommittee — meetings from 7:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The half-hour earlier start time is the midway point between the current time and a 6:30 time posed by Simonelli. Simonelli said he heard from residents that the meetings went too late into the night and that they couldn't participate.

"I think a lot of the citizens miss out," he said.

However, other councilors said that 6:30 was too early because of other meetings and the short time between a typical resident's end of work time. They split the difference and 7 is now the new time.

Tags: appointments,   arts overlay district,   city charter,   

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