BRPC Providing Technical Assistance To Towns

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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The full Berkshire Regional Planning Commission met on Thursday night.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — From housing to planning to sharing services, the state Department of Community Development is providing assistance for 16 planning projects in the county.

The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission will offer technical support to 11 municipalities and work on five regional studies. The state is funding $203,000 in grants for assistance.

Assistant Director Thomas Matuszko announced the projects receiving the District Local Technical Assistance last week.

"This has been a very successful program. It's a very important program, I think, but it is subject to state allocation each year," Matuszko said, of funding 16 of 21 applications through the process.

Four towns — Adams, Becket, Great Barrington and Richmond — will get assistance in expanding affordable housing stock. Adams and Great Barrington are both developing a 40R zoning district, which is a designation of certain areas eyed for dense residential development. With the designation, the towns will be able to dip into additional pools of money the state offers. BRPC will now help those two towns navigate through the applications and legal processes.

Great Barrington is also looking to create a housing production plan as well as establish an affordable housing trust fund to help with construction costs for projects. Becket is looking into an affordable housing trust fund but also wants an assessment of the affordable housing needs. The needs assessment is part of the grant. Richmond will get assistance in establishing an affordable housing committee to start planning affordable housing activities.

"This really is to do some planning some communities can get in position for more affordable housing," Matuszko said.

Seven municipalities will receive help in planning for future growth:

  • Cheshire — update zoning bylaws and rezone the town for more economic development activities.
  • Dalton — assistance in setting a plan for the redevelopment of two former mills.
  • North Adams — update and clarify their zoning bylaws.
  • Otis — expand sewer system.
  • Pittsfield — look closer at opportunities for small-scale commercial use on the west side.
  • Richmond — create a long-range finance sustainability plan.
  • Washington — create a plan for economic growth focused on rural environments, particularly with ways to handle home occupations and small commercial uses.

Five regional projects are also receiving funding. The Rest of the River group, which is in negotiations with General Electric over the socioeconomic damages to be caused by a cleanup of the Housatonic River, will receive assistance in analyzing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's final cleanup plan.

BRPC is doing a feasibility study on how a shared energy manager position among multiple Berkshire towns would work. Matuszko said Pittsfield and Lanesborough have expressed interested in a shared position but it is not limited to those two towns.

A possible shared information technology position is also receiving an examination through these grants. The towns all have different systems and many of the smaller ones can't afford to have an IT staff. This study will look at the possibilities of bringing the systems closer together and sharing an IT department among multiple towns.

BRPC is also updating an industrial site study it completed some years ago. In conjunction with 1Berkshire, that update will create a list of industrial and commercial sites available for redevelopment and intern can be given to potential businesses looking to relocate.

Finally, BRPC is looking to create a countywide "economic development district" that would open up an additional pool of grant funds through the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

"We'll wrap up this section of work by December 31," Matuszko said of all of the projects.

Six projects, however, were not able to be funded in this cycle, Matuszko said. Those projects are a transit study for Sheffield, creating a sanitary system request for proposal for Dalton, a development review in Sandisfield, zoning for economic development in Sheffield, and a population loss survey and a housing plan for Dalton.

Matuszko said the decision-making process placed those projects that have alternative funding measures down the priority list. So while those six didn't make the cut now, there are other funding opportunities, he said.

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