BRPC Adopts Sustainable Berkshires Plan

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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The Sustainable Berkshire plan received exactly the 17 votes needed to be adopted.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — It was a "sobering" three years in the making, but the county now has an updated master plan.

The Sustainable Berkshires project received the votes it needed Thursday to be adopted as the guideline for the county's future. The massive document outlines a vision, goals and strategies for the entire county encompassing topics of energy, economics, agriculture, neighborhoods, housing, open space, recreation, transportation, health, infrastructure and land use.

"We have an old regional plan at this point. Our old one was adopted in 2001," said Executive Director Nathaniel Karns, prior to the vote.

That plan, however, isn't relevant anymore because the county has changed in the last 13 years. And the old plan was based on an expectation that the population numbers would increase.

"One of the sobering aspects of this plan is that our population decline has continued," Karns said.

With gloomy populations numbers forecasted, the county needs to find a way to be sustainable, he said, and in the last three years that vision was completed.

The Berkshires particularly needs to use the plan to turn many numbers around. In the last 40 years, incomes went from "well above" the national average to "significantly" below; educational levels did the same, with the Berkshires losing college graduates. And with that, there are 7,000 high school students and 13 high schools, creating an average population well below the "optimal" size.

"Our communities are not fiscally sustainable," Karns said.

In developing the plan, Karns said there has been "significant" outreach to the public and county organizations. The plan is eyed to be a reference for all towns to base their decisions on and doesn't carry any regulatory authority.

"I think this is an incredible plan," said BRPC Commissioner Rene Wood.

However, the vote didn't come easy as the plan needed 17 votes to be accepted and received just that. Two delegates — from Florida and Stockbridge — abstained from the vote, protesting language regarding the Housatonic Rail redevelopment.

The plan references as redeveloping the rail lines to re-establish passenger rail to New York City.

"In no way are we endorsing a specific proposal or necessarily endorsing specific ridership numbers. Nor endorsing the economic analysis is entirely accurate. It is a broad, conceptual statement saying that the county would benefit from having direct access to the New York City market by passenger rail," Karns said.

But with a proposal currently on the table from the state and the Housatonic Railway that some towns don't like, the commissioners considered loosening up the language so as to not give that project an endorsement. Instead, they hoped to add "evaluate" into the section so the goal is to investigate options but not necessarily do it.

"It seems that there is a hangup between endorse and an evaluation period," said Lenox delegate Mark Smith, who believes in developing rail overall but is questioning the current proposal.

Lanesborough delegate Jack Hickey said the committee should change the wording to accommodate the concerns of the communities being affected by the project.

But, a vote to keep the language as written passed 14-5. With that, Florida and Stockbridge abstained from the vote for the whole project and with 19 voting members present, the plan was accepted by the 17 votes needed.

Tags: Berkshire Regional Planning Commission,   BRPC,   master plan,   passenger rail,   Sustainable Berkshires,   

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