Pittsfield Demolition Delay Guidelines Reconsidered

By Joe DurwinPittsfield Correspondent
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The Historical Commission is considering whether old single-bay garages really need review before being razed.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Members of the city's Historical Commission are concerned that they are looking at too many garages, under the broad language of the city's ordinance on demolition permits.
A piece of local regulation designed to protect historically significant buildings may also be adding unnecessarily rigorous requirements for minor structures, like sheds and other small outbuildings of limited potential interest.
Since the city added a demolition delay provision to its ordinance in 2007, applications for demolition of structures more than 75 years old require review by the city's Historical Commission for a determination of their historic significance. If deemed important, the commission can recommend a six-month delay before demolition is approved, which must then be upheld by the Community Development Board.  
"This is really about trying to pull all these single-bay garages that are crumbling all around the city, out of this process," said City Planner Cornelius Hoss.
Initially, the commission was examining the possibility of recommending amending of the ordinance itself, but Hoss suggested the solution may lie in the commission adopting more detailed internal rules and guidelines determining how it evaluates demolition requests.
Hoss cited the similar effort by the Community Development Board in adopting rules and regulations for its operation last year.  
When establishing these guidelines, the Commission can decide ways of streamlining the application process for potential demolitions, which could include the sign-off of just one or two members on simple, non-historical outbuilding structures instead of needing to be vetted by the full commission.  
Commission member Kathleen Reilly also questioned the necessity of having applicants have to submit a Form B, the Massachusetts Historical Commission's building assessment form.
"It's a lot of work for them to do, and in many cases it's unnecessary," said Reilly "I think there should be some way to tell early on if it needs review."
Recent History of Historic Demolitions in Pittsfield:
Criteria would need to be established for determining what kind of structures would need more thorough examination, possibly based on the original usage. Spaces that had always been a shed or garage might have more lenient rules than former barns or carriage houses, which would necessarily need review by the Commission.
"I'd hate to miss something that was significant," said Todd Burdick. "What if it's your typical cinderblock 1930s garage, but something really amazing happened there?" 
Another issue the commission will consider is whether or not the six-month duration of the delay is sufficient. In a number of communities, said Hoss, six-month demolition restrictions have been increased to 12 or 18 months.
Since 2007, the commission has reviewed around a dozen demolition applications per year and has voted to recommend a demolition delay in only two cases before it. The first was two years ago for the historic former Plunkett Memorial school, which was finally purchased by Cafua Management despite denial by the City Council of a drive through permit for a proposed Dunkin Donuts. The second was in March 2013, for a former Crane & Company warehouse on Dalton Avenue.

Tags: demolition,   historical building,   historical commission,   

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