Council Committee Rejects Street Name Change
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Community Development Committee rejected on Tuesday a proposal to name a street for a famous former resident and, instead, find a better way to honor him.
"I don't think we should rename streets except for to address public safety issues," said Chairwoman Lisa Blackmer. "It's costly."
Local historian Paul W. Marino had approached the City Council last November to consider renaming the section of Summer Street between Ashland and Church streets for Lue Gim Gong, a horticulturist who bred the late-maturing orange often named for him.
Lue had lived for a time in the Burlingame house on the corner of Summer and Church that is now better known as the offices of chiropractor Peter May.
Lue Gim Gong came to North Adams as a boy.
Blackmer acknowledged Lue's accomplishments, particularly the orange ("Which I guess is great for all mankind.") but didn't think changing street names was an option. Larry Murray, a resident of that section of Summer Street, said he, too, was opposed to the change because of the aggravation it would cause.
Fellow committee members David Lamarre and Michael Boland agreed that renaming the street should not be recommended to the council. Councilor Marie Harpin, also in attendance, thought her colleagues were right.
However, they were open to other possibilities of honoring Lue, who spent most of his life in the state of Florida but kept in contact with North Adams residents.
"I think something more in the spirit of his accomplishments," said Boland, who suggested renaming one of the planned pocket parks for him or possibly the greenhouse program at Drury High School. "Since his history is a horticulturist, maybe tie something into that."
Marino said, "monuments have a tendency to become invisible." He'd hoped for the street change and a marker at the private Burlingame house to reinforce name recognition.
Lamarre and Boland thought that might be accomplished at Western Gateway Heritage State Park — a path and/or garden area named for Lue and a display at the North Adams Museum of History and Science.
The committee voted to refer the matter to the Conservation Commission and the Historic Commission.
|Tags: Lue Gim Gong|
West End Market Permit Still in Effect
The Planning Board tries a new table configuration.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The owner of the West End Market has until 2012 to find a tenant after the city solicitor determined his special permit had not lapsed.
Barry Garton had expected to move his BrewHaHa cafe to the West Main Street location but found the renovation of the historic building ate up all his investment. Last month, he approached the Planning Board with a request to extend his special permit to give him time to find a leasee and to prevent the commercial building from reverting to residential.
Mick Callahan of Callahan Sign Co. holds a mock-up of new MCLA signs.
The board delayed a vote until it received a legal opinion on whether Garton's continued renovations since 2006 could be categorized as "substantial use" according to zoning ordinances.
The opinion of DeRosa Dohoney LLP was that the construction from 2006 to December 2010 could be considered substantial use. "Mr. Garton may seek a tenant for the property and seek a change in his permit once the tenant has been been secured," the letter states.
The Planning Board took no action since the special permit remains in effect for two years once "substantial use" ceases. Garton said he hoped to find a tenant.
The board approved new signage for Porter Street buildings owned by the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts Foundation. Chairman Michael Leary, who teaches an adjunct class at the college, abstained from participating.
"We put all these buildings in our admission materials as numbered buildings — 92 Porter, 100 Porter, 72 Porter — so having the sign on the building helps with our mission to people finding them," said James Stakenas, vice president of administration and finance. "They are also listing the departments in the buildings."
Mick Callahan of Callahan Sign Co. provided a mock-up of the design. Stakenas said a free-standing sign also would be installed at 132 Corinth St., the administration and finance office building.
In other business, the board:
•Reviewed a letter from Cariddi Auto Agency stating it had temporarily moved operations to Ernie's Auto Sales former location on Curran Highway. The business had suffered a devastating fire last month. Building Inspector William Meranti said all sales and dispatch service was at the new site but the tow trucks will be parked off-site and the impound lot would remain at the original location.
Michael Leary and Paul Hopkins laugh at Leary's 'opposition' to their re-election.
•Approved signage for the new RUB restaurant on Marshall Street in the former Gramercy Bistro location. Alexander "Sandy" Smith, chef-owner of Gramercy, which moved to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art campus, will operate the barbecue joint.
•Approved the application of Matthew Berger to open a musical instruction school with ancillary retail sales business at 40 Eagle St.
•Welcomed new members Joanne DeRose (again) and Brian Miksic. Re-elected Leary as chairman and Paul Hopkins as vice chairman of the board, and named Kyle Hanlon as representative to the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. Leary's mispoken response to the vote, "show myself and Mr. Hopkins as opposed," ended the meeting with laughter.
|Tags: Planning Board|
Study Offers Option to Save Conte School
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Building Committee is supporting a plan that would save Silvio O. Conte Middle School and construct a new school in the West End. The proposal was the second of four options provided by Strategic Building Solutions Inc. and Margo Jones Architects Inc., the project manager and the design firm, respectively, to deal with space issues after the closure of Conte in 2009.
The assumption had been that the aging former high school would be abandoned and the focus would be on the elementary schools as they absorbed Grades 6 and 7; the eighth grade was relocated to Drury High School.
"When we walked out of here, Conte didn't play a part," Carl Weber of Strategic Building told the School Building Committee on Thursday night at the school. But the feasibility study done over the past months "made us look at this building and realize it had value, a lot of value."
Instead, Conte would be renovated into a kindergarten-through-seventh grade school and a new school serving the same grades would be built behind Greylock Elementary, which would be demolished. This option would put Conte back into service and create a more energy- and cost-efficient school in the West End without having to dislocate pupils during construction. Each school would be renovated or built to serve 310 pupils.
The findings are good news to city and school officials discouraged at the thought of abandoning Conte and leaving another large, empty structure on a vital corner of the downtown. Within the past few years, three churches around the school have been vacated, along with a dentist's office and a funeral home.
"I always worried about what would happen to Conte Middle School if we abandoned this building," said Superintendent of Schools James Montepare. "I like the idea as the mayor does of trying to do something with it."
The committee agreed, voting to present that option as its preferred one to the Massachusetts School Building Authority this March; its second choice was renovating Conte and renovating and putting an addition onto Greylock, which would cost about an extra $1 million to relocate the kids — possibly to Notre Dame School in Adams — during construction.
The least favorite was an oversized school to serve 620 students. The only suitable place to locate a school that size would be at the Greylock site, which committee members and school officials thought would be too large for the neighborhood and too costly to operate. "The busing would kill us," said Montepare. "We'd have to bus everybody."
A fourth option was to renovate Sullivan School along with Greylock. However, Sullivan's location on the side of a hill would create a school with five levels, some underground, served by two elevators. The complex and problematic configuration and lack of parking lead the committee to dismiss that option.
"I want to see Conte stay," said Mayor Richard Alcombright of presenting the options to the SBA. "If Conte were eliminated, it would have to be Greylock because I don't think Sullivan is an option."
The rough estimate was $18 million to $26 million for each 310-pupil school and $42 million for the 620-pupil school. The SBA would reimburse the city a maximum of 80 percent for eligible expenses (relocation of students, for example, is not reimbursed); the cost to the city was expected to be less than $10 million, including unreimbursed costs. The designers will now begin more detailed cost estimates, including yearly operation, and plans.
Weber said the SBA had funded only one project that covered two schools to his knowledge. It had left the door open by having the city determine the best way to serve 620 students.
"But I think we have to show a compelling need and reason for that and I think we have those compelling arguments," he said. "We think that some of these options are cheaper than a 620 school and the SBA, they look at dollars maybe more than anything else and they're trying to spend taxpayer dollars wisely."
Councilor Urges More Diversity on Boards
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city administration should look further afield to find more diverse nominations for boards, according to one city councilor.
"Over the last 20 years ... appointments tend to be politically connected," said Councilor Lisa Blackmer at Tuesday's City Council meeting. "What about other skill sets out there? People ask me, 'how do I get involved?'"
The discussion was prompted by Mayor Richard Alcombright's nominations of Joanne DeRose, a member of the City Democratic Committee, and Brian Miksic, head of Develop North Adams and a supporter of Alcombright's mayoral bid, to the Planning Board.
Blackmer said she was sure DeRose would do a good job but that there had been talk of appointing possibly a retired architect, someone who wouldn't have any conflicts, or a citizen with a similar background. She pointed to one individual from New York City who has a depth of experience but whose short time in the city was seen as a negative.
"Typically speaking, if you look through all my board appointments, they all come with people who are qualified and will represent that board in a positive way," said the mayor, who estimated he'd submitted 30 or 40 names over the past year of people he'd worked with on other boards or through his experience with the community.
He'd used the recent semester-opening breakfast at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts to solicit interest in serving the city, he added, and encouraged interested citizens to contact him. "We haven't been shy about that, we've kept a list of names of people who call."
Councilor Michael Boland said they had used the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition newsletter to drum up candidates for the new Human Services Committee.
"Pretty much, I see a name in front of us, they seem to be involved in the communty," said Councilor Keith Bona. "We're a small community so it's not unusual for people to be involved in other organizations."
Miksic's involvement with DNA, a local cultural and business association, prompted council President Ronald Boucher to get an opinion from the city solicitor, who suggested Miksic abstain from decision affecting the downtown. Alcombright said he had also suggested Miksic contact the state Ethics Commission. Bona pointed out that Paul Hopkins, vice chairman of the Planning Board and chairman of the Redevelopment Authority, sits on the DNA board.
Council President Ronald Boucher said it may be matter of people not knowing how to get involved.
"I tell them to call the mayor ... but people, I guess they don't know the process of how to get their skills and their interest in the city to be used without being actively involved publicly," said Blackmer.
In other business:
• The city solicitor sent a letter stating that he would have an opinion on a request to switch a parcel owned by Curran Highway Development LLC from industrial zone to commercial at the Feb. 22 meeting.
• The Traffic Commission sent a communique on several areas of concern submitted by former Councilor Gailanne Cariddi. The police put a radar monitor on North Street for a number of weeks to reduce speeding and an issue on Patterson Road had been addressed by the mayor's office. As to oversized traffic using West Main Street to access Route 2, the mayor said there were signs in place now to prohibit such traffic but they could be moved to make them more visible before vehicles enter the roadway.
The mayor also took the time to expand upon complaints of the shortened time for crossing intersections. After discussion with the Traffic Commission, Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco said he would look into adding 5 seconds to crossing time.
Alcombright said the amount of time allowed to cross intersections in the downtown ranges from 28 to 45 seconds depending on location and length. That includes the time when the "Walk" light starts flashing and through the "No Walk," which offers another 10 to 12 seconds to complete the crossing. There were "problematic ones" near Cumberland Farms and the high rise on Ashland Street, possibly because of the number of elderly in that neighborhood, he said.
The mayor also noted that the grates have been removed from the new lights after discussions with the state. There have been complaints that the protective grates made it difficult to see the lights. He said he would look into a comment by Blackmer about the new light's lack of a lefthand arrow from Monument Square onto Ashland Street.
• An application for Edward Tripodes to drive a taxi for Candy Tripodes was filed after the applicant failed to appear for the second consecutive meeting. An application by William Gaudreau to drive a taxi for Lori Smith was approved.
• An ordinance relating to hawkers and peddlers was continued. General Government Chairman Keith Bona said he expected it would take a couple more meetings to formulate language.
|Tags: nominations, traffic|
Auditor Recommends Financial Director
Tom Scanlon of Scanlon & Associates gave a presentation on his company's audit of the city's fiscal 2010 finances at Monday's Finance Committee meeting. Present were committee member Alan Marden, left, Chairman Michael Bloom and Mayor Richard Alcombright.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city's auditor is recommending it look into creating a financial director to provide stability and continuity over North Adams' financial structure.
The advice wasn't part of the 19 written recommendations submitted by Scanlon & Associates as part of the firm's audit for fiscal 2010, but Tom Scanlon suggested such a position might benefit the city during his audit presentation to the Finance Committee on Monday afternoon.
The complexity of federal and state laws and grant requirements, the development of a rapport with the state Department of Revenue and a sense of continuity with auditors, financial authorities and municipal staff has led municipalities of North Adams' size to invest in a financial chief, he said.
Scanlon went over the 19 deficiencies identified by the audit and suggested the city research getting a finance director.
"I know it's tough to put that position in and fund it, but it adds stability to the financial picture," continued Scanlon, adding that high staff turnover can affect bonding and other funding matters. "You want to have public confidence that when a taxpayer walks in a door and pays their real estate bill it's being accounted for correctly."
Mayor Richard Alcombright said different positions within the City Hall have taken on some of the duties of a director depending on their backgrounds and experience. After taking office, the mayor, a banker, created a finance team of certain department heads, including the auditor, treasurer and assessor, but much of the role has landed on business manager Nancy Ziter.
"This city is no less complex than Springfield or Boston ... We do all the same things those municipalities do but our staffing is incredibly low," said the mayor. "We have to startng thinking of ways of keeping people in City Hall, keeping them in these positions."
The city will begin interviewing for a new administrative officer this week and may look more toward someone with human service or financial acumen, he said, rather than law experience as in the past.
Scanlon said his suggestion wasn't meant to disparage the city's current staff. "I can't say enough about the staff," he said, adding they had done a good job in managing the city's finances and that the finance records were "free of material misstatement."
The firm listed 19 deficiencies it found, which were supplied to the committee along with the administration's responses. The mayor related some of the problems to the Finance Committee at its last meeting. They include the need for better internal controls, too much reliance on reserves, the need to account for future liabilities (because of a change in state law), better purchase controls, capitalization planning, long-term strategic financial planning, oversight of related accounts, investing, reviewing trust and revolving accounts, and implementing fiscal policies.
The mayor said the city is in the process of implementing new controls and reporting measures but some deficiencies may require time or software investment.
Scanlon & Associates also "tested" (or single audited) the city's compliance in expending five federal grants and found no errors that would require reporting to the governement.
The company did not look back beyond fiscal 2010, which ended June 30, 2010, to compare results; however, it has been contracted to audit fiscal 2011 and 2012.
The City Council will be provided with the three documents — the audit, the single audit and the management letter and reply — at Tuesday's meeting. All three documents can be found on our Scribd site and on the sidebar.
In attendance were committee members Chairman Michael Bloom and Alan Marden; David Bond was absent. Also in attendance were Councilors Marie Harpin, Lisa Blackmer and David Lamarre, Business Manager Nancy Ziter and Assessor Ross Vivori.
|Tags: audit, Finance Committee|