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Historic Valley Prepping for Camping Season

Tammy Daniels

The Windsor Lake Recreation Commission hears what new campground manager Susan Landry, right, has been doing to prepare for the season.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Historic Valley Campground has a new manager and is preparing for an open house on May 7 and an influx of visitors for the summer, including filling the sites with Wilco concertgoers.

"We have 150 people coming in for Wilco; that's not counting children — that's booked adults," new campground manager Susan Landry told the Windsor Lake Commission last Tuesday. "I know they're bringing their families, I know they're bringing teenagers."

Landry said she has five campsites left for the Solid Sound Festival weekend of June 24, 25 and 26, and will start adding in seasonal sites if they're still available in May.

Susan Landry and her husband, Steven, were named to the post in February and are volunteering their time before officially starting in May. The 100-acre campground is open from May into October; Landry will be paid around $15,000 for the season.

An iBerkshires' birds-eye view of Windsor Lake, better known as Fish Pond to North Adams residents.

The goal is to whittle down the number of seasonholder spots — which took up nearly half the campground last year — and boost reservations in the rest of park, which stood at about 30 percent.

The couple have been getting the park's name out and looking at ways to improve it. Among those initiatives are putting together welcome packets, getting in touch with camping associations and marketing the park. Steven Landry said brochures on the park were well-received at the Springfield RV Camping & Outdoor Show a few weeks ago and 200 were provided to the expo's sponsor, Pioneer Valley Chapter 8 of North American Family Camping Association.

The camping association also will return to Fish Pond after years away, said Susan Landry. "They try to stay within their region, so for us it's the Berkshires and Greenfield," she said. "They always go east because they don't realize what the west has to offer; now they're looking to come back in our direction."

New patrons include an RV rally in June, a British boarding school from Boston, and Mount Greylock Regional High School, which wants to do some geocaching on the trails.

The biggest draw, by far, is Wilco's Solid Sound Festival. Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art wasn't interested in adding a shuttle to Windsor Lake, so that led the Landrys to suggest hiring a bus from Dufour Tours to transport campers. It made sense, said Landry, because otherwise they'd have to drive their cars to Williamstown to catch a shuttle back to the campground.

The weekend cost would be about $800, which Landry figured would be covered by all but $50 by charging $5 per person for the weekend, and Steven Landry would be the driver. "This was one of the big things they asked about," Susan Landry said.

In other business, the board recommended the purchase of new playground equipment to the tune of $20,000, depending on funds left over from the work currently being completed on the bathrooms at the campground. They also thanked Susan and Robert Chilson for offering to volunteer their help.

McCann Technical School students have been refurbishing both since last fall and they are expected to be finished on or about opening day.

"I'm pleased with the way that's going," said Chairman George Forgea, noting the city still has to remove and repair the cement sidewalks around the facilities. "I thnk it' going to be nice when it's done."

A concession stand and bathrooms for the lake area are planned for next year. "They're less than acceptable," said Forgea. "It's just not a pleasant experience to use the bathrooms; that's one of the reasons were getttng rid of them because it's not worth fixing them anymore."

Landry said she was seeking new local providers for the ice and laundry after running into difficulty finding service contracts and contacts with the current ones. 

The board also reviewed a job description for a park police officer to be submitted to the mayor for approval. Forgea said the Public Safety Department would now be involved in the hiring process. "They're going to be labeled as police, they should have police backing them up."

Forgea thanked the board for their work. "This is the end of my first year as a commissioner ... I was a member many, many years ago," he said.  "I want to thank everyone for what you did this year and I look forward to this year ... we've come a long way in a short time."

Tags: Windsor Lake, campground      

Wilco Setting 'Solid Ground' at Noel Field

Tammy Daniels

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — What's now a field of snow will bloom with tents in June as music lovers descend on the city for the Solid Sound 2 Festival.

The city is teaming with Solid Sound host Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts and the local ROPES program to organize and operate the temporary camping area, dubbed "Solid Ground." Up to 300 tent campsites and 10 recreational vehicle spots will be marked out at the Noel Field Athletic Complex between Steele and Disanti fields behind the former Modern Liquors for June 24, 25 and 26.

Commissioner Mark Vadnais points out where 'Solid Ground' will be situated to the Parks and Recreation Commission.

More than 5,000 people attended last August's festival — curated by band Wilco — filling inns and hotels and packing into the Historic Valley Campground. Noel Field was suggested last year as a possible camping site; this year, the city's being proactive in placing Wilco fans within walking distance of MoCA and the downtown. 

Half the tent sites and all but one of the RV lots have been reserved as of Friday, said Chiara Morrison at MoCA's box office.

The Parks and Recreation Commission last Wednesday reviewed preliminary plans for usage of the fields and where the tents will be located. Portable showers and toilets will be placed at the field and Paul Markland, public works director, said his department would mark out the sites with lime. Open fires will be prohibited. Golf carts will be used to shuttle campers and equipment from the parking areas and ROPES will provide an element of security and a concession.

"I went to ROPES because they have a solid support in place," said Mayor Richard Alcombright. "A good majority of them either were or are involved in law enforcement. ... It puts some form of security automatically in place."

ROPES, or Respecting Other People, Encouraging Self-esteem, is an annual summer day camp for kids that the North Adams Police Department has been operating for years. Many of its volunteer staff are local emergency responders.

"They just needed an organization willing to take on this event," said police Lt. David Sacco, one of ROPES' founders. "Because it is a city-based organization, it's kind of a win-win for the city."

Campers are being charged $80 for a 15-by-18-foot, single tent site for the weekend. An RV spot is $100. The MoCA box office is handling reservations and notifications and will get a small slice of the fee; the rest will be shared between the city and ROPES after costs, such as field repair or portable conveniences.

The Parks Commission expressed concern over damage to the field but the mayor said he expected the costs to be covered by the fees.

"Unless we have a really, really soggy weekend, I don't see a problem," he said. "Basically we committed to the fact that any repairs will come out of the proceeds."

Sacco said he didn't also see an issue with security at the site, based on last year's family-friendly, laidback crowd.

"I have never ever seen a more well-behaved crowd," said Sacco. "We're not anticipating any problems."

The dates will bump the annual LaFesta Baseball Exchange to July.

For more information on Solid Ground, click here.

Tags: Wilco      

Finance Committee Gets School Building Run Down

Tammy Daniels

Finance Committee Chairman Michael Bloom, left, member David Bond and Mayor Richard Alcombright listens to Superintendent James Montepare explain the school building project.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The school officials are waiting for the Massachusetts School Building Authority to give it the nod before presenting a school building plan to the public.

The School Building Committee indicated its preference last month for renovating Conte School and building a new Greylock School, both to serve kindergarten through seventh grade. However, School Committe members and city councilors expressed annoyance with the decisionmaking process, saying it has not been transparent enough and the two policy making bodies have not been kept in the loop.

Mayor Richard Alcombright, chairman of the School Committee, said hearings and presentations on the favored option will be held as the project moves forward but no decision has been made it yet.

"We want to have dicussions surrounding what is rather than what if's," he told the Finance Committee on Tuesday. "There's too many what if's out there."

Superintendent of Schools James Montepare said until the MSBA approves a plan, "it's very difficult for us to do anything but speculate on what it could possibly be ... it could be all kind of misinformation."

Montepare gave the Finance Committee an update on the process, including the options reviewed by the School Building Committee last month. They included building a new Greylock and renovating Conte; building a single school for 620 children, most likely where the current Greylock is located or revamping Conte for 620, and renovating Greylock and Sullivan School, which was deemed the most difficult because of the topography of the Sullivan site.

Should the Conte/Greylock project go forward, Sullivan School would close. Montepare said of all the school structures, Sullivan would likely be the easiest to market becuase of its condition and location. It would, the mayor thought, make a good assisted-living facility or terraced residences.

The options are dependent upon the MSBA accepting the city's new educational structure of kindergarten through seventh and eighth through 12th grade.

There had been concern about returning the middle school students to the elementary schools after Conte's closure two years ago, but the new configuration had worked out well, said Montepare.

"We had some very unexpected and positive results of that move," said superintendent. Moving the eighth grade to the high school has enabled the class to participate in accelerated programs, sports, music and other activities. It's also not only stemmed a flow outward of city students to neighboring schools but has dramatically increased school choice students coming in to attend eighth grade.

"We've seen a lot of discipline problems disappear and we've increased population," said Montepare. The school system has had a lot of internal discussions among teachers and various programs, he said, and the preference has tended to for Conte and Greylock.

The MSBA has indicated it also likes the idea of renovating Conte; it is expected to select which option it prefers by the end of the month.

After that, things will start moving faster, said the mayor, and public hearings will be scheduled along with more detailed discussions about the cost. The MSBA will reimburse the city 80 percent for qualifying costs upfront; the balance, estimated at under $10 million for two schools, would be bonded for 20 or 30 years.

Montepare gave an opening date of the 2013 school year. Current debt payments of $250,000 annually on the reconstructions of Drury High School and Brayton School should be "rolling off" about then, said the mayor, who gave an off-the-cuff guess of $450,000 to $500,000 to pay for two new or revamped schools.

Frequent critic Robert Cardimino questioned whether the city or state could afford the schools.

"We went through this for each school when the budget was very, very tight and the decison was made not to pass up on the state money and we found a way to pay for it and we did the right thing," said committee Chairman Michael Bloom. "We built two beautiful schools ... we should not walk away from this money either. You can't walk away from 80 percent funding."

How the costs will be absorbed would be part of the upcoming discussions, said Alcombright. It's possible it could be done as a debt exclusion, he said, which would put the decision into the public's hands.

"To say yes to the project the community will have to say yes to pay for it.

     

Planning Board Mulls Rezoning on State Street

Tammy Daniels

Building Inspector William Meranti shows planners where the Industrial-1 zone is located.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A slice of land along the Hoosic River and State Street could be rezoned away from industrial to commercial.

The Planning Board is requesting the City Council hold a joint public hearing to review the possibility rezoning the area after the owners of 420 Curran Highway asked that their split property be zoned in a single category. The council had referred the matter to the board last week.

The city will schedule a public hearing on changing a section of the I-1 zone along the Hoosic River to commercial.

The property, once occupied by the Registry of Motor Vehicles and, before that, K-K Home Mart, was purchased by Charles Fox and Gordon Leete several years ago. The pair had approached the city a few months ago about the possibility of rezoning the three-acre lot. The front of the parcel is zoned CC-1 and the back section Industrial-1.

The industrial zoning allows greater use — but prohibits residential — while the commercial zoning has limits but allows residential. Fox said the partners had no immediate plans for the property but single zoining would "enhance the redevelopment of the property."

"We had considered the possibility of live/work studios for artists ... there's some need for people who don't quite fit into the niche at Eclipse Mill," said Fox. "But we wanted it in uniform zoning because it just makes sense."

Planners seemed amenable to the change but were concerned that it could be construed as "spot" zoning, which is illegal in the state.

"We would have to look at changing zoning for the entire area not just Mr. Fox," said Planner Wayne Wilkinson. 

Chairman Michael Leary agreed. "We could make a recommendation for the entire lot outside the property be rezoned so we avoid even the appearance of rezoning," he said, adding, howevever, "I would be uncomfortable recommeding to approve this not knowing the impact on other businesses."

The section under consideration runs along the west side of the river and behind a number of parcels from the Noel Field Athletic Complex to Mr. Tire. Building Inspector William Meranti said he did not know how the change would affect businesses along what was the old foundry road.

"It baffles me why it is this way," he said, suggesting it was because industry was likely situated on the riverbanks. Fox said it might have been because the river was used for waste disposal.

"My opinion would be to rezone the whole thing," said Mayor Richard Alcombright, who was in attendance. He noted the city has been talking about river revival and using its natural resources to greater advantage. "This makes a lot of sense."

The board, with Planner Joseph Gniadek absent, unanimously voted to refer the matter back to the City Council to schedule a joint hearing. Leary said property owners and abuttors within 300 feet would be notified of the hearing.

In other business:

• An application by Steven Burbank for a special permit in a CC-1 zone to operate D&S Auto automobile repair at 350 State Road was approved. Burbank said the business, in the former Dan's Service Station where he had worked, would cater to basically the same customers and he did not anticipate difficulties in parking. The permit and signage was approved with the condition that the garage have no more than 15 vehicles on the lot at any time.

• Delayed response on a request by Mark Piechowski of Berkshire Transmissions Inc., 758 Massachusetts Ave., to double the number of vehicles parked on his lot until the planners could visit the site. They expressed concern over the condition of the property and number of vehicles already on it.

Piechowski said a bout with the flu and recent snowstorms had resulted in a pileup of work and less-than-tidy yard.

"We're trying to get rid of the stuff we don't use or we'll never get to," he said, adding that neighbors had complimented him on keeping up the lot. He did admit that "a few weeks ago when Mr. Meranti stopped by it was out of control."

Meranti concurred. His most recent visit found it "neater than the last time I was there but there's good number of vehicles there and car parts outside."

•  The board reviewed and accepted a letter from Suzy Helme on the relocation of Shima from 105 Main St. to 65 Main St. (Planner Brian Miksic, Helme's husband and partner in Shima, abstained); and approved interior signage for Interfaith Headquarters and Food Pantry at 43 Eagle St. and Cumberland Farms to install new signs at both locations that will have LED lights to show gas prices.

Tags: zoning, auto repair      

Councilor Asks For Solicitor's Opinion on Planning Board Authority

Tammy Daniels

Councilor Marie Harpin questioned why relocating and new downtown businesses weren't going before the Planning Board. Councilor Michael Bloom, second from left, worried about micromanaging businesses and Coucilor David Lamarre, next to him, said the Planning Board should be concerned with standards, not matters of taste.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday referred questions about the purview of the Planning Board to the city solicitor.

The request was prompted by Councilor Marie Harpin, who expressed concern that downtown businesses were not being properly vetted by the Planning Board.

"The Planning Board doesn't just fall under the city ordinance; it has to comply with that state law," she said, referring to Chapter 41, Section 81 of the General Laws. "By not coming through the Planning Board, even if it's an existing business, it still has to through for the signage and parking and all those other issues."

Harpin pointed to the recent musical chairs on Main Street in which Shear Madness, I Got Goodies and Shima relocated to larger quarters, and to the reopening of a restaurant on Marshall Street as the barbecue joint RUB.

"I attend every Planning Board meeting and I haven't seen any of those people," she said.

(RUB, I've Got Goodies and Shima submitted letters to the Planning Board notifying the board of changes and two were approved for new signage; Shima kept its original sign.)

Mayor Richard Alcombright said the none of the businesses needed site plan review because they were a pre-existing conforming use.

"When you have an existing business that's basically moving two doors down to expand their business, they don't have to go before the Planning Board," he said. "I don't think we're outside the ordinance and I don't think we're breaking any laws here."

Councilor Michael Bloom, also a local business owner, said the board would not be out of the loop because any business would have to contact the building inspector, who would tell them the planning process.

While Harpin worried about broken rules, Bloom was concerned that the rules would be too tight.

"If we're going to micromanage, it's anti-business," he said. "If you want to have cookie-cutter signs that are all black and gold throughout the entire city, all one exact look, that's your opinion ... I think diversity will attract more people to the city."

Harpin, however, thought the proliferation of colorful nonstandard signs, like those at an Eagle Street pizza parlor, wasn't putting the city in the best light. 

"So we become the city of the rainbow," she said. "We have to abide by the rules we set up, otherwise why have them?"

Councilor Lisa Blackmer said she had had a long conversation with former Administrative Officer Jay Green shortly before his departure about site plan review and how the city's practices compared to those of other municipalities.

Blackmer said she was of the opinion that "we're actually lucky that someone didn't have the financial wherewithall to sue us in some cases because of some of the things we denied or hoops we made people jump through."

Harpin said planners had expressed their concerns to her.

As part of the agenda, Robert Cardimino spoke against the biomass plant being proposed across the border in Vermont, citing concerns over air and water pollution, logging and the effect of heavy traffic that will come with it. Alcombright agreed, noting up to 100 trucks a day are expected to arrive at the plant — most of which will come through the city.

The mayor said he has been in contact with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and Williamstown officials and had sent a letter to the BRPC, which has been granted intervenor status, to be included in the consortium.

Cardimino asked the council to adopt a resolution against the plant; Harpin believed former councilor Gailanne Cariddi had started one before taking up her duties at state representative. Alcombright asked the council to keep him apprised of their decision on a resolution or letter "so we're working together on this."

In other business:

• A zoning change for 420 Curran Highway first sent to the city solicitor was referred to the Planning Board at the recommendation of the solicitor.

• The council approved the reappointment of Shaun Daugherty to the Airport Commission to a term to expire Feb. 1, 2014.

• An application by Terrance Brown to drive a taxi for Lori Smith was approved.

Edited on March 10, 2011, to clarify an opinion expressed by Councilor Blackmer is her own.

Tags: Planning Board      
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City Council

Returned Papers
As of 8/9 at 5 p.m.
 Lisa M. Blackmer* Yes
 Michael Bloom Yes
 Keith Bona* Yes
 David Bond* Yes
 Marie Harpin* Yes
 Alan Marden* Yes
 John Barrett Yes
 Eric R. Buddington Yes
 Nancy P. Bullett Yes
 Robert Cardimino Yes
 Catherine Chaput Yes
 Roland G. Gardner  
 Diane M. Gallese-Parsons  Yes
Shane Gaudreau  
 James B. Gyurasz  Yes
 Michael Hernandez  Yes
 Jennifer Breen Kirsch  Yes
Brian L. Flagg  
 Kellie A. Morrison  Yes
 Greg Roach  Yes
 Gail Kolis Sellers  Yes
18 candidates returned papers
 
 Mayor  
 Richard J. Alcombright*  Yes
 Ronald A. Boucher  Yes
 Robert Martelle  Yes
 Preliminary election will eliminate one
 
 School Committee  
 Mary Lou Accetta* Yes
 Lawrence K. Taft* Yes
 Leonard Giroux Jr.  Yes
 Tara J. Jacobs  Yes
 David Lamarre Yes
   
McCann School Committee  
 George M. Canales Yes

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