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Curran Highway Zoning Change Set Aside

Tammy Daniels

Bart Raser of Carr Hardware tells of the Planning Board of his plans to relocate the business to Route 2.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A proposal to rezone a section of land along the Hoosic River was put on the backburner on Monday night over concerns it would limit business opportunities on State Street.

Charles Fox, owner of the former K-K Home Mart property at 420 Curran Highway had applied to have the parcel under one zoning. It is currently split east/west as commercial (CC1) and industrial. Building Inspector William Meranti had suggested in March the strip of industrial zoning along the river be rezoned as CC1 from the Noel Field Athletic Complex to Foundry Road to prevent spot zoning.

"The purpose is to move that CC line back to the river so additional uses that are allowed in that zone can be allowed in the entire property," Meranti told a joint public hearing of the Planning Board and City Council.

Fox said he was looking to develop the property more along the lines of a human service hub, considering among its current tenants are a Berkshire Family and Individual Resources' program and United Cerebral Palsy. 

"We thought it might possibly include a residential component," said Fox. He referred to studio living space for those "not historically artists" who may be unable to move into the Eclipse Mill. "I believe we could apply with a residential permit but in the case of a CC zone, we could do that by right." 

However, Paul Cummings, representing McGill Properties Inc., said changing the industrial zone would have a negative affect on its property, specifically the building behind the radio station that had been leased by Verizon. 

Charles Fox wants his Curran Highway property rezoned to all commercial to allow more opportunities for mixed commercial and residential. A section of it is now zoned industrial. The board suggested he return with a legal option.

"We really have no interest in a zoning change ... period," he said. "It would reduce the value of our property. We aren't interested in residential. We have not been marketing it in that sense, we have been marketing it for commercial and industrial."

The loss of industrial zoning would limit the building's possible uses for light or heavy manufacturing, packaging, distribution and truck delivery, or contracting and building trades, Cummings continued.

David Moresi of Moresi & Associates, who is currently managing the building, said he would no longer be interested in purchasing the property because he wouldn't be able to base his electrical division and other contracting there.

"I feel the change would be counterproductive," he said. "Our industrial zoned areas are very, very valuable to us. We're always talking about getting manufacturing in the area ... changing these parcels will make it hard to bring that in here."

"We don't have a problem changing Charlie's property, but don't touch ours," said Cummings.

Fox said his attorneys believed that since part of his property fell within the CC1 zone, it could be extended east to the river without being spot zoning.

Board Chairman Michael Leary said he didn't think the board should vote on a recommendation for the City Council to act on; Fox asked if the application could be withdrawn or tabled. The board agreed to set it aside and invited Fox to submit a legal basis for changing the zoning only on his property.

"I think we would need a legal opinion on what that change would require," said Leary.

In other business:

• The board swiftly approved an application by Carr Hardware to relocate to the former Scarafoni Ford building on State Road. "I think it's an outstanding use for that property," said Leary.

• An application by Dana Ritcher to operate a garage on Ashland Street in an I-1 zone was continued pending the written intent of Ritcher to withdraw his application.

• Renee and Mark Lapier, owners of Big Shirl's Diner, were approved for dinner hours of 5 to 9 and added morning of 6 to 2 on Mondays.

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Carr Hardware Eyeing Scarafoni Ford Lot

Tammy Daniels

Carr Hardware is hoping to move into the former Scarafoni Ford building on State Road.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Carr Hardware is planning to relocate from its space on State Street to the former Scarafoni Ford building on State Road and Roberts Drive.

Carr President Bart Raser said on Friday that a lease has not yet been settled with landlord Scarafoni & Associates but believed a deal was close. "We're feeling positive about the opportunity but it isn't done yet."

The company will appear before the Planning Board on Monday to apply for a change-of-use permit for the State Road property.

Carr Hardware has operated out of the former Tucker Toy building for 14 years, after purchasing the 192 State St. building from what was then International Outlets in 1997.

The car lot has had a couple different dealerships, the latest being Carbone Ford, which moved to a new building in Bennington, Vt., last fall to be near Carbone's other dealerships.

According to documents on file in the city's Community Development Office, Carr will have a full-service hardware, paint, lawn and garden and rental facility in the 10,000-square-foot building.

No significant changes to the color, existing footprint or parking are planned but the garage doors will be replaced on the former automotive service area.

Details of how the store would be laid out inside.

Raser said the offerings will be similar to the Pittsfield store; the company also has locations in Great Barrington and Watervliet, N.Y.

"This will be a real full-line operation," he said. "The Curran Highway store has been very limited to paint and rental."

Carr has also formed a relationship with Agway to sell its products in the new store. The last Agway in the area closed in Williamstown in 2009 after 45 years in business.

"It will be a green goods business, with flowers and plants and pets and birds supplies, which Agway is known for," said Raser.

The State Street location has had a significant drop in revenue since work began on the Hadley Overpass in 2009, to the point that it incurred the ire of the Planning Board when it was painted a bright yellow to garner attention. The Route 2 location will make the store easily accessible to customers from both Williamstown and North Adams.

"It's a great location and allows to do what we're very good at doing," said Raser. "We do a lot of commercial business that comes from our Pittsfield store. We know our North County customers will be happy with this.
"We've been trying to do this for a while. We have to move or close."

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Gallery Owner Caught in Site Plan Debate

Tammy Daniels

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A man trying to an open art gallery found himself in the midst of an ongoing dispute Monday night over how businesses should be permitted in the city.

The Planning Board has been accepting letters of intent for conforming businesses opening in the appropriate zones but some planners and councilors think those businesses should be required to go through a more extensive site plan review. And if businesses don't need Planning Board approval, then why, asked others, is the board even getting letters?

Timothy Tague, son of the late photographer Bill Tague, who wants to open an art gallery at 16 Eagle St., became the case in point when Planners Joseph Gniadek and Wayne Wilkinson complained that his letter was skimpy on facts and "more like a memo."

"We have two letters tonight, both of who give very little in content whatsoever," said Wilkinson. "At least when we were doing site plan reviews, we would get specific information on signage, specifics on other items that were necessary — hours of operation, what they were going to be doing. 

"We're really getting, 'Hi, I'm opening for business.'"

Building Inspector William Meranti said the determination of who requires a site plan review was made through his office and in consultation with the Office of Community Development. With the administrative officer position still vacant, Meranti said he's been left to decide whether there's a change of use that the Planning Board should review.

"In this case, the determination is that it does not," he said of Tague's gallery. "This letter is simply for your information. Everyone that I've requested to send us something has sent us something at various stages."

How much information is provided varies, he said. "Typically, what I ask for are the bullet points on our checklist."

Planner Brian Miksic asked if something could be put together to elicit more information, even if only as a courtesy.

"If they are a by-right use and are not required by law to come before the Planning Board, what right do we have to tell them what information to bring to us," said Chairman Michael Leary. "That's the queston I would have."

It's also a question of money. Business owners submitting site plans are charged about $120 and must provide a package of parking, interior layouts, signage, hours, number of employees, and other information that once recorded can only be changed by petition to the board.

A confused Tague said he'd submitted what he thought was needed — he wasn't sure what his hours would be and he hadn't decided on a name yet. "Call it the Tague Gallery, if that's the name you want to give it," he said.

"I'm rehabbing the space ... it's time-consuming so I don't expect I'll be ready to open before June, maybe in May," he said. "That's as close as I can get for hours, probably later morning to early evening and closed on a weekday."

Planners said their complaints weren't specific to Tague but about the process.

Councilor Marie Harpin, liasion to the Planning Board who was sitting in the audience with Councilor Alan Marden, objected that the city was violating proper procedures by not following the site plan review process.

Harpin, who raised the issue at a City Council meeting two weeks ago, said the site plan review is supposed to be required at all times. Meranti said they'd discussed the issue before and "that's not the way it is."

Miksic noted the matter is before the city solicitor at the City Council. Harpin responded, "We should be going on the ordinances that are on the books until we get a ruling from the solicitor."

Chairman Michael Leary cut off discussion, saying the issue was already in the appropriate forum.

"We have been going by the recommendations of the city's Community Development Office, which issued recommendations when Mr. [Jay] Green was here based on his legal expertise in the area," he said.

In the end, the board voted 6-2 to accept Tague's letter and that from Sara Stefanik to open a social media and Internet consulting office at 47 Eagle St., with Wilkinson and Gniadek voting no. The vote had no bearing on either business's opening. Planner Donald Keagan was absent.

In other business:

• The board voted to approve 30 parking spots for customer vehicles for Berkshire Transmissions Inc. on condition owner Mark Piechowski remove a dozen unregistered vehicles parked behind a fence on the 758 Massachusetts Ave. property within the next 120 days.

Piechowski had requested more parking spots last month. A spike in customers had led to an overflowing lot of up to 40 vehicles, he said. "It's the most I've had in five years."

Planners had visited the site shortly before Monday's meeting. While they did not want to make it difficult for him to do business, they said the number of unregistered vehicles set aside for parts plus the trailers being used for parts storage were in violation of city ordinance.

The vehicles would have to be "completely hidden from public view," said Meranti. "Where you are it would be very difficult unless they were in a garage."

• The board signed a previously approved Form A mylar plan from Fred Thompson for American Financial Resources Inc. for property located on the westerly side of Brown Street, southerly side of Massachusetts Avenue and River Street, northerly of the Boston & Maine Railroad right of way that describes the existing parcels.

• The proliferation of businesses at the Beaver Street Mill that have not appeared before the board and the condition of the car wash behind Monroe Muffler were referred to the compliance committee.

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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.

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