Cascade's Request For Street Name Rejected
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Community Development Committee on Tuesday voted not to recommend a change in name for a section of Grimes Street.
Cascade Paper Co. of 1 Brown St., which has been operating on Brown and Grimes street for more than 80 years, had asked to change the name of Grimes to Cascade Way from the intersection on Brown Street to the point where it takes a turn toward State Road.
The business's offices are on Grimes Street, not Brown Street, said Todd E. Shafer, vice president. "It's little bit misleading because it's not our address."
While the company doesn't get a lot of traffic, "we put our street address on different things and to me it adds a little status to have the street named after your company as opposed to something else," he said.
"I'm pro Cascade," said committee member David Lamarre, who said he worked there as a teenager. "But from a general manner of principal, I'm opposed to renaming city streets. I don't see a real value, I don't see a necessity in it for the company."
The address change would only affect Cascade; all the homes are on or after the turn. However, several neighbors objected, saying it would change the historic and residential character of the neighborhood.
"It is a family-oriented neighborhood, not a business zone," Garry and Mary Robert of 2 Grimes St. wrote to the committee. They were concerned that a new name would indicate the company owned the street and change the character of the neighborhood.
John Larese, who owns his grandfather's house at 4 Grimes St., said the neighborhood had been named in honor of a family that had done much for the city in the 19th century. "There is a lot of history there."
Lamarre said he understood how it might be more attractive to have a street address with the company name but didn't believe it would "make or break Cascade after 80-plus years in business."
Committee Chairman Lisa Blackmer said unless it involved a public safety issue, such as the confusion over addresses on Barbour Street that resulted in part of that road being renamed Brayton Hill Terrace. "I really don't think renaming this street is a good idea."
The committee noted it had also rejected the idea of renaming part of Summer Street for horticulturist Lue Gim Gong.
Shafer said he had hoped that renaming part of the street would continue to honor the Grimes while also recognizing the Wells family's committment to maintaining Cascade in the city even though they have moved away.
"I thought it would be a nice thing for our company; the company's been there for 80 years, and I thought the owners would like it," he said. "The owners live out of state, they are not involved in the day-to-day operations but they are very proud that they keep business in North Adams."
Larese said he would support signage at the four points on Brown and Grimes street indicating the business and the location of its offices.
The committee suggested Shafer contact the Historical Commission to see if that board had any ideas on how better to recognize the company and its history in the neighborhood.
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Solar Power Partnership Wants to Expand Usage
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The installation of a solar array at the landfill will heat up opportunities for residents, businesses and the city to take greater advantage of sun power.
Blue Wave Capital, with partners Consolidated Edison, installer Alteris Renewables and engineering firm Tighe & Bond, was selected by the city to install a 2 megawatt array at the landfill. The installation, one of the largest per capita in the state, is expected to generate between 25 and 30 percent of the city's power.
"This seems to be the perfect partnership," Mayor Richard Alcombright told the City Council on Tuesday. "I don't think we find a stronger financing partner than ConEd."
ConEd is financing the project and will lease the landfill and own the array, selling the power back to the city at a locked-in, lower rate over the next two decades. The city could have the option of buying the array after six years.
"Three out of every four years, electricity prices have gone up," said John DeVillars, manager of Blue Wave Capital, in presenting the project to the council. "It will be a very precise price ... it's a hedge against what every energy economist predicts will be substantial increases."
Alcombright and DeVillars said they were looking at other municipal locations, such as the airport, former wastewater plant and Drury High School, as possibilities for arrays.
DeVillars said once the municipal side was done, Blue Wave would work with the city in outreach to the community on solar use. Alteris Renewables, the region's largest solar panel installer, has a "zero down" program for residences and businesses. Working with SunRun, a provider of residential solar electricity, homeowners could apply for solar installations for minimal or even zero investment.
Further, DeVillars said for every five homeowners who sign on for a panel, the partnership would donate one for a community or municipal facility.
"This hasn't really been tried yet in the way we envision this," he said. "We hope we could use it as a community organizing tool."
For example, parishioners could band together to target a church or hall for solar; a neighborhood could select community center or city building.
In response to a question from Councilor Alan Marden, DeVillars said the installation would create short-term jobs as Alteris is committed to subcontracting with local companies to install the arrays.
DeVillars expected the array to be up and running by the end of the year to take advantage of state and federal tax incentives.
In other business:
• Discussed changes to a vendor bylaw were postponed until July 12. The issue was raised last summer but stalled in the General Government Committee.
"I don't think there's an easy answer to this; currently, what's in the books is working, there's some flexibility there," said committee Chairman Keith Bona. "We can still talk about it in General Government more ... .
The mayor suggested it be postponed to "see how things go through the Wilco weekend."
• An order on renaming a section of Summer Street for former resident and horticulturist Lue Gim Gong was filed at the motion of Councilor Michael Bloom. Bloom said there did not appear to be support on the council or in the community for the change but urged historian Paul Marino, who raised the idea, to work with the Historial Commission on a more appropriate memorial.
• The council adopted the state's anti-idling law at the behest of the Board of Health and on the recommendation of the Public Safety Committee. The "adoption" merely indicates support for the law, which is in effect statewide.
• Approved an economic development opportunity area for the North Adams Transcript site on American Legion Drive and minor changes suggested by MassDevelopment to the tax incentive financing agreement with Scarafoni Associates that will allow the property to be purchased and renovated for the Brien Center.
• Approved restructuring of bond debt.
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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.
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NA Council OKs Taxes, Hears River Group
The Hoosac River Revival Coalition is hoping to reimagine the Hoosac River.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday approved a tax classification that will see the average homeowner's taxes increase about $170.
The vote wasn't unexpected; Mayor Richard Alcombright and councilors had discussed the necessity of raising taxes to cover shortfalls in state aid and the agreement reached over the Medical Insurance Trust Fund.
The classification sets the residential tax rate at $14 per $1,000 valuation, or 12.2 percent more than last year's $12.44; the commercial rate will be $31.49, up 11 percent over last year's $27.92. The shift was set at 1.75, which dropped the residential burden for raising the $12.9 levy from 77 percent to 60 percent. If the city had adopted a single rate, commercial and residential would both have been billed at $17.99 per $1,000.
The average home in the city is assessed at $135,117, which means a tax bill of $1,891.64; last year's average home was assessed at $138,963, with a tax bill of $1,728.
The council approved it unanimously, with Councilor Keith Bona absent.
Resident Robert Cardimino said he couldn't understand why the overall valuation of property had dropped 2 percent when he had seen slow sales and houses near him drop in price considerably. He thought it should be 20 percent.
Assessor Greg Betti said all sale figures are reported by the banks; those of "full and fair cash value" are factored into the ongoing revaluation of all properties and sent to the state Department of Revenue for review.
"The assessments are based on comparable sales from the prior calendar year. Those assessments and those values have been checked and sent to the Department of Revenue," the mayor said. "Those figures are what they are."
"If values go down, rates go up; if values go up rates go down," he continued, "to raise the same amount you need for your budget."
Alcombright again warned that the city was facing a tough year ahead. It is going into fiscal 2012 with a $1.2 million structural deficit that could hit closer to $3 million if the anticipated cuts in state aid of up to 10 percent go through.
"The mayor has made it clear that nothing would be left off the table, including cuts in sevices and personnel in the next budget cycle," said Councilor Michael Bloom, chairman of the Finance Committee.
Information on the tax rate and how it is set can be found in the sidebar; clicking on the "budget" category will bring up an article on Monday's Finance Committee.
The council also heard an update from the Hoosac River Revival Coalition, a group of residents and organizations trying to reintegrate the river and the city.
The group's founder, Judith Grinnell, said its consultants had prepared a 50-page report based on the community discussion held in June that drew 85 people. An executive summary is being prepared and will be sent to the council.
In September, Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for public works and civilian overseer of all Army Corps of Engineers works, toured several sites along the flood control chutes with some of her staff.
Founder Judith Grinnell said the group will be searching for grants. An earmark for $1 million has been placed in the federal water resources bill by U.S. Rep. John W. Olver.
"I think it was a trip that created a lot of interest among the Corps people who came," said Lauren Stevens, a coalition board member, "especially Ms. Darcy, whose mother lives in Pittsfield."
Darcy's sister lives in Fitchburg, one of the three samples Grinnell and Stevens showed of changes to flood chutes. Grinnell said the hope is to lower the depth of the concrete chutes and naturalize them to make them more accessible as well as more habitable to fish.
The coalition envisions sites along the river - Willow Dell, Eclipse Mill, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Noel Field - linked by greenways, bike and foot paths and parks.
In other business:
The council referred to the Public Services Committee an ordinance on licensing fees for commercial waste haulers to transport materials through and to North Adams. The Board of Health had enacted the fee but the language sent to the council was ambiguous as to whether it applied to the hauler or the vehicle. The ordinance referred to committee was rewritten by Councilor Gailanne Cariddi.
It also referred the matter of honoring Lue Gim Gong to the Community Development Committee. Cariddi had submitted a communication on behalf of local historian Paul Marino, who had asked that Summer Street between Ashland and Church streets be named for the horticulturist.
Resident Robert Cardimino said that while he appreciated Lue's work in developing citrus, the naturalized citizen had come to the city as a strikebreaker and done his horticultural work in Florida. "Do we want to honor a man who participated in a strike?" he said. "I think not."
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North Adams Council to Set Tax Rates
The City Council will be asked to approve a tax classification shift that sets rates of $14 per $1,000 for residences and $31.49 per $1,000 for commerical businesses.
The rates will be determined by the "shift" between commercial and residential tax classifications approved by the council on Tuesday. The recommendation is a residential factor of 77.8041 percent.
In a communication to the council, Mayor Richard Alcombright say that in setting the shift, "you will be approving an increase in the tax rates for both the residential and commerical taxpayers."
The issue, he reminds them, has been discussed at length and the new rates are necessary for the city to provide expected services in light of continued reductions in state aid.
"As we set this rate tonight, we are assuring our community that we will be able to provide services that they have all come to expect," he contines.
The Finance Committee will meet Monday at 5 p.m. at City Hall at the mayor's request to review the calculations and ask questions. However, it is unlikely the council will vote against the recommendations; the council approved the fiscal 2011 budget with expectation of an increase in property taxes.
The residential rate will jump a $1.46, or 11 percent. Compared to previous years, the residential tax rate will still be lower than in both 2003 ($14.69) and 2002 ($14.33). A home valued at $150,000 would be assessed $2,100.
The commercial rate will also jump 11 percent, making it the highest in the past decade. Prior to this, the highest year for the commercial tax was 2006 at $28.98.
If a singe tax rate were chosen, the tax rate for all property would be $17.99 per $1,000.
In documents provided to the council, the amount of residential and commercial property value has decreased since fiscal 2010 by nearly $13 million, 85 percent of which was residential. Commercial value dropped nearly $1 million; the rest was industrial and personal property at another million.
In his communication, the mayor stressed the difficulties the city will have in the coming fiscal year. "I am predicting a $2 [million to] $3 million dollar budget shortfall in FY 2012. This will certainly result in very difficult decisions with respect to pontential losses in programming and services throughout the city."
Also on the agenda for Tuesday's council meeting is a (hopefully clarified) ordinance for licensing waste haulers; Judy Grinnell with an update on the Hoosic River Revival and a communication from Councilor Gailanne Cariddi on the request by local historian Paul Marino on honoring a former resident of the city, Lue Gim Gong.
The agenda for the City Council is below with the mayor's communication; we have separated out the tax rate and city valuation information and placed it in the sidebar for easier access.
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