Pittsfield Adult Learning Center OK For New North St. Home

By Joe DurwinPittsfield Correspondent
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Adult Learning Center will relocate from its longtime home at 10 Lyman St. to a new space at 141 North St., following a 7-4 vote by the City Council to authorize a lease at the new location.

The new five-year lease, which was unanimously approved by the city's School Committee at its June 6 meeting, was the result of a request for proposals put out by the center in February as the school department's current lease with Massery Realty for the Lyman Street building is set to expire June 30. 

An offer from GDL Associates for equivalent quarters at the Brothership Building (formerly the W.T. Grant building) on North Street would save about $21,000 per year, or $105,000 over the next five years, from the city's school budget expenditures.

Kristen Behnke, school business administrator for the center, said the request for proposals and bidding process was a requirement of Massachusetts General Law, rather than a reflection of any dissatisfaction with their current location. The North Street space offered by GDL Associates rated higher overall on a set of criteria laid out in the RFP, in addition to its lower price.

"It's a nine dollar per square foot price, as opposed to Massery Realty, which came in at $13 per square foot," said Behnke.

The four councilors in opposition Christopher Connell, Melissa Mazzeo, Anthony Simonelli, and Christine Yon, cited concerns about the center being a good fit in this largely retail-oriented sector of the city.

"I think that location should be set aside for retail," said Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli, "It's prime real estate right downtown on our North Street."

Other tenants in the Brothership Building include both retail stores such as Persnickety Toys and Bisque Beads and Beyond as well as office spaces, including Meridian Associates, which provides mental health outreach services.

Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon pointed to a five-year planning document completed by Downtown Inc. last year that called for preserving  called for preserving the first-floor spaces on North Street for retail, restaurant or cultural uses. 

"When we do things like Juvenile Court, what that creates on North Street is what they call 'retail black holes,'" said Yon. "You have to walk a long distance to the next retail; it doesn't make it conducive for shoppers or even retailers to want to set up little retail shops on North Street."

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi said the Adult Learning Center would be an additional draw and reason for people to frequent the revitalized North Street area.

"I know we want to keep particularly businesses, retail, going in there, but we do have empty storefronts," Morandi said in support of approving the lease.

"This is an opportunity to not only save the taxpayers money, but to bring more people downtown," agreed Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop.

Ward 6 Councilor John Krol said he was sympathetic to the concerns about losing space that was prime for retail on North Street, but questioned whether it was the council's role to impose that onto the ADL's lease approval.

"We're not really a permitting authority here, we're just accepting a lease," said Krol. "Because frankly, if Mildred Elley wanted to go into this space, we wouldn't have any control over that, it would just happen."

The Adult Learning Center provides adult continuing education classes, GED testing, family literacy programs and a number of other free community resources. About 125 individuals utilize the center daily, between day and evening classes.

Tags: adult learning,   city council,   North Street,   retail,   

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Letter: Problematic Proposed Lenox Short-Term Rental Bylaw

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

Under the proposed short-term rental Lenox bylaw, "up to two bedrooms in a dwelling unit may be rented year-round by right provided that the owner or tenant is occupying the dwelling unit at the time of the rental."

Presumably, bedrooms may not be rented at all if the owner or tenant is not occupying the dwelling unit.

In other words, literally, the very same use is allowed by one type of owner (an owner occupying the dwelling unit), but not another type of owner (one who does not occupy the dwelling unit where bedrooms are being rented). Because there is identical use and intensity and the only thing that differs is the type of owner or renter; it is hard to view this as mere regulation of use and not ownership.

The other provision suffers from the same problem. Suppose there is a duplex or land with two houses on it (perhaps an old robber-baron estate) but with separate owners for each dwelling unit. Under the rule regarding "dwelling units being rented in their entirety," "an entire dwelling unit maybe rented up to 75 days per calendar year by right," and "an entire dwelling unit may be rented for an additional 35 days (up to 110 days) per calendar year by Special Permit."

But then suppose there is unity of ownership and one person owns the entire duplex or both houses. In that case, "the above totals apply to the entire parcel" and "the day limits defined above shall be apportioned among those dwelling units."

A town can regulate the number of days a short-term rental may be utilized under the newly passed statute: but this additional restriction based on who owns the premises is a regulation of ownership and not use.

The same is instinct through other parts as well. Of course, Lenox residents or their guest can park in the street. But if you are renting a short-term rental, "All overnight parking must be within the property's driveway or garage." If you own or rent property, so long as you get the right permits, you may entertain on your property. But if you are a short-term renter, "events that include tents or amplified music or which would customarily require a license or permit are not allowed."

Since 1905, when Home Rules was put into the [Massachusetts] Constitution, towns could pass their own bylaws, so long as there was no regulation of a civil relationship unless it was an incident to a legitimate municipal power. This meant, among other things, zoning laws had to regulate use and not ownership. It is now a fundamental principle of Massachusetts zoning that it deals basically with the use, without regard to the ownership of the property involved, or who may be the operator of the use. This bylaw appears to violate this fundamental tenet.

By way of example of the you-may-regulate-use-but-not-ownership rule, it has been held that a city did not have authority under the Massachusetts Constitution to pass an ordinance that affected the civil relationship between tenants and their landlord, who wished to convert their rental units to condominiums. In another case, a municipal ordinance which restricted a landlord's ability to terminate a lease and remove his property from the rental market in order to sell it was invalid.

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