The Plunkett School has been empty for years. A Dunkin' Donuts franchise has hoped to demolish the building and build a new doughnut shop with a drive-through.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council will move to reject plans for a Dunkin' Donuts drive-through at the corner of First and Fenn streets, following the continuation Tuesday of a lengthy public hearing on an issue that has sparked controversy in the community for more than a year.
By 10-0 vote, the council favored a motion to begin crafting a legal rejection of the special permit application for the drive-through proposal from Cafua Management. The company has planned to move its existing operation farther down First Street by demolishing the 104-year-old W.B. Plunkett School and building a new facility.
Several councilors cited concerns about anticipated traffic problems as well as a sense of overall inconsistency with the city's master plan among their reasons for opposing the special permit, which was also opposed by the city's Community Development Board in April.
"For the past 10 years, Pittsfield has aspired to be something better, and to do something better with its downtown," said Ward 6 Councilor John Krol.
Testimony from John Mullin, a longtime professor of urban planning brought in to offer additional consultation to the council at the invitation of the Department of Community Development, bolstered the councilors' concerns.
"This proposal is inconsistent with the city's vision in terms of this site," said Mullin, citing several points of consideration within master plan document, "The [proposed] property is inconsistent with protecting the character of the urban core, the project does not [contribute] to urban revitalization, it does not contribute to the desire for pedestrian movement along this urban core. The project will contribute minimally to the goal of well-paying core jobs, and the project will change the value of past character there."
Representatives of Cafua's proposal have maintained that no such inconsistency exists, and that the project will in fact enhance this corridor as a vibrant pedestrian environment.
"I think there are some important benefits that have come out of this special permit process," said James Scalise of SK Design, who crafted the plan for the proposed facility with several nods to appeasing city concerns, including an outdoor lighting scheme to match that of the Common, and the incorporation of architectural features from the existing historic school building.
"No matter how you dress this up, this is a low-density, highway business activity within the urban core of your city," Mullin told the council.
Only Councilor at Large Barry Clairmont, who left before the final vote, voiced fervent support for the drive through proposal, saying opposition to the permit application would convey an image that Pittsfield is "anti-business."
"We'll be sending a clear message to the business community: 'Stay away.' Don't invest your money, because there is a really good chance we're going to shoot you down."
"This applicant is being a good neighbor," said Clairmont, pointing to the various concessions made by Cafua to make its proposal more palatable, and citing the importance of adding an anticipated five new jobs and additional property tax revenue for the city.
"Why did we do a master plan if we're not going to stick to it and use it?" countered Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi.
Several councilors also expressed fears of traffic problems and pedestrian safety issues, despite a completed traffic study that concluded the proposed site would not have a significant adverse effect.
"I realize the conclusion of the traffic study is that it won't create problems, but if you drill down deeper into the data, it does point to periods of gridlock," said Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop. "The purpose of planning is to prevent that."
With the possibility of litigation by Cafua Management looming since the beginning of the council's hearing on the issue last month, councilors conferred extensively with Mark Brobowski, a Concord-based attorney specializing in land use and zoning law, on the criteria for their decision and procedures for crafting a response to the doughnut franchisee's application.
"No one is entitled to a special permit," Brobowski told the council, indicating that it is the council's job as the permitting authority in this case to decide upon the merits of the application, and a judge is unlikely to overturn the decision as long as it is found to have been fairly debated. "You're the last word here, and your discretion is very broad and very deep."
Brobowski said an ideal letter of denial may go through several drafts before being sent out to the applicant. The council has 90 days from the close of the public hearing Tuesday night to issue its letter of denial.
Following the vote to issue a denial, representatives of Cafua did not elect to comment on the council's decision or future plans for pursuing the special permit.
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City Council Asks Mayor Tyer for 75K to Assist the Homeless
By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council is pushing for Mayor Linda Tyer to set aside $75,000 from free cash to assist the homeless in acquiring temporary or permanent housing.
The petition asking for this amount from Councilors Chris Connell, Kevin Morandi, Patrick Kavey, and Chairman of the Homelessness Prevention Commission Edward Carmel was referred to Mayor Linda Tyer at last week's council meeting.
Kavey, of Ward 5, said this request was a starting point to discuss how much in funds would be allocated to them.
"I don't think that what happened in the spring was great with the shelter closing, and people living in a park doesn't work," Kavey said. "I'm just looking to make sure that doesn't happen again."
The temporary shelter set up at the former St. Joseph's School to comply with pandemic restrictions was closed in July, leading to many of the shelter's occupants camping in Springside Park.
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Mayor Linda Tyer pitched this program back in 2019 to help eligible residents improve their homes. This program would provide zero-interest loans to residents for undertaking certain home improvement projects in an effort to improve the housing stock in the city.
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Mayor Linda Tyer this week said the city of Pittsfield is feeling discouraged from the lack of community organizations willing to host a warming shelter that will house homeless individuals during the hours that the St. Joseph's temporary winter shelter on Maplewood Avenue is closed. click for more
This has been a long-standing tradition between the sheriff's office and the Christian Center. For the last decade, staff and inmates at the Berkshire County House of Corrections have prepared Thanksgiving meals for hundreds of people at the center under the guidance of Food Service Director... click for more