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James Scalise presented the plan to the Community Development Board on Tuesday.

Marijuana Businesses Eyed For Former KFC — Again

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The former Kentucky Fried Chicken on East Street is yet again eyed to be a marijuana facility.
Just two years ago the Zoning Board of Appeals denied a permit for Happy Valley Compassion Center to operate a medical marijuana facility at the vacant restaurant. Now, Heka Health is proposing to use that and the neighboring Tailored Events properties for a recreational marijuana dispensary.
The plan would be to demolish the former KFC, turning that space into a parking lot, and renovate the Tailored Events building.
"The front of this building will face west, face the parking area so it will have a different orientation to the property," Engineer James Scalise of SK Design told the Community Development Board on Tuesday night.
Scalise talked the board through the design including lighting, landscaping, parking, and traffic. The Community Development Board's in the process to review the site plan of the proposed facility as well as review a floodplain permit needed. The ultimate say over the plan will happen Wednesday night before the Zoning Board of Appeals.
The Community Development Board had only a few issues with the proposed site design but that wasn't the problem two years ago. The ZBA denied the permit at that time after determining that such a development was detrimental to the character of the neighborhood. In 2016, George Haddad, president of the Haddad Dealerships on the other side of the street, neighbor Michael O'Keefe, and resident Jessie Griffin were among those voicing opposition to that particular site.
The group cited Chin Bo Kok Marital Arts Academy for children, Kids Zone Day Care Center, parks and doctors offices and even the proximity to Pittsfield High School to demonstrate the neighborhood's character. However, each one of those falls outside of the 200-foot buffer zone required by local permitting for a marijuana facility and the area is zoned for commercial use. 
O'Keefe opposed the 2016 plan and will oppose the 2018 plan as well. 
"We went through this application process a few years ago and it was rejected because of the proximity of the school, gymfest, and all of these places geared toward kids," O'Keefe said, adding that children and teens are walking the area going to Belanger Park or elsewhere often.
O'Keefe added that there is a significant traffic issue on East Street right now and adding such a use to the area will only make it worse and more unsafe. He added that the city has seen high demand for recreational marijuana and "we have enough of them already."
Scalise said the nearest children's area is 570 feet away and PHS is much further. He added that the area is zoned commercial use and that the residential properties there are non-conforming and only there because they pre-existed zoning. Scalise disputes the parking issue saying the dispensary will produce significantly less traffic.
"The previous use of fast food generates about 300 vehicle trips in the peak hour, we are three times less than that," Scalise said, though O'Keefe will contest that particular KFC was not generating that much traffic.
The property has also been an eyesore — so much so the mayor used it as campaign fodder when she ran on anti-blight policies. 
The plans for Heka call for new landscaping and screening. There will be a total of eight lights on the parking lot for security. Scalise said the banks by Silver Lake will have invasive species removed — however, the consent decree with General Electric limits what work can be done as far as excavation because of costs to the developer. Scalise said this redevelopment will be an improvement to what is there now.
In what limited capacity the Community Development Board has on these particular permits, it is recommending that the ZBA demand that some 20 feet of proposed parking from the plan is turned into green space. The change would eliminate four of the proposed 47 parking spaces, but the board felt it provided needed to push for parking closer to the rear of the property and increase plantings in the front.
"I respect where the applicant is coming but it seems like a significant amount of parking of that facility," board member Gary Levante said.
Scalise complied with eliminating some of the spaces but asked, and received, an OK to return to the city in the future should the parking demand call for more.
For Heka, the location is at least its second potential one. Heka Health has been seeking a location in the city since 2015 when it first proposed a medical marijuana facility.

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Berkshire Athenaeum Using Feedback to Push Harder for Diversity Efforts

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Berkshire Athenaeum is using a local and celebrated author's negative experience at the facility as a learning experience to drive its efforts in diversity, equity, and inclusion even further.

"We know that prejudices exist and that we need to work to keep them in check, still, on the whole, our perception of how well we account for those implicit biases and how we how well we keep them in check can be inaccurate," Director Alex Reczkowski said.

"One of the most impactful lessons has been input from the community, and namely, from a local and highly celebrated author, Ocean Vuong, who is a Vietnamese poet and novelist."

In the process of writing his 2019 book "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous," Vuong visited the Berkshire Athenaeum to research Herman Melville. During this visit, a library staff member reportedly acted on implicit bias and made an explicit comment that made his visit harmful to him.

So much was he affected that, a year later, he spoke about the experience in an interview with the Toronto Public Library.

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