Narain Schroeder of BNRC has been pushing for the land to be conserved.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Conservation Commission has denied a proposal from Mazzeo's restaurant to use the Berkshire Flower Shop property instead of having it turned into conservation land.
The city reached an agreement with the Gordon Rose family to conserve the property located at 910 South St. back in 1997. The deal called for the land on the city's southern entryway to eventually be converted into conservation space.
The building was once one of the city's earliest fast-food restaurants, The Quarry. It had been occupied by the late Bridget Brown since she opened her Berkshire Flower Shop there in 1987.
The agreement continued when Patriot Suites took over the property and, in exchanging development rights for the Rose Business Park, agreed to vacate that strip of land. The flower shop was to be razed in 2012.
But Brown fought her ouster. She had tremendous support and the community would rally around her when an eviction was attempted. On multiple occasions, the city put a stay on the agreement to allow Brown to continue operating there.
In 2012, Brown was given a 10-year extension or until whenever the Berkshire Flower Shop was to stop operating. She died a few months ago and the business closed.
"The flower shop is done. There have been multiple extensions. It is time to follow through with the agreement and preserve this greenway," Narain Schroeder, representing the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, told the Conservation Commission earlier this year.
Schroeder has been pushing for the conservation restriction to be put in place because a new proposal was being floated.
Anthony Mazzeo, who owns Mazzeo's right across the street, had put forth a new idea. Mazzeo had hoped to vacate the conservation restriction and purchase the property. He wanted to expand his restaurant into the flower shop and offer such things as coffee.
"We plan to renovate the building. We plan to use it for ancillary service for the restaurant," Mazzeo's attorney Thomas Hamel said.
Hamel presented a deal to the city: Mazzeo would give an acre and a half of land on South Street -- to the north of the current restaurant -- and a piece of land that borders Silver Lake and two parcels on which the city recently demolished houses, to the city for conservation. In return, the restriction on 910 South St. would be removed.
Mazzeo also offered $25,000 to go to the Conservation Commission Trust Fund, which is used to conserve and protect land. Such exchanges aren't unheard of because when developers want to use conservation land but don't have land equally as ecologically worthy, that is an avenue to use.
"We believe the dollars put forward allow you to do your work in continuing to do your conservation work," Hamel said, calling the proposal a "legitimate" one.
The Conservation Commission, however, denied the offer on Thursday. The building would have to be demolished by Patriot Suites.
"I can't bring myself to break a deal that was made in good confidence years ago," said Conservation Commissioner Thomas Sakshaug.
Conservation Commissioner Jonathan Lothrop said his major concern is that the flower shop had a very low impact on the land. But, if the conservation restriction was lifted, then Mazzeo could ultimately sell it to somebody else who will be more invasive. The underlying zoning allows for commercial uses so it could easily turn into a gas station.
He also didn't see as much ecological value in the parcels being offered by Mazzeo.
Chairman James Conant disagreed. He felt the better public benefit would be served by having additional access to Silver Lake. Elizabeth Bocchino agreed with him that the trade-off would benefit the public better overall.
Schroeder described the issue as one of trust. He presented the original agreement with signatures from the City Council president and mayor at the time. He presented signatures from more than 300 people who petitioned for the restriction.
"People have to trust when we sign an agreement with them that says we will monitor a restriction for them, we do that," Schroeder said. "All of these folks trusted that this agreement would do what it says it was going to do."
Lothrop said he voted against the multiple extensions Berkshire Flower Co. was given to stay there when he was a city councilor.
"You make agreements and you do expect they would be followed through," he said.
The denial by just a 4-3 margin sets a course for the former flower shop to be razed and the restriction imposed.
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