The building is outlined in pink in this overhead shot and the potential parking space in black.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — A Queens, N.Y., artist is envisioning a flexible live/work space in the town's densest commercial corner.
Ivan Stojakovic's plans are still in the very preliminary stages and will depend on whether he can get a variance to allow residential use in an industrial zone.
He floated the idea to the Planning Board on Wednesday to see if there would be any significant pushback from the town before venturing to purchase 161 River Road.
"I like the industrial complex and the idea of having an art studio," he said. "I see a lot of potential to do what I'm doing already in Queens."
The building in question is located in the rear of the mill complex that once housed the Strong-Hewat woolen company. A number of businesses have been located in the facility that is made up of multiple buildings with different owners. Cascade Paper Co. owns the large building in the front and R.I. Baker several structures, some of more recent vintage.
Stojakovic is eyeing a structure facing the North Branch in the rear consisting of a three-story building and a one-story section. It is currently occupied by M&G metal fabricating, aka Berkshire Metal Spinning, but the building is listed for sale with 360Berkshire Realty Group.
Gregory Vigna, a member of the Planning Board, stepped down during the presentation because he's the trustee of River Road Nominee Trust, owner of the building. M&G is operated by his father, who is seeking to retire.
The artist said he has no plans to permanently live there — his wife and two children are in Queens — but sees it as a space for a part-time or temporary home for himself and other artists. He said he was pointed toward the building by real estate agent Michael Hernandez, who attended the meeting.
The location doesn't have the walkability of urban loft structures but he likes the proximity to the river and the surrounding nature. His artist statement says his work "explores artificial environments and the decline of wild natural habitats."
"I like the industrial complex and the potential to have an art studio kind of environment," Stojakovic said. "I'm an artist, designer, art fabricator. And I see a lot of potential in such buildings to continue doing what I'm already doing in Queens. ... I love your community, all together with North Adams and Northern Berkshires, actually very much."
His vision would require not only the investment in the structure but guaranteeing a right of way through to the property and the purchase of a rectangular lot along the one-story structure for parking and a small piece along the riverbank for residents to be able walk or sit in nature and install sculpture. He said he has had some positive discussions with R.I. Baker owner Thomas Pelczynski.
Planner Erin Scott asked if he had estimates for how much the renovation would cost and if he was aware of the condition of the sprinkler system. Stojakovic said he isn't at that point yet but had spoken to the town's building inspector and fire chief about the condition of the building.
He imagined that he might have lofts on the upper floors — perhaps with shared common areas and bathrooms — and fabricating and exhibition areas on the ground floors. It would probably be done in stages with maybe a half-dozen artists at first.
"I don't anticipate more in the beginning, you know, I would consider the program to be successful if I could have 10 to 20 people in there," Stojakovic said. "That will be full capacity."
The board, which did not have a quorum, could not provide any guidance but Scott thought the town would have to "dust off" the Zoning Board of Appeals for a variance. She and Planner David Robert seemed generally supportive of the idea if Stojakovic was able to make the structure safe and up to code.
She suggested that Stojakovic would get more direction once a full-time town administrator is in place. The Select Board is expected to make a decision this month on one of two candidates recommended by the search committee. Their names have not been made public yet.
In other business, Bryan Tanner updated the planners on his conversations with Blue Wave Solar, which had unsuccessfully lobbied for an array on Daniels Road. Tanner and Robert Davis had approached the board a few months ago about expanding the solar overlay district to include separate pieces of land they owned between Middle and River roads.
Tanner said Blue Wave representatives seemed hesitant to make the drive out from the Boston area for conversations but had informed him of the benefits the company has provided to hosting towns. Either they have been payments in lieu of taxes per megawatt generated or the more prevalent straight annual payments, either amount depending on the size of the array.
The Planning Board has previously discussed mandating some type of PILOT for solar arrays and acknowledged the possibility of expanding the overlay district.
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