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Project coordinator Zachary Fleury explains options on expanding and extending the Urban Renewal Plan.

North Adams May Expand on Urban Renewal Plan

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Redevelopment Authority will consider extending the Urban Renewal Plan and possibly expanding its footprint.
The Redevelopment Authority went over some pros and cons of extending and expanding the redevelopment zone on Monday and plans to make a recommendation at its next meeting.
"At this point, we would just need a recommendation to further explore," said Zachary Feury, project coordinator in the Office of Community Development. "At this point, we are just looking for support for digging in and finding out if all of the things that we discussed today is the right direction to go in."
Feury said the most current plan, which was established in 1981, is set to expire in July 2021. He cited an assessment the city underwent in 2016 that stated many of the conditions in the area, which largely centers around Western Gateway Heritage State Park, have not changed since 1981.
Specifically there is still a lack of connectivity in the area as well as blighted properties, irregular lots, natural and man-made barriers, and needed infrastructure improvements among others.  
"Based on the fact that the underlying conditions that were present in 1981 are still present," Feury said. "They recommend that we expand the plan and expand the boundary and update the plan's vision."
According to the assessment, the city should extend the plan to the year 2031 and potentially look at expanding the overlay to surrounding areas to encapsulate other properties owned by the city or Redevelopment Authority. 
He said properties in this planning area are exempt from Chapter 30B, which allows the city to bypass some procurement laws to more easily transfer properties to developers.
"Allowing it to just expire would need to be very carefully considered as a lot will be lost allowing that to happen," he said. "Much of the project area is owned by the city or redevelopment authority so selling the property to a developer would be more difficult without the exemption ... it could put the city at a disadvantage."
He added that properties within the plan are also open to more grant opportunities.
The city had done the assessment back in 2016 in part to determine the future of the Redevelopment Authority and whether the Urban Renewal Plan was still viable. The result was a vote in 2017 to expand it to include the Sons of Italy property purchased by the Redevelopment Authority and a recommendation to extend the plan four more years. 
Should it expand again, Feury said that would probably be toward the south and American Legion Drive
"The next question that follows is how the boundaries should be extended. To me it makes sense to sort of stay on the west side of the railroad tracks and not incorporate private property," he said. "I think that would be a sensible decision." 
Board member David Bond noted that there are still  privately owned properties in the overlay and asked if there are any benefits to being in the project area.
Feury said there were really no benefits and really nothing would change for home or business owners coming into the overlay. He said they would only be designated in the Urban Renewal Area.
He said the only possible concern is that properties in the area are theoretically easier for the city to take. 
"There can be disadvantages but there does not have to be," he said.
Feury did say if they decide to go forward, public participation is part of the extension and expansion process and those affected would be notified.
The authority would also have to make a request for a major plan change to the state Department of Housing and Community Development before the expiration date. 
A list of characteristics of the area and possible improvements would have to be compiled along with new objectives, and other submissions. He said they would have to show why the area is eligible and make a case.  
Feury said there is a lot of paperwork that goes along with the process and the city would likely do it in house. 
"When you are talking about this much paperwork, you are talking about a lot of work so this would be an ongoing process," he said. "It would take us a better part of 16 months." 
The city could forgo the expansion and just extend the expiration date of the current overlay. He said this would be far less work on the city's part.

Tags: redevelopment authority,   urban renewal,   

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Local Author Reads Book At NAPL

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Local Author Maureen Callahan Smith will read from "Grace Street: A Sister's Memoir of Grief & Gratitude" Wednesday, June 29, 6 pm at the North Adams Public Library.
In "Grace Street: A Sister's Memoir of Grief & Gratitude," licensed social worker Maureen Callahan Smith writes about accompanying her younger sister Kathy through a late-stage cancer diagnosis.
According to a press release, Grace Street is the story of two close sisters, "Irish twins," who are in the midst of their very happy forties when the worst thing happens: a Stage IV cancer diagnosis. The sisters and their family mobilize to face down Kathy's illness together.
"Grace Street: A Sister's Memoir of Grief & Gratitude" is available in paperback wherever you buy your books, and a Kindle ebook is available on Amazon.
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