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.
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Guest Column: Statement on Sentencing in Steele-Knudslien Murder
As the region's longest-serving LGBTQ organization, Berkshire Stonewall Community Coalition has closely followed the case of the murder of Christa Steele-Knudslien, the North Adams resident and founder of the Miss Trans New England Pageant.
Today [Thursday], her murderer has been sentenced to life in prison with eligibility for parole after serving 25 years. In the two years since we lost Christa, the community has rallied around her memory and inspiration. In North Adams, a grassroots task force was founded in reaction to her death and those of other residents killed by their partners. This led to the Berkshire County Domestic and Sexual Violence Task Force, a coalition of community agencies such as Elizabeth Freeman Center, law enforcement, and the court system, currently working to end domestic violence in Berkshire County for good.
On the brighter side, over the past two years the Berkshire Pride Festival has grown to be a major event, celebrating and uplifting the trans community that Christa cared about so much. An annual award for local LGBTQ leaders has been established in her name and with her spirit. Clothing swaps have happened where Berkshire residents shared the joy and beauty of being trans, the same goal Christa had in mind when founding her pageant. Rainbow Seniors and the Berkshire Trans Group expanded their meetings, providing support and connection from Williamstown to Great Barrington.
Politically, a local contingent spent hours organizing and fighting to pass the state ballot measure last year that made Massachusetts the first state to successfully defend an attack on a trans rights bill, setting a strong precedent for human rights across the nation. And we mourned, as a community, at each Trans Day of Remembrance, a national event that struck home when we read Christa's name amongst those murdered.
Mark Steele-Knudslien, 49, pleaded guilty on Thursday in Berkshire Superior Court to second-degree murder in the death of his wife. Judge John Agostini sentenced him to life in state prison, with parole eligibility in 25 years.
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After a few days in the icebox, temperatures will be turning above freezing going into the weekend and there's a chance of snow — or more likely rain, as a storm system moves north of the Berkshires.
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The Finance Committee took a tour of the building on Tuesday afternoon to get a better sense of the condition of the J. Stanley Sullivan Elementary School as the City Council has been weighing an offer on the property made more than two months ago.
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Food insecurity, housing, child care, education, financial literacy, and substance abuse were among the subjects of the poverty forum sponsored by the Berkshire Community Action Council and hosted at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts on Friday morning.
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