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Adams Looks to Spur Development Through Zoning Changes

By Jeff SnoonianiBerkshires Correspondent
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Community Director Donna Cesan explains the reasoning behind making zoning changes to promote business. 
ADAMS, Mass. — Community Development Director Donna Cesan took center stage at Wednesday as the town continues to beat the bushes for new growth opportunities.
 
Cesan presented the Board of Selectmen with statistics regarding the current zoning bylaws as contrasted to surrounding municipalities. Adams has experienced little new commercial growth over the past several years while its neighbor North Adams has seen massive investment on both a private and public scale.
 
The initiative to revamp the town's zoning practices is another effort to stem the rise of property taxes and lessen the financial burden on homeowners. The process is an intricate one which involves both local and state participation plus the commonwealth's attorney general.
 
Cesan knows the process will be difficult but sees it as the next logical step in the town's business friendly campaign.
 
"For the past couple of years the board has had discussions about improving the business climate in Adams. We've discussed how to streamline our permitting processes, talked about an enhanced level of customer service and assistance to persons hoping to open a business in Adams, and we're trying to focus on providing improved staff support to the parties on the review board," she began. "But certainly one of the most important things the town can do to promote economic development is to ensure an adequate supply of commercially and industrially zoned sights. We also want to ensure that the supply of commercially and industrially zoned property is located in areas with good access and certified public infrastructure."
 
According to numbers supplied by Cesan and her team, over 40 percent of land in Adams is protected open space and unavailable to develop. And although the town has almost 1,600 acres of land zoned commercial or industrial only about 400 of those have access to town water and sewer. 
 
Cesan also pointed out Adams' challenging terrain as an impediment.
 
"In addition to the lack of utilities, on that northern section on either side of Route 8 you start to get into some uplands and the land is a lot of times unsuitable because of topography. So opportunities are severely limited in these areas."
 
Cesan is concerned not only with Adams falling behind now but that the town's lack of commercial space compared to others around Berkshire County will be a hindrance in the future.
 
"Only 1.4 percent of land in Adams is zoned commercially and that is in comparison to Great Barrington at 3.3 percent, Lenox 4.2 percent, and Williamstown 3.0 percent. These factors together, the amount of protected lands, the limited amount of commercially zoned lands, and the limited amount of industrial land served by public utilities makes it much harder for Adams to attract new commercial development," she told the board.
 
Some of Adams' zoning quirks also make it difficult for developers to navigate their way through the process. 
 
"Many of our commercial properties are split zones. A lot of them are commercial on the frontage portion but the rear part of the same parcel is zoned [residential]. That goes back decades ago when zoning was first done in the county. You have these awkward situations and I know for a fact it has hampered businesses from expanding. We were surprised at how many of these parcels there really are," Cesan said.
 
Selectman Joe Nowak agreed with the need for a re-evaluation of the town's commercial zoning by-laws.
 
"If we're going to advance this community, one of the key points is to lessen the tax rate. [Zoning changes] are certainly well overdue. Our zoning is archaic compared to most others."
 
Some but certainly not all of the bullet points from Cesan's recommendations:
 
Redevelopment of underutilized or blighted properties
 
Bring entire parcels and lots under common ownership under commercial zoning if already partially zoned commercial
 
Review proposals on a more case-by-case basis and consider rezoning commercial if the lots are within primarily commercial or industrial zoned areas
 
Town Administrator Jay Green took an overview of what the process moving forward would require and how the town might handle it.
 
"We know when we take on some of these things we do get some pushback. What's our responsibility as town government to communicate why we do these things? It's not always easy to comprehend," he said. "Our next step in this process, in order to effectively communicate why we're doing this and what it entails, is going to be a public information session. The question of why we are not attracting development or business here in the Town of Adams ... there is not just one answer."
 
The board voted unanimously to send the zoning project along to the Planning Board. The Planning Board will hold public hearings and then make specific recommendations. Those recommendations would go on a warrant to town meeting, where they would need a two-thirds vote approval. The proposed changes would then go to the attorney general's office for a 30-day reviewal. If there are no issues from the AG's perspective, the changes would then become law.
 
In a bit of surprising news, Police Chief Richard Tarsa submitted a letter to the board informing them of his intention to retire at the end of June. This will coincide with the end of his second three-year contract and give him a total of six years as Adams' top law enforcement official. Tarsa has spent his entire career with APD, first joining the force in 1984. The board plans to recognize his years of service at a future meeting. Stay tuned to iberkshires for further coverage of this story.
 
Adams has new eatery. Timothy Samson opened The Pitch Fork at 85 Commercial St. The space adjacent to the Viking Pub has changed hands frequently over the past several years but Samson feels his experience and price points give his venture a fighting chance.
 
 "The Pitch Fork is going to offer a family budget menu. Working at the Berkshire Food Project in North Adams for so long I was able to work with a lot of different situations and foods. It was something that I wanted to do, especially in the Town of Adams. Chicken fingers, soft and hard tacos, fancy cheeseburgers, hot dogs. It's a simple menu, everything we all like. It's definitely affordable for most families," he said.
 
His hours will be Tuesday through Sunday 3 to 11 p.m.
 
Newly hired Department of Public Works Director Robert Tober started Monday and stopped by to get appointed to the Safety and Traffic commissions, which is the norm for the position. He gave the board a quick update on how his first few days have gone.
 
"It's only been three days but I've already seen a lot. There's a lot of work to be done and that's already been done. It's going to be a big challenge and it's going to be a lot of work but I'm looking forward to it," he said.
 
Nowak is part of the Adams Suffrage Centennial Celebration Committee and announced a fundraising gala to be held at Berkshire Hills CC. The Red & Black Gala will be on Feb. 15, which is Susan B. Anthony's 200th birthday. The banquet will include music, silent auction, and dinner. For those interested in buying tickets you can visit celebratesuffrage.com.
 
Chairwoman Christine Hoyt announced that her Vice Chairman James Bush will be receiving the 2020 Peacemaker Award from the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition for his work throughout the region. The award is presented as part of the celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King and is made to a person or a group who have worked with people and/or neighborhoods to provide for greater tolerance, understanding, and caring and exemplify the teachings of Dr. King.
 
The next meeting of the Adams Board of Selectmen will be Wednesday, Jan. 22.

Tags: commercial zoning,   

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Woodlands Partnership Towns Gets $260K in State Funding

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The newly established Mohawk Trail Woodland Partnership's grant program has received $260,000 in funding from the state to support forest stewardship, nature-based tourism and climate education.
 
The funds were announced last week by Gov. Charlie Baker and will build on the shared stewardship agreement signed last November between the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service, the 10 of the participating municipalities and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments.
 
Each community will receive $20,000 toward projects and programming and the FRCOG is getting $60,000 for a regional tourism assessment.
 
"Improving the stewardship of our forests makes them more resilient to the impacts of climate change, strengthens local economies by encouraging nature-based tourism, and benefits rural communities," Baker said in the announcement. "These grants are a terrific example of the collaborative spirit we've worked to foster here in the commonwealth, and we are proud to partner with these communities to preserve our forests and natural resources for generations to come."
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