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The annual town meeting was held at Bowe Field this year to comply with social distancing and gathering safety protocols because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Adams Town Meeting Accepts 40R Zoning Overlay

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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Town Clerk Haley Meczywor speaks at town meeting. 
ADAMS, Mass. — Town meeting accepted all 28 articles on the annual town meeting warrant, including the controversial 40R zoning overlay and the fiscal 2021 budget of $16.3 million.
 
Town meeting was held outside at Bowe Field on Thursday to accommodate COVID-19 safety precautions and meeting members passed the bulk of the 28 articles in a single swift vote.
 
The night's discussion mostly focused on Article 20, the adoption of the 40R smart growth overlay district. This conversation started during the daylight and wrapped up around 7:40 p.m., long after the pavilion lights were turned on.
 
The state instituted 40R to incentivize developers to utilize existing structures to create market-value housing along with a certain percentage of affordable housing and commercial space. The statute provides incentives to towns, such as access to capital and a payment to municipalities to acknowledge and ease the impact of increased housing and traffic
 
This zoning amendment was quite controversial back in 2019 when it was brought forth. But since then, after a handful of public meetings, the new zoning seems to have gained acceptance.
 
That was mostly the case Thursday night, and the majority of voices were in favor of the overlay. Many felt it could be the shot in the arm Adams needed.
 
"I am convinced that this is a good thing for our town," Finance Committee Chairman Tim Burdick said. "... I drive around town, and I look at empty buildings ... 40R will provide us with a mechanism to bring these buildings back to life."
 
Burdick said that with the pandemic, people are leaving the more populated cities and looking to live elsewhere. He said 40R would position Adams to take advantage of this migration.
 
Selectman John Duval agreed and said there is a need for affordable housing. Duval, an employee of General Dynamics, said his company has had difficulties hiring young engineers because they cannot find a place to live in Berkshire County. 
 
He said there are developers interested in Adams properties, and this zoning could help bring a few projects to fruition.
 
"Developers are lining up, and they are ready to go if this program is approved," he said. "... Let's improve our housing stock, get some younger people in our community and let's start turning this thing around."
 
Town meeting member and co-owner of Bishop West Realty Cory Bishop said it is difficult to develop in Adams, and 40R would make things easier for folks, like himself, who want to invest in Adams. 
 
"These buildings will sit there vacant and make the town look like something it is not," he said. "We need that boost."
 
There were still a few voices against the project and John Cowie, citing a U.S. Housing and Urban Development housing study, believed the town really did not need 40R, and it would only create problems.
 
Others still believed it would invite low income or Section 8 subsidized housing or change the makeup of the community.
 
Town meeting member Michael Mach felt it took power away from abutters by allowing by-right development, and Craig Corrigan asked if it was possible for a failed developments utilizing the program to become low-income housing 
 
Director of Community Development Donna Cesan stepped in and said there is a rigorous public review period for all of these potential projects, as is the case for all projects in Adams. She said for any 40R project, abutters will be able to weigh in and conditions can be placed on projects.
 
As for converting a project to subsidized low-income, housing Cesan said technically it is possible as it is with all housing 
 
"To me, it's like you don't have any faith in Adams that we can attract market-rate tenants to this community," she said. "I don't really understand why you think constantly of the worst-case scenario."
 
Town meeting member Erin Milne stood up and told her story. 
 
She said she falls into the affordable-housing income bracket and as a single mother, it was difficult finding places to live. She said she had to move around a lot with her young daughter. 
 
She moved to Adams in 2009 and has been working full time since finishing graduate school. She is involved in the community and volunteers much of her time in the school system.
 
"I would like to think that I am a net contributor to the town of Adams, and I am trying not to take this personally all of the fear about what it means to qualify for affordable housing," she said. "Because I really enjoy being part of the community. I would like to see myself more reflected in this room."
 
Milne asked Town Administrator Jay Green if she was who 40R was targeting.
 
"Look in the mirror," he said. "It is you. That is who we want here who will make our town grow." 
 
The vote was 89-9 to approve the zoning.
 
The rest of the articles went through without much resistance. Some of the budget articles were held for discussion or clarification but passed easily enough.
 
A tent was set up next to the pavilion to accommodate more seating for the 98 or so who attended the town meeting. Members were asked to wear masks and social distance. Microphones were strategically set up throughout the grounds, and speakers were asked to only use the microphone closest to them and remain on orange markers.
 
Blankets were even handed out once the night wore on and the temperature dropped.
 
Article 24 was held and a town meeting member asked about a $45,000 line item for an economic/community development consultant.
 
Green was saddened to say that Cesan has decided to retire. He said the town does not want to lose her institutional knowledge and would like to keep her on as a consultant for specific projects as they begin the search process.
 
He said he just recently posted the position.
 
Selectman Joseph Nowak made a point to thank Cesan for her service to the town.
 
She is very astute and she is knowledgeable about everything she does," he said. "She is worth her weight in gold, and she has helped this community in so many ways."
 
Town meeting wrapped up just before 8 but before proceedings began, town meeting held a moment of silence for Selectman James Bush and other town meeting members who have passed away this year.
 
Also, the annual report was dedicated to longtime town meeting member Jeffrey Lefebvre, who died a year ago.
 
"Jeff spent much of his time serving the public, and he prided himself in advocating for the citizens of Adams," Town Clerk Haley Meczywor said.

Tags: town meeting 2020,   

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Limited Parking Causes Issues on Mount Greylock Summit

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — After a busy season with parking challenges, the Mount Greylock Advisory Council will explore alternative ways to get people to the summit.
 
Becky Barnes of the state Department of Conservation and Recreation told the council Thursday that this summer and fall were busy on the summit of Mount Greylock and they often had to close the road once the parking lot was at capacity.
 
"We really need to explore other ways to reach the summit for our visitors especially on these high visitation days," Barnes said. "There has to be some other way to get visitors to the summit ... we have to do some outside of the box thinking." 
 
Barnes said specifically on Columbus Day weekend the summit was so busy that staff could only let a car in once one left. She said cars were parking improperly and creating safety concerns.
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