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The new creative district covers North and South Street.

Pittsfield City Council Ordains Downtown Creative District Zoning

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Downtown Pittsfield will now be zoned as a creative district after the City Council's Tuesday vote.

The council ordained a zoning amendment for a Downtown Creative District in a 9-1 vote with Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon opposed and Ward 6 Councilor Dina Guiel Lampiasi absent. North Street and South Street will be the primary areas affected by this change.

The new zoning district will replace the Downtown Arts Overlay District adopted in 2004 and the more traditional historic zoning districts that are within the downtown area.

"This downtown arts overlay district was adopted at a time when we were trying to understand the roadblocks for development, redevelopment, especially some of the successful mixed-use development we've seen downtown, and it was it was a good balance of trying to allow a lot more flexibility with use and reuse of space but also providing some protections, especially to guard against your more suburban-style developments that didn't necessarily mesh into the downtown area," City Planner CJ Hoss briefly explained as he had presented this project to around four different panels already.

"What we've seen since 2004, is it did all those things really well. But it got to the point where most projects in the Downtown Arts Overlay District require a special permit through the Community Development Board. For most development downtown. I think what we've seen is it's really not necessary, most projects are a positive influence on the types of revitalization. We have been hoping to see downtown."

Moon first motioned to remove the zoning amendment's section that allows housing developers to file for a special permit to be exempt from the 20 percent affordable housing unit requirement.  When developers apply for the special permit, there's an intention that they will make a reasonable contribution to the Affordable Housing Trust that is expected to exist by the end of the year.

The council rejected this motion and Councilor at Large Earl Persip lll motioned to allow developers to donate to entities other than the Affordable Housing Trust in order to be exempt from the 20 percent affordable housing unit standard. This passed 8-2 with Moon and Morandi voting in opposition.

Theoretically, the developer could get a waiver to not build the affordable housing units, and also not contribute to the Affordable Housing Trust and or the alternative.

Moon raised concern over equity within the prioritization of market-rate and affordable housing units.

"When I think about the projects that have come to fruition in the past decade or more, none of these projects have included affordable housing units, to my knowledge that I can think of off the top of my head and so I'm trying to juxtapose this against where we are currently with our housing situation, and, and I know, in the past decade, there's been a big push for market-rate housing because of General Dynamics, and BMC, and so on and so forth but we do also have a low-income housing crisis in Pittsfield," she said.

"I feel like we just have a waiver at this time and there's no mechanism for if there is a true need to not if there's a true need, that they cannot afford and they cannot make the finances of a development work based on building 20 percent of the affordable housing criteria there isn't an alternative for them to do anything else, they're just getting a pass at this time because we have this waiver available."

Director of Community Development Deanna Ruffer said Moon's sentiments are not true, referencing the $15.5 million overhaul of the Rice Silk Mill completed in 2012 and the $10 million New Amsterdam Apartment project completed in 2009.

Ruffer said Moon has not heard about affordable housing unit progression because the projects don't come before the council as they are typically getting state tax incentives.

"You're comparing apples to oranges," she added.

Moon asserted that she was not instigating a debate on the topic, but has observed a higher amount of market-rate housing projects in her time as a councilor.

"I am not saying that you are not trying to create affordable housing, I will say though, that as a city councilor, what does come before me and what I have paid attention to are market-rate projects because they're being incentivized with city-funded tax breaks, through TIEs (Tax Increment Exemption) and TIFs (Tax Increment Financing,) and sometimes GE economic development funds," she said.

"And I think that that is kind of a pre-emptive because we don't have an affordable housing spec yet. I would further argue that I think that that contribution or reasonable contribution that's required needs to be a calculated amount, instead of what the Community Development Board reserves, it's very unclear as to how much that looks like."

Hoss said it would be favorable to address inclusionary housing outside of this zoning ordinance, but the city is just "not there yet."  That being said, he explained that it is important not to lose the carryover procedures that are in place in the meantime.

He added that there is not an affordable housing requirement for development on Tyler Street but newly approved Reigning Love Church development at 235 East St. includes affordable housing units.

"We are committed to doing this," Hoss said in regard to establishing an affordable housing trust. "We've already applied for technical assistance, twice actually to help with this, this is something that is one of our priorities to see this through. I mean, we all want to make this work. I know that might not totally console you, as far as if you see that as a concern. but we are committed to seeing this through."

Tags: creative district,   Downtown Pittsfield,   

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Pascual-Polanco Brothers Sentenced to Life for 2019 Homicide

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Chiry Omar Pascual-Polanco and Carlos Pascual-Polanco on Thursday were given life sentences without possibility for parole for the murder of 18-year-old Jaden Salois in 2019.

The brothers lured Salois, of Dalton, outside a Pittsfield home for a false drug deal and shot him in the back in the early morning hours on Jan. 20, 2019. Prosecutors say the killing was over allegations of stolen marijuana. 
During the sentencing at Berkshire Superior Court, several of Salios' family members gave impact statements that detailed his kind disposition and hopes for the future. They said it was unfair for him to be robbed of it.

"A piece of me is gone that will never be replaced," his mother Megan Bernardini wrote.

"Over the past 3 1/2 years, me and my family have experienced endless sleepless nights and have had never-ending thoughts of why this happened to Jaden and why this happened to us," his cousin Brianna Crucitti said. "We still don't know why it happened to him or why it happened to us."

Family members of Chiry Omar, 26, and Carlos, 22, called the verdict is an injustice, arguing that there was not sufficient provable evidence and that the brothers are innocent.  

They did not speak at the sentencing but offered statements to iBerkshires afterward.

Sister Marisela Pascual knew that she and her brothers had "no fighting chance" for their lives in this community and said it is clear that they didn’t commit the crime.

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