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Daniel Connerton speaks during hearing of visitors on Smart Growth Zoning at Tuesday's City Council meeting. Connerton and others who spoke said it was important that citizens understood the changes to be able to support them.

North Adams Passes Smart Growth Zoning

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council passed Smart Growth zoning 7-1 on Tuesday night despite some calls for delaying the process. 
 
The zoning ordinance has been in the works for nearly two years and was first presented to the Planning Board in early 2020. 
 
 "I truly believe this is a beneficial important and necessary community development, economic development housing development project for the city, it does reflect the priorities identified in our Vision 2030 plan," said Mayor Thomas Bernard. "This has been carefully vetted, not just at the local level, but by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development. ... 
 
"This will help to realize our priorities and our goals, and the needs of our vision plan and our housing assessment."
 
The proposal, under the state's 40R legislation, would allow for high-density residential and mixed use development in the area from Center Street south toward American Legion Drive and eastward along Union Street to past the Eclipse Mill, with dodge onto East Main to cover the Notre Dame property. These would comprise two subdistricts within the overlay.
 
The existing underlying zoning would remain but the overlay would offer the opportunity for development of high-density housing with a minimum of 20 percent remaining as "affordable." The entire overlay would have a maximum of 60 percent with the balance as market rate. Any project would still have to go through the Planning Board and permitting process.
 
The presentation prepared for the preliminary public hearing can be found here.
 
Adoption of the law puts the city in line for $600,000 in state funds to ameliorate any impacts from growth and another $3,000 for every unit built. There is the potential for about 563 units in these areas although officials are doubtful that that many will ever be constructed.
 
Councilors quizzed the Community Development Office's Zachary Feury on aspects of the zoning, much of which had been gone over in previous meetings. The number of units could be no less than 20 and no more than 30 per acre; current property owners in the overlay did not have to use smart zoning; projects would have to go before the Planning Board and emulate existing buildings in look; the city could have to pay back state monies if no units were built in a certain period; and affordable was based on up to 80 percent of family median income for the county, not the city.
 
But several residents asked for more time to understand the ramifications during hearing of visitors. 
 
"I don't feel that the public has had an opportunity to be heard," said Diane Parsons, a former city councilor. "I know vaguely what it covers. But I don't know the exact parameters, I don't know who's in charge, and I don't know who will benefit exactly," 
 
She said she was somewhat familiar with what Adams had done to adopt 40R, which had included several public meetings. But she was unclear of how this would affect close to 30 acres of the downtown area.
 
"I would urge that as we set out on this new course that we get a lot more support in the city, and let people think about all the various manifests," said Daniel Connerton. 
 
Alice Cande, Jennifer Barbeau and Stephanie Tatro felt there was a rush to pass the zoning and not enough transparency. There were missing minutes and recordings, said Barbeau.
 
"I and many other residents I've spoken with would agree that we are saying that we are not for, or that we are for or against this proposal, we just have very little information on a project this size that would create, beneficially or negatively, on the taxpayers in the city," said Tatro.
 
Several in the audience complained about the use of Zoom, feeling that there should be in-person meetings. Twice they had to be chastised for talking loudly while council was deliberating.
 
Councilor Marie T. Harpin argued strongly against moving ahead with the vote. 
 
"I didn't hear anybody say that they were against it. I haven't heard any councilor say that they were against. I haven't heard anybody in this room say that," she said. "However, I did hear people come on and say that they weren't aware and they got a letter two weeks ago and they're trying to scramble to figure out what it's all about. 
 
"Some said that they felt as though it's being rushed to be put in and it has not been pushed out to the public enough."
 
Councilors and the administration pointed out that there had been at least seven public meetings during which the zoning had been discussed, including a preliminary public hearing, a joint public hearing and a recent update. Information on the zoning was posted on the website and meetings had been posted and had been held over Zoom. There had also been coverage in the local news.
 
Harpin said she had been getting questions from citizens that she could not answer about the overlay district and that there were people who were having trouble trying to understand it.
 
"If we can just sit down and have a discussion with some boards and some drawings and some maps that aren't as big as this, trying to figure out what's happening," she said. "I don't think that's asking too much, I really don't think that's asking too much."
 
The councilor said she could only find about three hours worth of time spent on the zoning change during meetings and just over a dozen residents who attended the Zoom meetings.
 
"I would love to vote for this but I cannot vote for this knowing that there's community members in North Adams, some abutters, some that are going to be in the district, that don't understand it," she said. 
 
Councilor Benjamin Lamb said the first meeting in February 2020 had been in person and that a "thorough overview" had been presented during a Zoom meeting in October of that year that lasted nearly two hours. He also thought an attendance of 14 at that meeting was a good turnout, based on his eight years as a councilor. The effort had been made to get minutes and presentations online, he said.
 
"I think it's important to note that this has not been fast tracked, so to say," he said. "This started at the beginning of this term, so it's coming up on almost two years of public facing work, let alone the work that's happened in the actual department, which I don't know how far back that goes."
 
He also took exception to the notion that using Zoom somehow meant they couldn't do anything. Fortune 500 companies and Congress kept working virtually, he said.
 
"I think that it is our duty and our responsibility to continue doing the work and not just pause because we're scared of Zoom as a group," Lamb said. "You cannot necessarily require people to pay attention at a given point. You just hope it gets out there enough that they can pay attention to it and understand it over the duration we've been distributing it."
 
No one suggested that the zoning change go to committee and the ordinance was passed to a second reading with Harpin the only no vote. Councilor Jessica Sweeney was absent.

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MCLA Women's Basketball Falls to Wentworth

MCLA Sports Information
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Wentworth's Maddy Foster scored 30 points and pulled down nine boards to lead the Leopards past the MCLA Trailblazers, 60-48 this evening in non-conference women's basketball action.
 
Foster went 13-for-19 from the floor and added a pair of steals in the win. Teammate Abriana Busbey added 10 points and a game best 13 rebounds for Wentworth.
 
After one quarter the game was tied at 10-10. Wentworth (1-4) outscored MCLA 8-0 to start the second quarter to take an 18-10 lead. The lead grew to 11 points at halftime.
 
Out of the locker room the Leopards quickly extended the margin to 15 points at 32-17 but MCLA (0-7) did not go quietly. The Trailblazers used an 11-2 run fueled by Shannon Carney and Emily Burke to pull within six at 34-28 midway through the third quarter.
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