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The ZBA votes against a fundraiser at Berkshire Money Management, saying it didn't fit within the criteria for a special permit.

Dalton ZBA Denies Special Permit for Halloween Fundraiser

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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DALTON, Mass. — The Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday unanimously denied a special permit request for the spooky fundraiser "Purgatory Road" to be held at Berkshire Money Management's property on Main Street.

After hearing from opposing abutters and supporters, the board decided that it was not eligible for permitting under zoning bylaws.

The haunted corn maze event has raised around $175,000 for suicide prevention over eight years of operation at its previous location on Cleveland Road.

"My friend and I have run Purgatory Road at my farm for eight years, we have raised $175,000 which has stayed local to Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention, many of these suicide events, the money does not stay local, it goes to the state," organizer Betsy Nichols explained.

Nichols said the event is "extremely well respected" and has received awards as well as news coverage.

"It certainly is not an embarrassment to the town of Dalton," she added in regard to a letter from an opposing abutter claiming that allowing the special permit could tarnish the character of his neighborhood and make it a "laughing stock."

Nichols discontinued the event after its 2019 season but felt a need to revive it because of the emotional toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has put on the community.

Looking to "pass the torch" to the next generation, she sought a new location, and Berkshire Money Management, located on Main Street, was happy to loan its large property for a good cause.

The site is located in an A-1 zone, whose purpose is to conserve and protect open land uses, foster orderly growth in rural areas and prevent urban agricultural land-use conflicts.

The event, which is proposed to run on Oct.15-16 and Oct. 22-23, planned to utilize a portion of BMM's property for a haunted walk-through that is guided by roped-off paths. Inside of the haunt would be actors in scary costumes and horror-themed scenes.

Actors are usually local high school and college-aged young adults.  

"This event and how it's structured, we felt it was very well put together and it's been run for eight years and I feel we've worked out all the kinks," Rebecca Daly of Whitlock & Cooper Events said on behalf of BMM.

"It's actually in the back of our property, we have several acres at Berkshire Money Management, and the event that's being held is not on the property line, we will be using our parking lots, as well as the field right next to the parking lot for parking itself, but as I stated in our application we will have several police officers on the property with us and we are going to schedule out the group with certain people taking them through, so no one will be allowed to willy nilly all over the property and go on other people's property themselves."

Nichols seconded that it is a "very controlled event," having security throughout the property and being inspected by the fire department before opening night.

They expected to have about 150 cars a night and Daly assured the board that BMM has about 145 parking spaces. Ambient sounds are reportedly used for the attraction as well as non-invasive lights in the form of tiki torches and illumination in the parking lot.

In past years, when the event is sold out, the property is blocked off, and police direct newcomers away and request that they come back another night. The event is set to wrap up by 10 p.m.

Abutter James Cervone submitted a letter of opposition to the event's location in his neighborhood where he outlined the ways he believed it is not in compliance with zoning ordinances. It was signed by a handful of other neighbors.

In the letter, he suggested that having such events in an R-1 zoned area could forever tarnish the character of his neighborhood, decrease property values, and make the gateway to the town a "laughing stock.

He recognized that the event is for a good cause but opposes it happening in the proposed location.

"Nobody is denying that this is a great event for somebody, it's just not appropriate to put it in an R-1 zone, it's just as simple as that, on Main Street it's just not correct," He said.

Cervone asserted that BMM CEO Allan Harris cannot do anything he wants with his property because he owns 26 acres.

"He can't just use that property for whatever he wants, just because it's 26 acres, it doesn't work that way," he added.

"Because if it does work that way I gotta be honest with you, I'm gonna start growing cannabis in my back yard. It's not permitted but I might as well do it anyway, so that's what you're gonna open up, a can of worms."

Abutter Peter Koska voiced concerns about the influx of traffic the event would likely generate.

"I am all for the cause, I think it's a great cause, I have no issue with that, my problem is the amount of traffic that this is going to generate that the area cannot handle and also the lighting from the cars coming in and coming out are going to be shining right at my house directly across the street from the driveway," he said.

"One hundred and fifty cars coming in and out for four nights, that is unacceptable."

He also found an issue in the possible attraction of people from surrounding areas that may be looking to cause trouble.

"It reminds me of when we had Dalton carnival, and we have the people that are drawn to the carnival, a lot of people from the Pittsfield area and there's a lot of gangs and things in Pittsfield that have come up recently, and they're getting closer and closer to Dalton," Koska said.

"I just don't want to have an opportunity where we get strangers from different towns that may not have the proper mindset and coming in to cause trouble, I'm not saying that would happen but it's a possibility, especially with what I'm hearing from police officers in the Pittsfield area and I'm sure that would, that would be a draw from Pittsfield and some of the other surrounding towns as well."

His wife, Elaine, added that they hope the event is successful but not in their neighborhood, claiming that it is a "real intrusion to their lives."

Select Board member Dan Esko voiced support for the event, citing what a rough year and a half it has been in the community and how townspeople could use a fun event to "blow off some steam."

"I think it's a good thing for Dalton," he said. "Certainly, the concerns of the abutters need to be heard but if they could be addressed in some way through the planning of the event and presentation of that plan, then I'd love to see this happen."

Actress and planner for Purgatory Road Kaitlyn Houghtaling highlighted the need for an event that addresses an often stigmatized subject and gets people talking.

She has been involved with the event since high school and is returning as a college graduate to continue her part.

"I know when I was in school, suicide was not something that was an easily accessible topic, so having an event like this kind of give kids sort of a launching point to bring it up within themselves or within their schools. It also becomes a little bit of a resource," she said.

"I've had people come up to me knowing that I was involved in the event and would therefore have some information if they were worried about themselves or others in the community so I think it has a really important place."

After over an hour and a half of discussion, the ZBA decided to deliberate the permit application because its next meeting is not until October.

Steve Psutka, who stepped in as chair because Anthony Doyle had a conflict of interest, said he was having trouble finding where the permit fit in terms of use and zoning bylaws.

The board examined the areas of criteria that need to be met for obtaining a special event permit and found that the proposal did not fit into a number of them.

They unanimously voted to deny the request. At this time, there was no discussion of an alternative location for the event.

Tags: ZBA,   fundraiser,   

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