NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Planning Board on Monday approved the design standards for the city's new Smart Growth overlay districts.
The City Council adopted the state's 40R zoning law last month to create two overlay districts — one in the downtown and the other along Union Street to the Eclipse Mill.
The state instituted so-called Smart Growth Zoning about 15 years ago to incentivize developers to largely utilize existing structures to create market-rate housing that also provided a percentage of affordable-housing units and space for retail or commerce.
Setting design standards for the two districts is under the authority of the Planning Board, explained Zachary Feury, coordinator in the city's Office of Community Development.
"The design standards are really to ensure that the physical character development is consistent with local plans, like the Vision 2030 master plan, and their complementary usage remains consistent with the character of the neighborhood," he said.
What the standards can't do is be overly restrictive or otherwise impair the economic feasibility of such projects.
"The design standards that were crafted for the North Adams Smart Growth overlay district were submitted with the application for approval and were subsequently given preliminary approval," Feury said. "The last step in this process is for the Planning Board, as the planning approval authority, to adopt the design standards."
The guiding principle is for the overlay to "become a vibrant, mixed-use area that promotes new residential and commercial development in harmony with the existing character of its three subdistricts."
Those principles include promoting redevelopment of existing structures and vacant lots, enhancing connectivity and accessibility, encouraging multimodal transportation including walking and biking, creating public spaces and benches, and thinking innovately in design and construction.
Structures are required to have a minimum of two floors; "open facades" on the ground floor with encouragement to have commercial space; consistency with existing buildings and reuse of original exterior elements. Removal of original facades may be prohibited. Site design also includes sidewalks, pedestrian access, landscaping, light and traffic plans, and access for emergency vehicles.
Much of the design standards align with current zoning requirements.
Planner Lisa Blackmer asked for a correction, noting the document referred to Notre Dame as a "cathedral."
Planner Lynette Bond questioned if the board could order developers to repair sidewalks owned by the city, pointing to the clause stating they had to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
"Developers can be encouraged to make those improvements but not necessarily be required to make these improvements if they impair the economic feasibility of the development," Feury said.
Chairman Michael Leary asked, for clarification, if it was "incumbent on the city to make improvements" if the developer could not afford to. Feury answered yes.
Bond said she appreciated that the city was also encouraging underground utilities and other standards.
"The fact that we can ask for traffic studies, and landscaping plans, I think that will be really nice to see from developers. I just wanted to highlight that," she said.
In other business, the board approved a change of use for the ROOTS Teen Center to move into 51 Ashland St., the former Nassif's drug store.
"We have been gifted this property and that's the plan that we occupy it as a rental property for now, and then hopefully be able to purchase it in the future," said the teen center's Executive Director Lindsey Bush, who attended with board President Ellen Janis.
She said the 6,200 square-foot building is triple the size of the current center on Eagle Street.
"This will allow us to have more youth in the space safely, especially with COVID happening," Bush said. "And we'll be allowed to use our different programs a little more extensively while we're there."
The 1974 building was purchased from Allen Nassif in 2017 by Centerville Sticks LLC. The pharmacy was sold to CVS in 2013 and closed after more than century in business.
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My choice for mayor of North Adams is Jennifer Macksey.
I did not make this decision lightly or without thorough thought and analysis. For over 23 years, I have practiced law at my office across the street from City Hall and have been acutely interested in the direction our mayors have led this city. North Adams has the good fortune of having 2 worthy candidates to vote for this fall but only one will get my vote.
I have known Jennifer for over 20 years and have had numerous interactions with her both professionally and personally. As a result, I am convinced as to her outstanding character, decisiveness and leadership abilities. She has always been responsive, reasonable, and willing to make tough decisions by tackling them head-on.
However, it is Jennifer's vast work experience and commitment to excellence that sets her apart. Her recent positions stand out as a testament that she is immensely qualified to be our mayor. While working as tax collector, at Southern Vermont College and at MCLA, Jen has had a history of managing personnel and personalities. As mayor, her educational experience as both an instructor and an administrator will serve her as the chairperson of the School Committee.
She is experienced in long-term planning initiatives, overseeing budgets and finances for multiple entities and is very familiar with employee compensation, negotiating contracts, worker benefits, insurance contracts, bidding procedures, state and federal compliance and dealing with bargaining units. She has acted in a supervisory capacity and is familiar with the inner workings and realities of city government from her previous position as treasurer and CFO of North Adams.
Please join me in voting for Macksey as our next mayor on Nov. 2.
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