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The new overlay district restricts where large battery arrays can be sited.

Pittsfield Council OKs Battery Energy Storage Regulations

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city planner says battery energy storage guidelines will protect the land and residents and councilors agree.

The City Council approved Tuesday a proposal to add a battery energy storage system overlay, or BESS, district.

City Planner Jacinta Williams said the district "seeks to protect the health, safety, and well-being of Pittsfield while allowing for responsible growth and development. ...

"Essentially, battery energy storage systems are just that. Storage systems that use batteries to store and distribute energy in the form of electricity for later use."

This provides regulatory procedures for BESS and BESS facilities, outlines the application process for site plan approval and special permit applications, specifies which districts are comparable with the use, discusses site requirements for each district where it is permitted, and requires that interested departments respond with comments and concerns within 14 days of the application.

It includes guidelines for residential-scale, small-scale, and commercial/industrial-scale BESS that fall within the boundaries of the overlay district. In the proposed ordinance, the infrastructure is not allowed in various places such as flood hazard zones, parks and open spaces, historical or indigenous land, and conservation areas.

"The overlay district that's being proposed, it is basically the industrial zoning district plus a 10th of a mile buffer zone and so if you want to know what a 10th of a mile is, that's about 528 feet or 176 yards and to answer a lot of the questions that a lot of residents have or had throughout these last couple of days, if your home has the unfortunate circumstance of being surrounded by industrial zones, which some people do, your home is protected," Williams explained.

"Let me put it this way: developers will not be able to put their large-scale battery energy storage systems next to your home. They are prohibited in residential zones and they are also prohibited from being in that tenth-of-mile buffer zone so residents are protected."

Currently, three developers are looking at parcels for BESS systems: one on Eagle's Nest Road near Kirvin Park, one on Williams Street, and another near the House of Corrections.

Williams said these are "not completely in the works" and would still have to go through the special permit process.

"But without this amendment, this developer would not have to adhere to any of the regulations that are proposed this evening. So they could put whatever they wanted there. They could do whatever they want, essentially. They don't have to have any restrictions because that part of the ordinance does not regulate very much so this is why what I'm proposing tonight is I think so essential," she cautioned.

"It's an amendment that is protecting Pittsfield's most valuable resources: its people and its land. And it's not saying 'no' to alternative energy, it's just saying 'This is how we would like to do it,' and of course, like all amendments, it's a living document. As we move forward with it and as we see how it plays out in the real world with real-world situations, we can always come back and amend it. We can always change it as the technology advances and as we learn more about how and where we'd like to see these in our community."

Commercial and industrial-scale facilities are prohibited from using ion batteries in the guidelines because of their high volatility and the heat that is generated if they are on fire.

"I have just decided that lithium-ion batteries are not allowed in the city of Pittsfield if you have a large commercial industrial scale facility," Williams said.

"They are developers, they're tech companies. As I keep telling them 'You're a tech company, innovate, figure it out.' Essentially you are allowed to come here but you are going to have to find another way to do what you're trying to do. So they are not allowed in commercial and industrial scale facilities and they are all relegated to the overlay district and the industrial zoning district."

She later explained that this was added to the document after residents came forward with concerns about this type of battery near their homes.

Berkshire Environmental Action Team Executive Director Jane Winn pointed out that lithium-ion batteries are the most popular and worry her less than fossil fuels.

"I am much more worried about natural gas explosions. I'm more worried about kids getting asthma from natural gas. I'm worried about the fact that I have CO2 detectors in my house because I have an oil furnace and it's a real risk for any of us," she said.

"So I'm less worried about lithium-ion than [Williams] is, specifically because right now that is the battery that is most commonly deployed. I agree we should be encouraging other forms of batteries but I think we ought to think carefully about banning them."

The special permit for BESS systems will be handled by the Community Development Board after being signed off by all of the appropriate departments.

Councilor at Large Earl Persip III would like to see a future amendment that requires the council to make the final approval for the permit.

"I'm still going to vote for this tonight but I find it interesting in Pittsfield, you need a special permit from the City Council to put a drive-through in and you don't need one for battery storage or other things or cell phone towers," he said.

"I think it's best when we're the second process and that is because we are elected by the residents and we listen to them a lot more than other boards and commissions do at times."

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North Street Parking Study Favors Parallel Parking

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A parking study of North Street will be presented at Tuesday's City Council meeting. The design maintains parallel parking while expanding pedestrian zones and adding protected bike lanes.

The city, by request, has studied parking and bike lane opportunities for North Street and come up with the proposal staged for implementation next year. 

While the request was to evaluate angle parking configurations, it was determined that it would present too many trade-offs such as impacts on emergency services, bike lanes, and pedestrian spaces.

"The commissioner has been working with Downtown Pittsfield Inc. and my office to come up with this plan," Mayor Peter Marchetti said during his biweekly television show "One Pittsfield."

"We will probably take this plan on the road to have many public input sessions and hopefully break ground sometime in the summer of 2025."

Working with Kittleson & Associates, the city evaluated existing typical sections, potential parking
configurations, and a review of parking standards. It compared front-in and back-in angle parking and explored parking-space count alterations, emergency routing, and alternate routes for passing through traffic within the framework of current infrastructure constraints.

The chosen option is said to align with the commitment to safety, inclusivity, and aesthetic appeal and offer a solution that enhances the streetscape for pedestrians, businesses, cyclists, and drivers without compromising the functionality of the corridor.

"The potential for increasing parking space is considerable; however, the implications on safety and the overall streetscape call for a balanced approach," Commissioner of Public Services and Utilities Ricardo Morales wrote.

Bike lanes and parking have been a hot topic over the last few years since North Street was redesigned.

In September 2020, the city received around $239,000 in a state Shared Streets and Spaces grant to support new bike lanes, curb extensions, vehicle lane reductions, and outdoor seating areas, and enhanced intersections for better pedestrian safety and comfort.

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