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The Affordable Housing Trust will support a 40-unit housing development proposed at the former Polish Community Club, adding four additional buildings to the property.

In Drafting Support Letter for Pittsfield Condo Project, Some Call for Redesign

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Affordable Housing Trust will draft a letter of support for a proposed condominium build on Linden Street but some members would like to see the plan better comply with the overlay district it is in.

A 40-unit housing development is proposed at the former Polish Community Club, adding four additional buildings to the property. Developer Robert Shan reported that it could cost as much as $20 million and planners are vying for $10 million through the MassHousing CommonWealth Builder Program created to facilitate the construction of single-family homes and condominiums affordable to households with moderate incomes.

Local sources, such as Affordable Housing Trust monies and Community Preservation Act funds, are being eyed to fit that gap.

On Wednesday, the trust unanimously voted to draft a letter of support to the state — though Trustee Kamaar Taliaferro expressed that he would like to see more spirit of the Downtown Creative District, which was amended to include the property along with other housing project sites, in the site plan.

The plan does not utilize the property's density allowance of 70 units, includes private backyards for some condominiums, and has more parking than is required.

"I would like for my support to be conditional," Taliaferro said, explaining that he would like to explore if the trust could fund a redesign of the site plan to better conform with the district, such as having a better relationship with surrounding buildings, taking advantage of a lack of setback requirements, and reducing parking spaces. He also wants to ensure the longevity of the build after the deed restriction is lifted in 30 years.

"I want to see affordable housing in our city. I'm not saying I don't, I absolutely want to support this project," he said.

"But I also want to support an affordable housing project that looks like it should be located in our downtown and I look at this affordable housing project and it looks like it should be a suburb."

Taliaferro said the creative district aims to create a sense of place and reflects what already exists in the neighborhood.

"It feels like a gated community in the middle of the city and so what I'm saying is, of course, I want to support affordable housing in the city and I want to support affordable housing that meshes into what already exists in the city," he added.

"And I'm going a step further and saying I know there's going to be an additional cost for the developer to redesign the site and that, rather than put that burden entirely on the developer, that is an opportunity for our housing trust to support this project and also to ensure that as we pursue our mission as a housing trust of a diversity of housing options, that they look good, that they lean into what the strengths of the downtown creative overlay district recognize and what already exists in downtown or wherever the project maybe leans into the strengths of that neighborhood architecture."

Shan pushed back, saying he would "have to think about that."

In the next few weeks, the developers are running through the numbers to confirm that this project is "real" and can be delivered" before they start thinking about what it would look like in a different form.

"We may or may not be. I will not commit at this point to what we're going to do," he said about the willingness to redesign.

"We have gone a far way and we've done it for what we believe is the best way to develop the site and we understand the overlay and what the intent of it is but from our experience in many states and many communities and understanding the total picture of developing an affordable housing site that we feel that our proposed plan and our layout is best served to achieve the ultimate goal of being able to deliver affordable housing that will get built and get occupied."

He added that the letter of support is in the spirit of the trust working with the developers and providing funding to fill the gap.

"I don't think it's getting into saying this is where the street should be and this is where the bike rack should be and this is what the architecture exactly should look like," he said. "This is an overview about the spirit of supportive housing."

Chair Betsy Sherman understands Taliaferro's concern and clarified that the trust is "not the design police."

"I fully support affordable housing, I know the desperate need for it but I think that we need to also understand what the community looks like. There are definitely different design phases on the west side in terms of housing but I think that whatever we offer, whatever we support should reflect the community and should reflect what's in the community already," she said.

"Kamaar is looking at it from the design overlay, I'm looking at driving through the streets of the West Side and seeing what housing looks like and I think that that's a concern that I have. I think there's a middle ground if you're willing to hear it."

Shan said they will have a number prepared for the redesign of the site at next month's meeting.

Other trustees felt that they were getting ahead of themselves by talking about design.

"I'm going to use a metaphor that I use with a lot of my clients in my legal practice when they ask me where this case is going to end up. I tell them it's a nine-inning game, we're in the first inning, I can't tell you right now if we're going to bunt or swing away in the ninth," Michael McCarthy said.

"We got to play the game to get there and so I think what we need to do is we need to hear Robert again when it comes back with refined plans and in the meantime, send out this general letter so the project can advance."

Taliaferro explained that he is attempting to make the letter as strong as it can be so that it reflects all of the work that went into creating the overlay district.

"It's not to tie Robert's hands. It's not to tie our hands," he said. "It's to make it the strongest project possible in the eyes of MassHousing and also what in my opinion would be for our community."

Tags: affordable housing trust,   housing,   

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Toy Library Installed at Onota Lake

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Feel free to use or leave a toy at Onota Lake's newest infrastructure meant to foster community and benefit kids.

Burbank Park now has a toy library thanks to Wahconah Regional High School senior Alexandra Bills. Located along the wall at the beach area, the green and blue structure features two shelves with sand toys that can be used to enhance children's visits.

The Parks Commission supported Bills' proposal in February as part of her National Honors Society individual service project and it was installed this month. Measuring about 4 feet wide and 5.8 feet tall, it was built by the student and her father with donated materials from a local lumber company.

Friends and family members provided toys to fill the library such as pails, shovels, Frisbees, and trucks.

"I wanted to create a toy library like the other examples in Berkshire County from the sled library to the book libraries," she told the commission in February.

"But I wanted to make it toys for Onota Lake because a lot of kids forget their toys or some kids can't afford toys."

Bills lives nearby and will check on the library weekly — if not daily — to ensure the operation is running smoothly.  A sign reading "Borrow-Play-Return" asks community members to clean up after themselves after using the toys.

It was built to accommodate children's heights and will be stored during the winter season.

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