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Great Barrington Selectman pick Berkshire Development Proposal

Landing cleared: Great Barrington Selectmen pick Berkshire Development's residential proposal, as seen in the Berkshire Eagle.

Wednesday, March 19 Great Barrington - Searles/Bryant complex, meet your new identity: Bryant's Landing. At last night's meeting, the Board of Selectmen unanimously voted to enter into a purchase and sale agreement with Berkshire Development Partners, whose proposal to turn the former school on Bridge Street into a residential complex with 13 town homes, affordable owner-operated units, a canoe and kayak landing, and a seasonal restaurant, won out over a more retail-centered proposal by Riverschool Development, a project that included space for Iredale Mineral Cosmetics.

Berkshire Development Partners' principals are Steve Picheny, the owner of Pearl's Restaurant on Railroad Street, and Roger O. Goldman of Schochet Associates, a real estate and development firm in Boston.

At the outset of the crowded meeting, Select Board Chairman Anthony Blair said the decision to choose Bryant's Landing was not based on a "popularity contest," and to allow for public comment during the meeting would be akin to "throwing away" the decision factors outlined in the Request For Proposals that the town sent out in Nov. 2007.

The decision to go with Bryant's Landing wasn't an easy one for the Select Board, and the members' opinions were divided: Three members advocated for Bryant's Landing, and two sided with Riverschool Development. Alan Inglis advocated for the Riverschool Development proposal, noting the project would "promote Great Barrington as a business community" and would bring shoppers to Bridge Street.

Peter Fish agreed, and noted that the environmentally friendly "green building" techniques proposed by Riverschool Developers, along with the creation of new jobs, took priority over another housing proposal.

"Affordable housing is something we've worked on as long as I've been here," Fish told the crowd at Town Hall. "Green building is something we can no longer delay."

Other opinions

The other members of the board, however, disagreed at first.

Margaret Beckwith favored Bryant's Landing, and suggested that Riverschool Development's proposal was "cluttered" and did not have an adequate parking plan.

Carefully weighing the key factors in his decision, such as economic impact, compatibility and fit, Ronald Dlugosz noted that Berkshire Development Partners offered the town $1.3 million for the complex, while Riverschool offered $1.2 million.

And while retail spaces occupied by Iredale and others would potentially create more employment, the slightly higher cash compensation offered by Berkshire Development Partners, coupled with its lower projected construction costs - $16.5 million for Bryant's Landing, as opposed to $22.6 million for Riverschool, gave a "slight" advantage to the former, he suggested.

In the realm of compatibility and fit, however, Dlugosz opined that Bryant's Landing was the clear winner.

Noting that Bridge Street's B-3 zoning was a "transitional" zone that linked the nearby residential area with the downtown business area, he suggested that Riverschool's proposed retail draw would "increase the likelihood of double parking" on Bridge Street, and the proposed diagonal parking would encroach on Memorial Field.

"It's highly likely Bridge Street would have to be widened," Dlugosz said. "In this case, (Bryant's Landing) has a much higher compatibility and fit. It represents the best value."

All eyes on Blair

With the Select Board tied at two, all eyes turned to the deciding vote, Chairman Anthony Blair.

"This is where I go into the hallway and throw up," he quipped.

Blair said he would have very little interest in Riverschool Development's proposal, had it not been for the presence of Iredale Mineral Cosmetics, and he noted that the 135 jobs that would be created by Riverschool was largely "speculation" on the part of the developer.

Like Dlugosz, Blair agreed that B-3 zoning wasn't intended for Riverschool's proposed "concentration of development," and he felt that the project was "an attempt to bring Main Street to Bridge Street," and serious traffic problems would ensue.

Bryant's Landing was more "neighborhood-like," Blair concluded.

And with that, the Select Board quickly voted in approval of Berkshire Development.

Later, a few residents who attended the meeting were angry with the prohibition of public input, and disagreed with the choice of housing over retail.

"We were allowed only 13 hours to review the final proposals (last week)," said Craig Okerstrom-Lang.

"Jobs are jobs," fumed George Beebe. "Now (Bridge) street will be empty."

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