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Searles Buyers Granted More Time

Berkshire Development Partners LLC is working on its second extension in an effort to finalize its purchase of the Searles/Bryant complex.

(from the Berkshire Record)

The Board of Selectmen voted Nov. 24 to approve another extension for the Castle Street property, giving partners Steve Picheny, Roger Goldman and Richard Henken another 80 days to close the purchase.

The new deadline will be Tuesday, Feb. 24.

The group had previously been given a 120-day extension by the Board of Selectmen in August after negotiations between the developers and Iredale Mineral Cosmetics -- its onetime rival bidder for the property -- about a possible partnership fell through last summer.

The trio had proposed construction of a residential/commercial complex that included affordable to high-end dwellings when the Select board opted to sell the building to the group earlier this year.

BDP had sought additional time to address zoning issues, and its four-month extension was slated to expire on Dec. 4.

Town Manager Kevin O'Donnell said that during the extension the group would need to begin the permitting process.

Selectman Chairman Walter Atwood said that the new extension was related, in part, to finances and the current economy.

Atwood also said he wanted some indication that Berkshire Development Partners was still interested in "moving forward" with the project.

Atwood said the group had asked for the extension because of the "economic conditions that are going on right now," and added that the group and the town were still trying to negotiate at least joint payment of carrying costs - for expenses such as heating the building, which the town can not stop, electrical costs, or plowing snow on the property.

There was, however, no mention of the lost property tax revenue the town would have collected had the sale gone through by now.

Berkshire Development Partners won a narrow, 3-2 decision over Iredale for the right to purchase the property, the former home of the Searles/Bryant school, in March and was at the heart of one of the more heated disputes in South County this year.

The vote ultimately contributed to a protracted search for an interim and permanent Town Manager after many residents - backing Iredale's popular proposal to expand its operations in the complex - launched a petition objecting to the candidacy of former Selectman Tony Blair for interim Town Manager following Burke LaClair's resignation.

Residents had claimed they opposed any interim candidate that would seek the permanent job, as Blair intended, for fear of dissuading other candidates from applying.

But Blair had also been the unpopular swing vote in favor of Berkshire Development Partners, and had been the only candidate for the interim position.

The fallout also left IMC -- one of Great Barrington's biggest employers - threatening to leave town in search of other accommodations.

After the board approved the sale to BDP -- the group attempted to partner with Iredale on a lease that would still allow it to expand its business, but the collaboration never materialized.

As such, BDP had requested additional time after delays in the permitting process arose. They had been granted a 120-day extension in August that was to expire in early December.

Picheny could not be reached for comment Nov. 25 regarding the extensions.

Discussing the sale and the extensions, Robert Montgomery, vice president at Iredale Mineral Cosmetics, said he hoped officials were doing what's best for the town.

"We think that the Board of Selectmen has made a decision," he said, "and we hope it's in the best interests of the town."

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