As seen in the Berkshire Eagle, Great Barrington board signs off on Searles land.
Tuesday, April 08 Great Barrington - The Selectmen last night declined to entertain a suggestion by Iredale Mineral Cosmetics to reopen the Request for Proposal process for development of the Searles/Bryant complex to allow a re-evaluation of the finalists' proposals.
As an added kick in the collective pants of the representatives of Iredale, the Selectmen minutes later signed a purchase-and-sale agreement with Berkshire Development Partners, the team awarded the bid in March. Berkshire Development Partners and the Iredale group, officially called Riverdale Development LLC, were finalists in the town's search for a developer for the Searles/Bryant School complex on Bridge Street. The schools were turned back to the town three years ago after the Berkshire Hills Regional School District constructed an elementary and middle school complex on the Monument Mountain Regional High School campus. In a controversial decision last month, the Selectmen voted 3-2 to accept the Berkshire Development proposal. That night, the tie was broken by former Selectmen Chairman Anthony Blair, who stepped down from the board the next day to apply for the position of interim town manager.
Robert Montgomery, executive vice president of Iredale, last night asked the board to reconsider its vote, terming the RFP process "unfair." It "left too many questions unanswered or questions answered incompletely," he said.
Montgomery suggested that the Selectmen neglected to sufficiently scrutinize the projected tax revenues and employment opportunities for the two proposals. He added that the board did not appear to follow the RFP guidelines and, in fact, seemed to look warily at the Iredale proposal, which called for a more intense retail use than did the Berkshire Development plan.
Montgomery said he believed that the board did not thoroughly scrutinize the energy-saving aspects of his group's plan.
But his most pointed criticism was of Blair, who was the principal critic of the Iredale proposal. Blair, said Montgomery, indicated that he was uncomfortable with the concept of Canus Corp. of Philadelphia having control over 12 acres of town property.
Canus, one of Iredale's development team members, specializes in historic preservation and affordable housing and is potentially involved with the development of the New England Log Homes property. But Blair's assessment of Canus was not revealed until the night of the vote, Montgomery said.
In addition, he said, at the beginning of the March 18 meeting in which the Selectmen made their final decision, Blair revealed that he had connections with members of both teams.
Blair previously worked with the town's Community Development Corporation, another member of the Iredale team. In addition, Steve Picheny, one of the principals of Bryant's Landing, was a client of the legal firm for which Blair previously worked. These connections, Montgomery opined, were serious conflicts of interest, and Blair should have recused himself.
Montgomery also was suspicious of the timing of Blair's announcement, saying it should have been made before the Selectmen's deliberations began. But following Montgomery's statement, Selectmen Chairman Ronald Dlugosz said he did not agree with Montgomery. "I believe it was a fair process," he said. Dlugosz called for a motion to reopen the hearing. Following an uncomfortable minute or so, none of the other three members did so.
"Hearing no motion, we're going to go on with our agenda," Dlugosz said. Later, Montgomery said the company continues to explore its options. Asked if legal action were a possibility, he said, "There's a legal option. But you have to ask yourself, 'Where do you end up in the end?' We would not go into something like that frivolously." As for the possibility of the company relocating, Montgomery said his company's plans for Searles/Bryant had always been long-term.
"The school (move) was something in our plan three years from now," he said. "That's the length of time we expected to take to complete the renovations. So we're not dealing with an imminent thing. But now the school (renovation) is not available. So we'll have to make other plans."