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Community Preservation Committee Minutes 02/23/2015

Lenox Community Preservation Committee
February 23, 2015

In Attendance: Frederick Keator (Chair), Ed Lane (BoS), Al Harper (At Large), Tom Delasco (PB), Olga Weiss (LHS), Joe Strauch (Conservation Commission), Gwen Miller (Town Planner), Betsy Strauch (guest), Kate McNulty-Vaughan (Planning Board), Rachel Coll (Ventfort Hall), Steve Oakes (Owner of Former Court House), Clarence Fanto (Berkshire Eagle)
The Community Preservation Committee met on Monday, February23 to continue their review of the twelve (12) applications under consideration.  
The January 26 meeting minutes were approved as amended. The February 9 meeting minutes were tabled until the next meeting. Mr. Keator requested that Ms. Miller provide further explanation and identify the guests who spoke during the meeting. Additional changes included the correction of typos and the revision of phrasing in some sentences.
The Committee discussed three administrative issues:
  • The Committee moved to pay the 2015 Community Preservation Coalition Dues of $1,750. Ms. Miller indicated she would take care of this.
  • The Mount had submitted a letter requesting an extension for their Stable Heat and Amenities project through April 30, 2015. A motion was made to approve the extension, and the motion was passed unanimously.
  • The Committee discussed the decision timeline for CPA projects. The Committee hopes to make recommendations to the Board of Selectmen by the BoS April 1 meeting. They scheduled the following meetings:
  • Monday, March 2,2015 @ 7 PM: Finish project discussions; prioritize applications
  • Monday, March 9, 2015 @ 7 PM: Prioritize applications
  • Monday, March 16, 2015 @ 7 PM: Public Hearing
  • Monday, March 23, 2015 @ 7 PM: Continue public hearing as necessary; recommend projects to Board of Selectmen
After addressing these administrative topics, the Committee discussed the following applications:
Town Projects
  • The Academy Building : The Committee discussed whether or not the Academy Building proposal fell into the category of maintenance.  It was pointed out that some of the improvements were the result of deferred maintenance,  though if the roof were restored to the historic character and method, then that could count as historic restoration.
  • Kennedy Park: The Committee discussed the Kennedy Park improvements project. Mr. Harper felt it was a good project in that it would remove invasive species from the park and also make the bridges ADA compliant. Mr. Strauch thought it seemed more like maintenance. Mr. Delasco pointed out that there are different rules in place for maintenance work in terms of the CPA recreation category. Mr. Keator said he liked how many players there were—that CPA funds are not the only resource intended. He pointed out that the Committee likes to see CPA funds used in such a way.

  • Affordable Housing Trust: Members of the Committee questioned the need to fund  the Affordable Housing Trust for the mortgage program, given that to date, the trust has funded three (3) home purchases. They felt that the work could be continued without additional funds. Ms. Miller suggested that the Trust was hoping to find additional partners and benefit from the warming housing market. Ms. Weiss said she would need to follow up with Debora Burke, Chair of the Trust, to respond to the questions from the committee.
  • Church on the Hill: Mr. Keator asked Ms. Weiss if there was anything new in regards to the Church on the Hill application and project. Ms. Weiss stated that they were hoping to go out to contract soon. Mr. Keator asked if they would use the same contractor as before; Ms. Weiss indicated they hoped to. Mr. Keator asked if they stay on budget with the cemetery work; Ms. Weiss said they always do, and Mr. Keator noted they always come in under budget. Mr. Harper asked how much work is left. Ms. Weiss referred the committee to the application in which they said the remainder of the headstones needing repair, as well as making the path handicap accessible and having DPW remove dangerous trees. She noted that if funds remain, they could do additional stonework. She noted that remaining funds could also be well spent at the town cemetery on New Lenox Road. She stated that the cemetery is extremely historic and has had great work done to it.  The Committee was adamant that funds allocated for Church on the Hill should only be used for Church on the Hill. Mr. Delasco asked if the end goal of the Church on the Hill project is that anybody can walk into the cemetery and around it safely, and it was indicated that this was the end goal. A committee member noted there are currently signs at the cemetery warning of danger; the goal is to remove those signs but only after all the necessary work has been completed.
Plan Projects
  • The Mount: Mr. Keator asked if the committee had received an answer to the question “how will the master plan help the Mount with their debt problem?” Ms. Miller indicated she had not specifically asked the Mount that question, but that perhaps the Committee could pose the question to the Mount at the next meeting or public hearing. Mr. Strauch stated he did not see how this project would help the Mount. Ms. Miller explained what she had learned from Susan Wissler over the course of several conversations regarding the project: that the project wasn’t mean to directly deal with the debt, but to form an arrangement with the developer owning the abutting land so that they could share open space resources without losing the trails and scenic value of the Mount’s property to development right on the property boundary as had happened to the west of Edith Wharton Park with the condominium development. Ms. Miller noted that there was interest in the Open Space Flexible Development Overlay District and determining how the Mount, the abutters, and the Town could all benefit from future land use. Ms. Weiss pointed out that the plan holds the nucleus of a very a good idea, a long held dream and vision. Some members of the committee suggested they’d prefer a bricks and mortar proposal. Several members also expressed their appreciation of the Mount and what it does for Lenox.
  • Ventfort Hall: The conservation was directed to the “other plan”, submitted by Ventfort Hall. Ms. Coll spoke on behalf of Ventfort Hall. She stated that Ventfort Hall had applied for $30,000 to match a grant request from the Mass Cultural Council. She noted that they had received $35,000 from the Mass Cultural Council. She later provided the award letter to Ms. Miller. She said they will get the remainder from the donors, and that they were limited to what they can request from the Mass Cultural Council Facilities Fund, which provides technical assistance and feasibility. Mr. Keator asked Ms. Coll what Ventfort Hall hopes to achieve from the plan. She explained that the plan will be an architectural survey to really find out all of the issues with the building, since they have learned from their past experience in which they have received grant awards to complete projects only to be hampered by underlying problems. Ms. Coll stated that they can’t be eligible for other types of funding without having a plan. Mr. Keator said that in the past, the committee had not liked the reactive requests presented by Ventfort Hall.  Mr. Strauch said that the applicant had addressed all of the seven criteria identified in the application material. He said he had a better idea of what the project will achieve compared to other plan proposals. Mr. Harper asked Mr. Delasco for his opinion as a building expert. Mr. Delasco noted that they needed to take positive steps to move forward, and it sounded as though this architectural survey work would allow that.  Mr. Harper asked Ms. Coll if Ventfort Hall was code compliant. She said that the basement was to have sprinklers installed next, and that the rest of the code compliance work was on schedule. She also noted that the second floor was conditionally opened. Ms. Weiss agreed with Mr. Delasco: they need a spring board do to the right thing. Mr. Lane liked hearing Ventfort Hall admit they have a problem and that they are working towards a tangible solution. Mr. Harper asked about any limitations posed by the Mass Cultural Council grant, and Ms. Coll said they can only use the funds for technical assistance or feasibility planning.
Other Projects
  • Former Court House Cupola : Mr. Oakes thanked the committee for their diligence and appreciated the process he had witnessed. He explained that the cupola is a tangible, finite project with public benefit that could be completed this year. He stated that he has no other funds with which to complete the work. Mr. Harper asked if he had approached HDC. Mr. Oakes said he had been before the HDC, and it was the HDC who recommended he apply for CPA funds. He noted that he was curious about the return of town funds should he sell the property, or the placement of a historic restriction on the property. Mr. Keator said that the committee commends Mr. Oakes for his work to date to restore the building so carefully, and that the cupola restoration would add intangible value to a vista, but that the project would be controversial to recommend as it would be funding a private, income generating property . Mr. Oakes was asked what he would do if he did not receive the entirety of the funding. He said he would go into planning and negotiations to see if he could use family financial resources, if not, he would decline the funds. He would see how the pedestal worked without a cupola. He would make a diligent effort to trim down costs as possible.
  • St. Martin’s Hall: Mr. Keator stated that even with all of the information provided by St. Martin’s Hall (the Mass Cultural Facilities application, and a ten year master plan), he was uncertain of what their plan for St. Martin’s Hall is. Mr. Delasco stated that the money they’ve requested from CPA is merely a drop in the bucket. The Committee discussed further that the money would be for securing the building’s envelop, patching broken windows and doors, and that it is clear from the documents provided by Shakespeare and Company that they have a lot to do not just with St. Martin’s but with the entire property. The Committee was able to discuss materials provided by Shakespeare and Company, including their application to the Mass Cultural Facilities fund, as well as their ten-year master plan for the campus.
The meeting adjourned at 8:49.  

Lenox Town Hall  6 Walker Street, Lenox, MA 01240   PH: (413) 637-5500