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Community Preservation Committee Minutes 03/16/2015

Lenox Community Preservation Committee
March 16, 2015

In Attendance: Frederick Keator (Chair), Tony Patella (Community Center), Tom Delasco (PB), Joe Strauch (Cons Comm), Gene Chague (At Large), Catherine May (Housing Authority), Albert Harper (At Large), Olga Weiss (LHC), Gwen Miller (Town Planner), Betsy Strauch (Guest), Clarence Fanto (Berkshire Eagle), Beverly Rainey, Rachel Coll (Ventfort Hall), Steve Oakes (Former Court House Cupola Project), Ginny Akobear, Frank Newton, Kenneth Kelly, Debora Burke, Jay Baver, Gige Darey, Sharon Hawkes (Lenox Library), Christopher Ketchen (Town Manager), Sean Vandeusen (DPW Super),  Jim Harwood, Tom Romeo (LLT), Deanna Collins, Karen Romeo-Leger, Molly Elliot, Deane Romeo, Jan Chague  
The Community Preservation Committee held a public hearing on March 16, 2015. This hearing was noticed twice in the Berkshire Eagle in two successive weeks prior to the hearing, as well as in the official posting location in Lenox Town Hall for at least fourteen days, pursuant to M.G.L. Chapter 44B, Section 5(b)(1).
The March 9 meeting minutes were approved with amendments.
Mr. Keator commenced the Public Hearing at 7:07 PM. Applicants provided a brief summary of their project and request. CPC members then asked questions, and members of the public were invited to ask questions or make comments for each project. Though the Walker House was scheduled, Ms. Weiss requested that it be moved to Monday, March 23 as she did not have access to her computer or internet and was unable to access the information necessary to present the Walker House proposal. The following projects were presented:
  • Former Courthouse Cupola Project  
Mr. Oakes presented his proposed cupola project. He and his wife purchased the old court house, and have been renovating it and historically preserving it. He plans to keep businesses in the bottom and apartments on the upper floor. He has contracted with Allegrone to do the renovation. He found that such an accurate restoration and ADA compliance have added a great deal to the budget, creating a challenge to restore the cupola. He feels that the aesthetic value of the cupola adds to the village center and is important to the community’s heritage. In the budget, he had Allegrone include a line item to make sure that the building can support the cupola; and that the cupola could be fabricated in such a way to weather well. He also shared a photograph of the former courthouse when it did have a cupola on it. He suggested that he would go through a competitive bidding process should he receive CPA funds, and that he has already spoken with two other craftsmen who have experience with cupolas. One option would be to construct the cupola separately and attach it to the building. If he is not awarded funds, he would come up with a way to provide greater private funds.

Ms. Weiss said she felt that Mr. Oakes had addressed a previous question from the committee: the high cost estimate. He did so by seeking other bids.

Mr. Newton, a downtown resident, asked Mr. Oakes why he would need a consultant if you have a historic photograph. Mr. Oakes stated that a consultant could better point him to what type of material would last longer.

Mr. Patella asked about the timeline. Mr. Oakes said he plans to finish the ongoing renovation in coming weeks, and would love to have the cupola installed for peak season.

Mr. Lane asked if Mr. Oakes would need to go before the Historic District Commission with the cupola materials. Ms. Weiss indicated that he would. Mr. Oakes noted he had already gone before HDC for the renovation.

Mr. Lane also pointed out that the material would change the cost. Ms. Weiss asked if there were other historical photographs which demonstrate the former weathervane. Ms. Hawkes stated that she had one available. She shared the photo with Mr. Oakes.

  • Ventfort Hall
Ms. Coll presented the Ventfort Hall request for $30,000 in CPA funds to conduct an architectural survey with Spencer and Voight. She provided a brief history of Ventfort Hall, pointing out that it took a number of years to get the building in adequate condition to welcome the public. She also noted that it has faced a number of crises over time, and that their number one priority has been safety, with another priority being income generation. This proposal came in response to the closure of the second floor due to the absent of mandated code compliance. They have since fire proofed the basement, removed building materials and removed outdated furnaces. They still require sprinklers and an elevator. They realized that much of these improvements are so extensive and costly that they would be better off approaching them with a plan than in a patchwork manner. They need a third-party, expert to estimate needed repairs for years to come. She noted that they have since received $35,000 from the Mass Cultural Council.

Ms. Weiss asked if they need CPA funds to use the Mass Cultural Facilities money. Ms. Coll indicated that they do not need it, as they could raise donations. She said it is more realistic to complete the project in a year with CPA funds, however.

Mr. Keator asked Ms. Coll to clarify the budget, as he noted a discrepancy. Ms. Coll noted the difference had to do with their estimated donations and contributions.

  • Undermountain Farm Conservation Project
The hearing adjourned for ten minutes, as Ms. Mcnulty-Vaughan objected to the Undermountain Farm Conservation Project being discussed prior to its publicized time slot. She suggested that it be delayed so that all interested parties have an opportunity to arrive and participate. Mr. Harper recused himself from the hearing and left the room as the Undermountain Farm Conservation Project was discussed. At 7:45, the meeting resumed and Mr. Schroeder presented the project to the committee and attendees. He said that a visitor or resident can walk a mile and a half from downtown Lenox and see Rattlesnake and Monument Mountains, and then walk to the gates of Tanglewood for a picnic. He noted that is a special area to Lenox and the Berkshires and does not happen anywhere in Massachusetts. He read the first three lines of the BNRC application: “BNRC will acquire conservation restrictions (CRs) over 146 acres of the farm. Ten (10) acres are excluded from the CR around the farmhouse and barns. The 146 acres subject to CRs will be held by BNRC and are divided into the 93 acre “Farm CR” and the 63 acre “Marsh CR”. He pointed out that conservation restrictions limit activity on the property, and that development would never be permissible with the CRs, though they would allow recreation and farming. He noted that Mr. Kennedy had pointed out how significant it would be for the Town to protect the property adjacent to Parson’s marsh, and that BNRC was requesting a $250,000 matching grant from CPA. He noted that they could develop a trail from Parson’s Marsh to the farm property in a partnership with Lenox.
Ms. Weiss asked if the CR would enhance the challenge Lenox already has in the acquisition and subsequent management of land—at a land use discussion, it was pointed out that the town could do a better job of managing existing lands in its ownership. Mr. Schroeder stated that BNRC could manage the 63 acres. He pointed out that many people use the Yokun Ridge trails managed by BNRC, and they would manage the 63 acres in the same manner as that, with monitoring over time and volunteer stewardship.

Ms. May asked if BNRC would solely be responsible for maintenance and if development would come to the town. Mr. Schroeder stated that the trail development would require permits from the conservation commission.

Mr. Delasco asked who would be responsible for the budget. Mr. Schroeder said that would require further work to resolve.

Mr. Lane asked if it would be fair to say that the Town would be purchasing 63 acres with a conservation restriction. Mr. Schroeder said he didn’t think that was fair, but it would be fair to say that the Town is providing a grant to help protect 147 acres. Mr. Delasco pointed out that only 63 acres would be open to the public.

Mr. Lane asked if the figures provided by BNRC are hard and fast. Mr. Schroeder explained that they are, and that they have an option on the property for the identified amounts. Mr.  Lane stated that he wished the Town had been at the table for this discussion earlier on, and that they have to sell the project to the town, and it’s hard to say that the town will get 63 acres. Mr. Schroeder explained again that the project isn’t just for the 63 but for the 147 acres.

Ms. Weiss asked what the interest is in the Sprague property. Mr. Schroeder said it is a conservation interest. Mr. Delasco asked if BNRC is still securing the balance. Mr. Schroeder indicated yet. Mr. Keator referenced the FAQ Mr. Schroeder had sent out the week before, and asked if Mr. Schroeder could discuss the additional land gift adjacent to the Undermountain Farm parcel. Mr. Schroeder said that he wanted to keep it undetailed for now, but that an abutter to the parcel had expressed interest in gifting 32 acres to BNRC.

Mr. Fanto asked two questions:  a) how much had been raised through private fundraising. Mr. Schroeder indicated that BNRC has received several significant contributions, but not more than $300,000; and b) if the town would own 63 acres in accordance to the CR held by BNRC. Mr. Schroeder indicated yes. Mr. Fanto’s Berkshire Eagle article later clarified that BNRC had in fact raised $340,100 from more than 200 donors.

Mr. Romeo read a letter in support of the project. See Attachment “A”. He stated that the Lenox Land Trust was formed in 2003, and described its goals. He indicated that the Land Trust is very much in support of the proposal and both the Marsh CR and the Farm CR. He noted that Mr. Kennedy made his comment about the marsh in the 1980s, and that in the 2000s, the LLT identified properties imperative to protect. Undermountain Farm was one of these properties. A few years ago, the LLT made a presentation to the CPC for a similar proposal, and that the CPC set aside funds for Open Space and Recreation purchases. He stated that this proposal is not new, but better. It will place a CR on the entire 147 acre parcel. He also noted that the property is far more than “just swamp”: He pointed out that the 1981 MassGIS inventory of scenic landscapes identifies Undermountain Farm as a scenic landscape, and that in 2003, the property was identified as living waters supporting the Housatonic watershed. He also pointed out that there are prime agricultural soils identified in a 1988 USDA soil survey and 2009 appraisal, and critical habitat for species of special concern identified in BioMap2. He noted that with only 150’ required for frontage, a handful of McMansions could be built on the property or 20 “regular” houses. He said the property is not insignificant at all. He said that one concern he has heard is what will happen if the field is not maintained. BNRC, he said, would prevent this from happening. He pointed out that the Town has no mechanisms beyond Town Meeting to negotiate something like the proposal before them. He also said that the 10 acres of farm already is restricted in terms of use and activity through its designation as a Chapter 61A mixed residential property. The owners would not be able to change the use without informing the town and paying back taxes. The project will fulfill a long term goal, and the CPC has set aside funds just for this purpose. The application is for $250,000 for 147 acres of far more than marsh. Lenox is fortunate to have BRPC involved.

Jenny Okabear, an outdoor guide at Canyon Ranch, stated that when she brings bike groups down the road, the majority of participants see that view and say that is why they love the Berkshires.

Jim Harwood, a resident, stated that people love the view, and that the property is very important. He said Lenox is getting a 2 for 1 match, and that BNRC does great work throughout the region. He said that they are already leveraging additional resources, such as the additional land gift, and that the town’s investment could spur greater momentum and leveraging of resources.

Jay Baver, owner of the Berkshire Outdoor Guide Service pointed out that the nearby water resources such as Stockbridge Bowl are prone to congestion as the popularity of water sports has exploded in recent years. He noted that the opportunity to secure an additional body of water is very important to maintaining recreational opportunity for residents and visitors in Lenox. He said that earlier, the Town of Lenox was offered a million dollars to protect its watershed. It didn’t take that opportunity, and it has since protected the watershed and not seen a million dollars. He said the 2 for 1 match is great, and that he hopes the CPC will support the project.  

Kenneth Kelly, resident and recent member of the LLT board, also read from a letter of support. See Attachment “B”. His letter notes that the Open Space and Recreation Plan calls out the Undermountain Farm property as one of the private land priorities to protect, and that many members of the public enjoy the property’s vista, and that a priority project to support is that of protecting woodland and wildlife habitat.

Ms. Mcnulty Vaughan said she had reflected upon the previous application submitted to CPC for a similar project, and looked at minutes from those meetings. She asked why the town never followed through on that initial proposal, and why both the town and the CPC didn’t follow through on using the funds they set aside for open space acquisition. She said that the first application asked for $250,000 over the course of four years, and that on the second page of the application, BNRC called it an ambitious project. She said the project is still ambitious today. She noted that CPC set aside $350,000 for open space acquisition back then, and said that they hoped for a project with greater commitment and more partners. She said the $250,000 would be foundation funds, and that the opportunity is here now. She said the project has always been a quality project and has never been “just a swamp”.  She also referenced minutes from 2012: February 6, 13, and 27: March 12 and 19. The previous application referenced by Ms. Mcnulty Vaughan are included as Attachment “C”.

Mr. Darey stated that in 1984, Mr. Kennedy donated Parson’s Marsh and the dedication ceremony included many people out on the water in boats borrowed from BCC. He said that he, Charlie Liston and Warren Archey looked at properties adjacent to protected lands to identify those that could be purchased by the town. He noted is one in the middle of Kennedy Park. He said he brought the list to the town manager, but that the Board of Selectmen backed away from a project to acquire 100 acres on Lenox Mountain. He noted that the natural beauty is the greatest asset in Lenox, and that people come here for the natural beauty rather than the expensive meals and lodging.

Ms. Romeo-Legere stated that she grew up in Lenox, and came back to the area because of its beauty. She loves Kennedy Park, and thinks that town should invest in more open space, because everybody needs open space and room to breathe in time of so many encroachments.

Ms. Elliott stated that she and her family moved here from Providence and love the open space and recreation opportunities in Lenox. She is excited about the project, and thinks that the view of Undermountain Farm is a world class view every time she runs or bikes by it. She was struck by the priority of protecting the property identified in the OSRP. She noted that one goal of the CPC is to support projects that are good for citizens, and she thinks this project is good for citizens, as well as for the economy of Lenox since people visit Lenox for the scenic character.

  • Library Steps Project
Town Manager Christopher Ketchen presented the library steps project. He said that the town is requesting $20,000 to replace four steps of varying dimensions, and that the new steps will be constructed in such a way as to avoid the deterioration visible now. Mr. Delasco clarified that the $20,000 is a cost estimate, and that it could be refined through a competitive bid process. Mr. Chague reiterated the point he made at the last meeting, that he hopes the old steps will be salvaged to make a bench or for some other purpose. Mr. Ketchen confirmed that the steps would be salvaged, and that the town is committed to repurposing them. He also confirmed that they would conduct a competitive bidding process. Mr. Keator asked if they would look for bonded vendors, and Mr. Kitchen said they would.

Ms. Hawkes stated that the library strongly supports the project, both for the aesthetic, historic value and public safety. Mr. Harper asked if there would be additional egress during the construction period. She said she and Mr. Vandeusen will communicate with each other and the library will be sure to emphasize the other entrances during the construction period.

The public hearing concluded at 8:30 PM.



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