|Pittsfield CPA Recommends Dozen Projects to Fund|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
02:24AM / Tuesday, April 23, 2019
|The City Council chambers were filled on Monday mostly by pickleball advocates and those who oppose placing the courts at Springside Park.|
Gerry Doyle, the former mayor, was in favor of the plan for pickleball at Springside.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Community Preservation Act Committee is recommending close to $600,000 for a dozen projects.
In order to allow for some funds to roll over into next year, City Planner CJ Hoss suggested keeping the approvals under $600,000.
After 2 1/2 hours on Monday -- which came after more than four hours of hearings from petitioners -- the group settled on expending $581,117.60.
That recommendation will allow for about $45,000 to roll over into next year's budget, which Hoss expects to be smaller than the $613,000 the group had to work with to start this process.
The largest request, and the top-ranked request, was for the Berkshire Family YMCA to completely renovate its North Street center.
The money was eyed to restore the historical facade back to what it had been in the past. The organization requested $200,000 for the work.
But the CPA committee is recommending that it be cut to $75,000 and encouraging the organization to return the following year.
That project somewhat straddles two fiscal years with work hoped to be completed by the end of 2020. But, the facade could have been done completely in this upcoming fiscal year since the year runs from July to July. Either way, the committee cut its funding to $75,000.
The most controversial project -- to install pickleball courts at Springside Park -- got little more than 50 percent of its ask. The city, backed by the Berkshire Mountain Pickleball Club, already had money allocated for a study to choose a location and the Parks Commission voted in favor of having the courts be placed next to the Doyle Softball Complex in Springside.
"It would be a wonderful and healthy asset to Springside Park and the community," William Travis, a former school superintendent and current pickleball player, said.
However, the Springside Conservancy, a coalition of eight or so organizations that use the park regularly, fought the project. Those in opposition say it doesn't conform with the park's master plan and takes potential funds away from many other needed projects in the park -- such as the continued restoration of the Springside House or restoring the pond.
"It is not compatible with that plan," said Joe Durwin, a parks commissioner and longtime Springside Park advocate and volunteer who organized a petition that received nearly 500 signatures in opposition to the pickleball plan.
A number of residents spoke for and against the plan at Monday's meeting. Pickleball players have raved about the sport, the exercise it gives particularly seniors, and the growth of it. Those against the project feel that the city is catering to a small special interest segment of the population while ignoring the work the conservancy and others have put in for more than two years to develop the master plan.
Nonetheless, the committee was supportive of pickleball and the only reason it didn't receive full funding was because of the budget and competing projects the group felt were important.
"The pickleball funds are not taking away from other plan for Springside Park," said Simon Muil, a parks commissioner in favor of pickleball and a CPA member.
In total, the group is recommending $35,271.60 to the project, the oddest dollar figure in the list. The number was driven by requirements that 10 percent of each year's funds be set aside for the various funding categories -- housing, recreation, and historic preservation.
In deliberation, the committee started by cutting the $1 million-plus requests all completely in half to fall within the budget and then went request by request to make adjustments.
Committee members agreed to fund improvements to the Doyle Softball Complex fully to the tune of $17,000, which was the second highest ranked project based on the members rankings. When the group got to pickleball's $52,500 request, that number was cut in half to $26,250.
But pickleball and the Doyle complex were the only two recreation projects on the list and at that point together they didn't account for the full 10 percent, meaning about $5,000 or so would have to be held separately and add to the required amount spent on recreation next year.
The group bumped up the pickleball request to a point where it plus the Doyle project hit the 10 percent mark.
Something similar was done with housing but instead of allocating, the excess funds were put aside for next year. Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity had requested two housing projects -- $90,000 for the Gordon Deming Project and $50,000 toward the purchase of a home on the West Side for a future project.
The committee opted to fully fund the Gordon Deming project because it is just about underway but not the West Side project since a home hasn't been purchased yet, encouraging the Habitat to return with it next year.
That $90,000 allocation fell a little bit short of the 10 percent for housing, but given that housing tends to be more expensive, the group opted to reserve the remaining $5,000 for next year and which will be dedicated just toward housing.
The committee members had somewhat differing opinions on the impact of the Gordon Deming project, which is constructing a six-family condominium unit. Member Elizabeth Bocchino wanted to leave the funding at $45,000, or half of what the organization requested, because she felt it won't make a large impact to the community as a whole.
"The impact here is low for $90,000. I am comfortable at $45,000," she said.
Chairman John Dickson disagreed, saying the impact spreads beyond just six families to the neighborhood and the city's tax revenue.
"The impact is broader because you have a community that project is based in and there is tax money coming back," he said.
Ultimately, they all decided to fully fund Gordon Deming but eliminate funding for the West Side project.
The roof on the Colonial Theater received a little more than of of its request. The theater had requested $96,800 in total to put a new roof on. CPA member Danielle Steinmann had concerns about the private funds matching it, saying the organization hasn't started fundraising and may not even need the city's money.
"I have the same concerns about a lack of funding from other sources. But I did feel a sense of urgency from them," said member Alexandra Tasak Groff.
Member Sheila Irvin said the city had already put a lot of money into restoring the historic theater and if the CPA doesn't fully fund the project, then the damage caused by leaks will ultimately cost more. She advocated for it to be fully funded to mitigate any future issues.
"I think we should solve the whole problem and whatever fundraising they do, can be used for the inside," agreed Muil.
The group agreed to set the number at $62,000, which was an estimate to do the roof on the portion of the building the public uses the most. The members said they would circle back to it later in the evening should there be funds left, but never did because when they finished allocating the requests they were over budget and had to then focus on scaling back to hit Hoss' $600,000 target.
Zion Lutheran Church on First Street also was seeking money for a roof. Pastor Tim Weisman said the church could just do a traditional roof but would like the opportunity to restore the historic materials. And the committee supported it, citing the church as being a place used by many community groups for various events.
"There are not a lot of other spaces in the community like that," Bocchino said.
The committee agreed to $100,000, which is somewhat of an arbitrary number some members kept in mind as a targeted maximum for one project. The full request was for $158,259.
Simon Muil and John Dickson discuss the projects.
The Berkshire Athenaeum is asking for $9,148 to replace the UV filtering film on its windows and upgrade the heating and ventilation system to better protect historic material kept there and the CPA committee agreed to fund it fully because it was the smallest request.
But, the group feels that is something the library should be budgeting for in the future.
"That kind of care should be part of their regular maintenance budget. This is not something they should have to go for outside funding for," Steinmann said.
The Springside House restoration project didn't end up losing at the expense of pickleball when it comes to this year's CPA funds. The committee voted to fully fund the $50,000 request. The multi-year project has been ongoing for a few years and has been backed by city state and prior CPA funds.
"I think it is important that the project is ongoing," said member Gerry Doyle.
The committee also recommended $25,000 toward restoring the barn at Arrowhead, with members citing that Arrowhead is one of the few projects that had importance beyond the city's borders. That is 50 percent of the full request.
The committee repeatedly tried to slide more money into the budget for the Samuel Harrison House. The request was for $100,000 to make repairs to the structure and ultimately was approved at $60,000, with committee members voting at the end to spend $10,000 more than the 50 percent target the group started.
A request to restore the iron fence in front of St. Joseph's Church on North Street was nearly eliminated altogether. But, ultimately, members agreed to fund it at $15,000, which is less than half of the $50,000 request. The committee had considered cutting the funding completely but finding itself slightly below the $600,000 target, agreed to fund at least some of it.
One of the reasons for the CPA exists in the first place is because of St. Mary's Church property on Tyler Street. Those who were fighting to save St. Mary's also pushed for the adoption of the CPA to help create a revenue stream to save historic properties.
"There wouldn't be CPA if it weren't for St. Mary's," said Dickson.
CT Management purchased the complex and is underway with a restoration project to turn the former church into market-rate housing. The developer hopes to save the terracotta roof on the building instead of replacing it with less historic materials and had asked for $75,000 to do so. The committee agreed to fund half of that.
Members, however, were somewhat torn on it. Steinmann said she didn't feel she had enough information from the developer on the project. Goff said she felt like the project will happen regardless of the CPA's contribution. Bocchino said the project will have a massively important impact on the community and is worthy of funding. Dickson said the committee should be encouraging developers who are putting a significant amount of private money into historic structures to save those historic elements.
Finally, the city's request for $25,000 to develop restoration plans for two cemetery sections was shot down completely. The CPA committee said the project made the least impact on the community and the money is better spent on the other projects.
The recommendations now go to the City Council for final approval. This is the second year of allocating funding through the surcharge on tax bills that voters had adopted at the ballot.