PLANET EXCLUSIVE!! PRIVATE BOATING CLUB FORCES BERKSHIRE COMMUNITY SAILING TO CLOSE … CASE RAISES MANY QUESTIONS ABOUT CITY PROCEDURES
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, MAY 30, 2013) — When Pittsfield contractor Scott Graves bought the dilapidated YMCA boat house on Pontoosuc Lake for a mere $10,000, it seemed not even Pittsfield could screw it up. The building, long in need of refreshment, would be brought back as a private club, and community residents — particularly those well-heeled and of means — would have the opportunity to enjoy their boating again in better style and comfort. Moreover, the private club would be the perfect complement to Berkshire Community Sailing, located next door on the lake. A win-win for all, right?
As you can sense, there is a “however” here, one you haven’t read about in the fawning coverage given to Graves’ The Rusty Anchor project by an unquestioning, spoon-fed local press.
A True Community Effort
In 2003, the YMCA closed the boathouse, leaving Pontoosuc sailors up the creek without canvass. Moreover, the move jeopardized the Williams College sailing team, which used the facility for practices and regattas. At that point, Richard Cote, coach of the Williams sailing squad, approached the members of the Pontoosuc Sailing Club, Williams College, the city’s Parks Department, and local community leaders. Cote presented a plan to organize Berkshire Community Sailing. Many hearings, red tape, and secured permits later, Cote launched Berkshire Community Sailing.
Cote raised funds to purchase the necessary equipment. Members solicited enough donated boats to establish a small rental fleet. Williams College provided docking and financial support. The Red Cross donated most of the safety equipment. The city of Pittsfield provided the land. In every sense of the word, BCS became a community-based organization. From its first season to today, BCS has grown slowly but steadily.
That growth, however, appears to be heading for sandbars and shoals, done in by Graves’ renovation of the Ponterril Marina. He intends to call his private boating club The Rusty Anchor. We don’t know about the anchor part of it, but the project already appears covered in rust.
Graves submitted an application for a required special permit on Dec. 20, 2012. A former city official with intimate knowledge of the project has many concerns and questions, especially concerning “approvals granted by city officials.” Our source says the special permit “was obviously fast tracked and kept under the radar, since extensive construction is due to be completed shortly. In fact, a brochure is already available with membership pricing packages. [The brochure] advertises [the venture] as much more than a ‘private boating club.’”
Odd, to Say the Least
Our source goes on to say that “the only abutter notified of the project was Richard Cote, who manages Berkshire Community Sailing adjacent to the private club. Other [abutters] such as the city’s Parks Commission, nearby condo owners, or lake association members were not notified. I heard [on Friday] that Mr. Cote is being forced out [by Graves]. I personally support ridding the city of this long-standing eyesore, but I expect city officials to be proactive in making sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed before allowing a project to move forward. Jim McGrath‘s position, in this case, as Harbor Master, is not to be presumptive of problems but to rely on the responsible city departments to handle them when they come up.”
Richard Cote’s E-Mail Lays It All Out
Here is a copy of an e-mail sent by Richard Cote, addressed to a couple of supporters from the Pontoosuc Lake Association. In it, Cote spells out the problems that, barring a last-minute development, will lead to a closing down of Berkshire Community Sailing.
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At a meeting of the Pontoosuc Lake Association on Tuesday night, Dan Miraglia asked Graves about forcing Cote to shut down. According to our sources at the meeting, Graves said he had to do it for insurance purposes, on the advice of his lawyer. Graves, our correspondent reports, also said Richard Cote went behind his [Graves'] back, but he [Graves] gave no explanation of what that meant.
Many questions linger in the wake of this unfortunate development — that a much-used community-based resource would be forced to close. They include:
* Why wasn’t the Parks Commission notified of Graves’ plans? Why did the Parks commissioners have to learn about the Rusty Anchor from the Community Development Board?
* Did Graves’ application for a special permit receive preferential treatment? If so, why? Who signed off on the permit? We ask, considering the long, drawn-out request by Cafua Management for a special permit for the DD-DT. That permit was denied by the city council?
* Why weren’t nearby condo owners notified of Graves’ plan, as abutters?
* Why wasn’t the Pontoosuc Lake Association notified as an interested party if not an abutter?
The shame is that Berkshire Community Sailing, which offered great family programs at little cost, has to be closed because of legal maneuverings of a private boating club. The term “private boating club” conjures up images of Thurston J. Howell III, blue-bloods wearing crested blazers — quite the opposite of the modest BCS.
Nonetheless, THE PLANET has to believe there is some way for Graves and Cote to come together, with or without lawyers, and reach an understanding that will allow both to flourish. Perhaps this is a time for Pittsfield mayor Dan Bianchi to play Henry Kissinger and do some shuttle diplomacy between the two parties. The corner office should have the ways and means to achieve a better outcome.
You wonder why people get sea-sick when pondering the official maneuverings of this wave-tossed city.
“What sap ran through that little thread / to make the cherry red?” — Marianne Moore
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.