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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.

Cote writes:

—– 00 —–

Thanks to both of you for reaching out. It is much appreciated.  I won’t be attending the meeting tonight, I don’t want things to turn into a spitting match between the Rusty Anchor folks and those that may support me.  The rumors are flying and many people have reached out to fill me in on them. 
The simple facts are these:  The day I was putting the college sail boats in, Scott Graves called me and told me he owned all the land between the building and the cement wall.  Because my customers were not members of the Rusty Anchor, they would sue him if they were to sustain an injury.  He said he would not allow us — staff members or customers — to cross his land, effectively blocking us from accessing our docks and the lake. 
He went on to say we could not use our docks because the permit was in his name and again he was concerned about lawsuits, so we were not to use the docks.  He included the moorings in his remarks, stating if a member was injured in his mooring field he would be liable. 
I met with Jim McGrath, CJ Haus, and the fella from the planning board.  They confirmed his ownership of the land, and the dock permit through chapter 91.  The mooring field is a separate issue, but without docks or lake access it was a mute point.  The only recourse available was to secure an attorney and try to get the dock permit revoked.  This would be very expensive and time consuming with no guarantee of success. 
Despite all the promises to not interfere with our operation The Rusty Anchor management effectively made it impossible to continue operating.  It was at this time I decided to close up shop.  I did not have the funds to take legal action. Even if I were successful in forcing my way back in, I would have to contend with the Rusty Anchor management on a daily basis, along with 20+ power boats and jet skis, with owners of like mentalities.  They would be crossing through the sail boats and in front of our docks.  Then there would be the head ache of the parking lot. The dock permit is his and will be his for the next 30 years, we would be subject to their will.  [NAME REDACTED], you were present at least one public meeting where Mr. Graves promised he would do nothing to interfere with our operation.  He made this statement at two other public meetings and to the commissioners at other meetings.  He did not follow through on his promise.  This does not instill in me a trust that would be necessary for a good working relationship.  As for the city, they say they are as shocked about his decision as I am. 
 
I regret we will not be able to provide our services to the community and feel a personal loss at closing down BCS.
 
There is a move by several members of BCS to secure some sort of sailing venue on the lake.  I am in full support of their efforts and have been consulting them on the steps they need to take to succeed. 
 
Thanks,
Rich Cote
—– 00 —–
Source: Graves Confirms Forcing BCS to Close

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.

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“What sap ran through that little thread / to make the cherry red?”Marianne Moore

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

 

22 Responses to “PLANET EXCLUSIVE!! PRIVATE BOATING CLUB FORCES BERKSHIRE COMMUNITY SAILING TO CLOSE … CASE RAISES MANY QUESTIONS ABOUT CITY PROCEDURES”

  1. Mike Ward
    May 30, 2013 at 8:28 am #

    I was pleasantly surprised to see that building being restored and put to good use — and gentrification is not exactly one of our problems in Pittsfield. I agree this is a singular opportunity for the mayor to find a way for two worthy operations to go forward.

  2. Magic
    May 30, 2013 at 9:16 am #

    I live on Pontoosuc Lake and kayak it as often as possible. While it is wonderful to see the “Rusty Anchor” looking better and better every day, I am sadened to know that Berkshire Community Sailing has been forced out. Mr. Graves, you and your “friends” at city hall should be ashamed of yourselves.

  3. Ron Kitterman
    May 30, 2013 at 10:19 am #

    Listening to your old radio show with DTR this morning said it all, The 2014 budget is unveiled by the Mayor that shines a 2.7% increase, with additional $4.6 million for a total of $133.1 Million. The callers were more concerned over the all important Drive through and which councilor got sick and left the meeting and who stayed to vote on the 10-0 vote. Time for a reality check. Time to make the doughnuts as they use to say. But on topic the old YMCA on the top of hill is beautiful shape too, which would make a great spot for a doughnut shop.

  4. Giacometti
    May 30, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    Rusty Nail seems to be an opening for one of the most powerful lobby in the State of Massachusetts…” The Power Squadron ”
    that’s motorized boats, jet ski and pontoon boats in summer and
    quad tracks, ski mobiles and power wagons in the winter….ahh
    the smell of gasoline fumes year round !

  5. Jonathan Melle
    May 30, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    Pittsfield politics raising local taxes above the rate of inflation every single year is unsustainable and inequitable.

  6. Kevin
    May 30, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

    Agree with Giacommetti about the infernal power skis, jet skis, off-road stuff, 4 wheelers, motor boats and other idiot devices. No more peace and quiet to be found on the lakes. Agree with DV about mayor reconciling the two interests. Shame that BCS has to fold because of the Rusty anchor.

  7. Giacometti
    May 30, 2013 at 8:48 pm #

    Kevin…what is it about infernal power skis, jet skis, off-road stuff, 4 wheelers, motor boats and other idiot devices that the rider has to travel at full speed ? Can’t they go slow ? Why is it a ” need for speed ” ? …..I guess it’s because there is no speed limit….until
    they run something over. Rusty Nail…Yahoo…Get R Done !

  8. Rick
    May 30, 2013 at 9:51 pm #

    10G’s for that piece of property was highway robbery…….All that lake frontage for that price..I wish the original donors had restricted their gift so the property would revert back to the donors when the intended use ended. Shame on the YMCA.

    • acheshirecat
      May 31, 2013 at 5:09 am #

      My first thought also was that 10 grand is all that property was sold for was way under valued. Did Berkshire Community Sailing have the same opportunity to buy the property for that amount. Heck I would have bought it for that, lol. Did the owners of the condo’s have the same opportunity to buy? I would think they would have paid $10,000 for lake rights. Was it even advertised for sale? On another note, I went by the property last night. The building looks good as it gets refurbished, but a six foot stockade type fence is being out up blocking the view of the lake. I guess you have to buy a membership if you want to see the lake.

      • danvalenti
        May 31, 2013 at 7:56 am #

        CAT raises excellent points. Exactly how did the sale come about. No harm done in a private transaction between interested parties contracting of their own free will, but one would think, had others known of the opportunity, $10 Gs would have been an entry fee, not the final amount.

      • Dave
        June 10, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

        This was advertised for some time at 50 grand. Anybody had a shot. I was a member a long time ago as a kid. I’m glad it is being renovated

  9. tito
    May 31, 2013 at 5:15 am #

    Gesus, since there is no more conversation on this Topic, let me be the first to say J LO please go AWAY.

  10. tito
    May 31, 2013 at 5:18 am #

    Will someone please take out papers to run in Ward 5.

  11. Denise
    May 31, 2013 at 8:41 am #

    My wish is that all interested parties stop by and see the fabulous renovations and clean up my husband has done to this historical piece of property….The name “Rusty Anchor” came about due to the enormous amounts of trash and waste people dumped in and around the boathouse over the years. While I was out there this winter in sub zero weather cleaning the property I came upon a rusty anchor…Hence the name “The Rusty Anchor”

    Sincerely
    Denise Graves

    • danvalenti
      May 31, 2013 at 8:48 am #

      DENISE
      Many thanks for your comments.

    • Dave
      June 1, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

      Yes Denise thanks, but if Dan won’t ask I will–Did your husband promise that he would do nothing to interfere with the operation of BCS as stated by Mr. Cote? If this “promise” wasn’t made or not expected to be kept, would this application have still passed every step needed? Broken promises to a community asset and hiding behind “my lawyer said” as reasons to not keep such promises kind of offsets the “fabulous renovations and clean up…..historical property” in my mind. How many other promises will be broken in your endeavor–paying taxes, being a good neighbor, keeping the lake safe??? Just asking.

  12. Giacometti
    June 1, 2013 at 8:35 pm #

    Terms of any special permit to use the property must include notification to all abutters…the condo owners were not notified. The use is not grandfathered because it has not been used for two years as a boat house.therefore the special permit must be issued. Proper notification was not made to all neighbors by Mr. Graves therefore any special permit if issued is not valid.

  13. Denise
    June 3, 2013 at 4:54 am #

    Good Morning. In response to the above bloggers, we were not granted any special permits, we were granted a parking wavier to widen the parking lot so two vehicles could pass in driveway. My husband only has a basic building permit for work being done on the building, it is on file at City Hall. It is a R-12 zoned area with a by rights condition. As for abutters, being notified, they were notified, and an abutter is a taxpayer who owns real estate,and pays taxes on that real estate, or pay any taxes on the land, Mr Cote did not own the property his sailing club was on. He attended the meeting, and sat right next to me, the City of Pittsfield owned the land, and they were notified. I assure you we are not hiding behind any lawyer or city official, everything was done by the book.

    Sincerely
    Denise Graves

  14. lakeside
    June 3, 2013 at 6:37 am #

    the rusty anchor was also granted a waiver for a marina to use all the parking first come first served including the southern parking lot which belongs to the city ,the southern parking lot is the main access for fisherman, picnickers, muscle beach, etc.. in my opinion this parking lot should be used strictly for the public and not for a private club,especially a marina advertising members can bring your own alcohol!!!
    as far as the proper notification the city of Pittsfield owns the abutting park which is under the jurisdiction of the park commission, the park commission was not notified of this project and never had the opportunity to discuss important issues relevant to the marina project moving forward.
    the condominiums which abut the park and close neighbors to the now rusty anchor were also not notified of this project.
    the parks commission and condominiums not being notified was verified by community development member at city hall.

    • lakeside
      June 3, 2013 at 9:19 am #

      on Dec 20 2012 SK design group applied for a special permit application on behalf of Scott graves [rusty anchor] ,to the community development board, the description of project follows.
      opening a private club, the parcel of land has no parking and applicant proposes to use the existing municipal parking area adjacent to the building. the proponent will modify the parking area to make it more usable,
      on Jan 28- 20013 the community development board approved the special permit application.

  15. Banacek
    June 4, 2013 at 9:38 am #

    It’s obvious that Richard Cote was misled and lied to…not only by Scott Graves…but also by representatives of the city. Several hundred feet of lakefront shoreline has been posted as Rusty Anchor property…off limits to all, but members of the club. Plans for renovation of the property show its property lines, so city officials had to be aware that it included a narrow parcel of land, several hundred feet long, along the lakefront from the building to the city beach. They should have made certain that Berkshire Community Sailing…as well as the public’s access to the lake in that area, was protected before allowing the process to proceed.

    The project was allowed to maintain a low profile, keeping it from public view as much as possible. I.E…As abutters, the parks commission, nor the condo owners were notified of it.

    It’s my opinion that it was in the best interest of Scott Graves that BCS no longer exist. The Rusty Anchor is advertising sailboat spots for $550.