CONNELL & REPS (DOWNING, FARLEY-BOUVIER, MAZZEO) WEIGH IN ON ’71 STONEHENGE’ … QUESTIONS SWIRL, OPEN FORUM SUGGESTED … WHERE IS MAYOR BIANCHI ON THIS CRUCIAL ISSUE OF ‘VALUE’?
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, MARCH 4, 2014) — On this Mardi Gras, we hear from four legislators regarding the plan to move a group home to 71 Stonehenge Drive. As you probably know, THE PLANET broke the story and followed up on it yesterday. Think it’s a hot item? Traffic here has been unusually heavy, and those last two columns drew more than 200 comments. Those who wish to refresh themselves on the details of the case can refer to our posts from Friday, Weekend Edition, Feb. 28 and Monday, March 3.
We post the comments from Chris Connell, Ben Downing, Tricia Farley-Bouvier, and Melissa Mazzeo as received:
WARD 4 COUNCILOR CHRIS CONNELL
I began getting more information about this situation the morning after the council meeting. I have spoken to two individuals in the community development office as well as the city solicitor. I also reached out to two members of our state delegation to ask for their assistance and advice. I had a conversation with an attorney who is looking into this matter as well. Many of the residents have either e-mailed or called me to discuss the matter. Until I know more of the facts and what if anything can be done, I will refrain from publicly discussing it [further].
SEN. BEN DOWNING
I have been contacted by Councilor [Chris] Connell on this matter, no one else. After that call, I chatted with Rep. [Tricia] Farley-Bouvier, who the Councilor told me he had called as well. I do not believe there is a role for the state to play in this matter, as it is purely local. That being said, I have worked with BFAIR (Berkshire Families and Individual Resources) in the past (especially in the Northern Berkshires), and I know the organization to be community minded and committed to the their mission. I offered to connect the Councilor with folks at BFAIR to facilitate communication.
[ED NOTE: BFAIR is located in North Adams. BFAIR signed a lease on Jan. 15 with the Corporation for Independent Living (CIL). The lease runs for 30 years, to Jan. 15, 2044.]
REP. TRICIA FARLEY-BOUVIER
Chris Connell did contact me last week about the property on Stonehenge. We discussed that the best course of action would to open up lines of communication and get people answers to questions they might have. I expect that Chris and I will continue to work together on the issue. I used to live on Whittier Avenue, and a similar situation arose. With good communication, worries were relieved and our new neighbors were warmly received. Over the years, we never encountered any negative impacts, including house values.
COUNCILOR-AT-LARGE MELISSA MAZZEO
I became aware of this the same time many others did, when Terry Kinnas talked about it at Open Mic. I have talked with and e-mailed a number of residents from Stonehenge. I have also been working on getting information about this with Councilor Connell. I will hold off on saying anything further until I have more facts.
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From these responses, two things can be squeezed from the lemon trees living between the lines:
(1) The reps are speaking guardedly, with a lot of caution. Why, we don’t know.
(2) The prospects of stopping the group home at 71 Stonehenge seem to be dim.
Farley-Bouvier makes a good point, that such operations can move in as good neighbors without depressing property values. If course, saying “can” also opens up the other possibility: disruptive to the neighborhood and depressing of property values. Since this story broke, THE PLANET has heard from numerous folks who had horror stories about the effects of group homes on what were formerly nice, peaceful “Leave It to Beaver” types neighborhoods, and not all of them zoned R.
That leads to Downing’s point of opening the lines of communication. CIL, BFAIR, the city, and the residents of Stonehenge need to come together in an open forum to air this out. As THE PLANET has pointed out in previous stories on 71 Stonehenge, a multitude of questions abound about the seemingly unusual nature of many aspects of this deal (Angelo Stracuzzi‘s previous ownership, the quitclaim deed between the previous owners and CIL, the amount of the mortgage, the validity of the paperwork, and the like). A public forum would be the place to start.
A Question of Civic Philosophy
Not to get all Hegelian on you, but an interesting question of civic philosophy also arises: How reliable is the bond between the city and property owners as it pertains to zoning? Put it this way: When a city designates “proper-use” in various sections within its limits via zoning laws, isn’t it entering into an implicit agreement with citizens? When a person or family buys a home in a residential neighborhood, shouldn’t it be ably to sleep peacefully at night knowing that the “R” zoning will be considered sacrosanct? So we ask, what happens to that agreement when a company or business can move into an “R” zone and the city stands by as if its helpless? Is it right that this can happen without residents not even knowing about it? This is what has happened at 71 Stonehenge Drive.
In addition to allowing a mechanism by which a city can regulate what it wants to “be” and look like, isn’t one of the functions of zoning to protect property values? Granted, many variables contribute to “value,” but zoning has to be a major factor. Here are a couple of relevant quotes:
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“Zoning is local land-use regulation that restricts development by area. Categories such as low-density housing, high density housing, low and high density mixed use, retail, commercial and industrial are defined and assigned to specific areas and neighborhoods. Within those areas or zoning districts, a property owner can build what the zone allows. For instance, in a low density zoning district an owner could build a one- or two-unit home. In an industrially-zoned site, an owner could build a manufacturing plant. Each zone also is often designated with maximum height and building footprtint regulations.
“In a developed area with defined boundaries and a stable or growing population, zoning will protect and promote property values because growth will be limited to what the zoning allows. The greater the area is already developed relative to what the zoning allows, the less new growth will be permitted. Because supply is stable, property values will be protected if demand is stable. If demand increases, prices will rise.” (source: homeguides.sfgate.com)
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THE PLANET also calls for the city to reveal the extent to which it is obligated to take residents of group homes from outside the area. It would appear that the majority of the recent group population has been shipped here from other parts of the state. Why? Is this the “price” of the Faustian deal Pittsfield has made with the state for the receipt of grants?
It’s high time for the mayor, or if he hasn’t the sense to do it, our Right Honorable Good Friends on the city council to finally, once and for all, spell out the rules that govern the establishment of the “beachheads of bamboozle” that come to Pittsfield in the form of group homes, Sec. 8s, drug addicts, the mentally ill, the mentally retarded, the welfare moms, and others of this ilk. We The People need the numbers and the rules by which those numbers are allowed to come into Pittsfield for their free ride on the backs of taxpayers.
Mayor Dan Bianchi has an obligation to research this question and present citizens with the hard facts. His silence on “Stonehengegate” has been deafening when the situation calls for leadership. Every time a property comes off the tax rolls, which occurs every time a “non-profit” or “not-for-profit” enterprise sets up shop in Pittsfield, the loss of money is staggering.
That loss will repeat itself for every year the non-profit remains in business. Moreover, if the non-profit is such that it depresses valuation, the only way the city can preserve income is to raise taxes even more on a beleaguered, already over-taxed homes and business that receive neither tax breaks nor special treatment of any kind.
In Pittsfield, even though households and businesses are maxed-out on taxes, they will again be asked to open another vein and bleed some more. Just wait to see what The Suits have in store for Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski in the FY15 budget.
Where does it end? THE PLANET shall look at that question in the near future.
Happy Fat Tuesday.
“In London’s fair city, where the girls are so pretty, there lives a sweet gal named Molly Malone. She pushed her whellbarrow through the streets wide and narrow crying “Mussels and cockles, alive, alive-0.” — “Molly Malone,” traditional Irish song.
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.