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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:

——- 000 ——-

“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.

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“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.

 

43 Responses to “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’?”

  1. C.J.
    March 4, 2014 at 9:28 am #

    Another issue of value would seem to be the well spent taxpayer dollars improving downtown Pittsfield. In light of these sundry improvements, another downtown business is closing and in it’s farewell letter of appreciation cites the impact of these improvements on its business. Check out Pateez Boutique’s Facebook page and subsequent letter of appreciation.

  2. Spider
    March 4, 2014 at 10:30 am #

    It’s scary to think that a group “home” can go into a “R” zoned neighborhood of other “homes” without needing a permit from the Zoning Board or City Council or any other board.

    All is perfectly legal. And only the real estate agent knows. By the time the neighbors find out, it’s a done deal. Too late!

    I maintain that there must be a legal way to “freeze” the number of group homes. We have a lot of very smart elected officials out there….OK guys….do your thing!

    • danvalenti
      March 4, 2014 at 2:16 pm #

      SPIDER
      That’s a key point. This sort of action violates the implicit agreements between a locality, a community, and a property owner as summarized by zoning regs.

  3. Shakes His Head
    March 4, 2014 at 10:43 am #

    How many rental units does Connell own? Take a look at his properties and tell me if you think his opinion should matter on this one… Hahaha

    • danvalenti
      March 4, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

      SHH
      I didn’t realize he owned any. Is that how he makes his living?

    • ed shepardson
      March 4, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

      Why is this relevant if Mr. Connell does not rent to a group home in a residential neighborhood. Or does he?

    • Dave
      March 4, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

      SHH Are any of them rented to group homes? If not, what is the significance?

      • Shakes His Head
        March 4, 2014 at 4:37 pm #

        I’m not sure how he makes his living, nor do I care, however base your own observations on his ‘civic’ pride in his buildings.

        And I’m disappointed DV is so quick to want federal housing laws violated.

        • Spider
          March 4, 2014 at 4:41 pm #

          SHH: Please define “federal housing laws” and how they affect group homes in Pittsfield.

          • Shakes His Head
            March 4, 2014 at 7:20 pm #

            Fair Housing Act

  4. Rafael
    March 4, 2014 at 12:11 pm #

    Dan, I just wanted to thank you for putting all this forward. I certainly consider myself much better educated on this subject than before.

    • danvalenti
      March 4, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

      Our please, RAFAEL. It’s one of the high purposes of this site: to expose, thereby informing, thereby educating, thereby in our small way helping preserve what’s left of the democratic process.

  5. Scott
    March 4, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

    If a property or section of town is zoned commercial it’s for tax purposes. Since the not for profit gets out of its tax obligation it makes no difference to the city and they have no interest. The home technically is being used for residential purposes.

    Whenever you have an issue call your reps and ward councilors they’ll go out of thier way to send an email! Dan I surprised you’re not tagging MM Melissa emailzzio. Can we get a photo op with the mayors sleeves rolled up sending an email???

    Sorry if this is a repost I changed it up a little but my last post isn’t showing on my end.

    • Shakes His Head
      March 4, 2014 at 4:40 pm #

      Zoning has nothing to do with tax purposes.

      • Scott
        March 5, 2014 at 4:51 am #

        So if you’re zoned commercial you pay the same in tax as residential zoned properties? I already know the answer.

  6. Dave
    March 4, 2014 at 2:46 pm #

    Chris Connell? Not Councilor Connell from TFB? Was that the response or a misprint by you Dan?

  7. GMHeller
    March 4, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

    Mr. Valenti,

    Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier makes the assertion that “Over the years, we never encountered any negative impacts, including house values.”
    Oh really?
    Where’s her evidence for such a broad claim?
    Her statement about the lack of effect on property values conflicts with newspaper accounts across the nation regarding what happens to neighborhood property values when Group Homes are inserted into what had heretofore been prosperous middle-class neighborhoods.

    Also, can’t help but notice that all the politicians who are responding seem to be playing CYA (Cover Your A**) and offering nothing more than a bunch of platitudes while giving nothing in the way of usable advice on what local residents — taxpayers — can do to stop this Group Home invasion of Pittsfield.

    • Mike Ward
      March 4, 2014 at 4:02 pm #

      In three terms on the city council I never received a complaint about a group home (and the home Rep. Farley-Bouvier mentioned is in my ward) but I did receive many complaints about conventional neighbors.
      Having said that, I have to admit the group home business model puzzles me. We no longer teach children in one-room schoolhouses yet psychiatric care has literally gone in that direction. It’s as if the only solution to the poor conditions of last century’s state hospitals was to close those hospitals rather than reforming them.
      My father died last year from an aggressive disease called Lewy Body Dementia. In his last two years I saw three different hospitals with very different levels of quality. Hillcrest Commons was the worst and Western Mass Hospital in Westfield was the best. A large building doesn’t mean a poor level of care, and the efficiencies of scale are obvious. The group home model just seems unsustainable to me.

      • Scott
        March 4, 2014 at 4:17 pm #

        Mike it puts people society has stigmatized and locked away in hospitals back into communities with human interaction where they belong. Institutions can and should still be used for individuals who earn it by proving they pose a danger to society. I feel like there’s a constitutional right argument in here. The mere diagnosis of mental disorder shouldn’t condemn a person to a locked hospital/jail setting facility where levels of care are unsavory in a lot of cases. A lot of these places were closed for abuse and unsanitary conditions as well as malnourished residents.

        • Mike Ward
          March 4, 2014 at 5:02 pm #

          I hear you but does decentralizing the care into residential neighborhoods ensure quality care, clean conditions, and and a lack of other abuses? How good is staff oversight and patient advocacy in a decentralized model like this?

          • danvalenti
            March 4, 2014 at 6:53 pm #

            It does not, DOES NOT, ensure quality care.

          • Scott
            March 5, 2014 at 4:40 am #

            Well I can’t say it guarantees quality care but the standard is set higher and there are more state inspections plus the fact that the setting changes the dynamic.

        • Spider
          March 4, 2014 at 5:13 pm #

          That is all true, Scott…..but instead of correcting what was wrong with these institutions, the do-gooders decided the rights of the patients were being violated and closed the hospitals.

          Are these poor people better off now?….I don’t think so. And now whose rights are being violated when law abiding citizens feel threatened (as Heller has shown us).

          • danvalenti
            March 4, 2014 at 6:55 pm #

            Take a look at the sad cases than populate the streets of downtown Pittsfield during daytime hours.

          • Scott
            March 5, 2014 at 4:49 am #

            If one feels threatened by a disabled person that’s on them. It’s hard to determine what we’re debating here because already at the word group home we’ve had commenters solidify that they are all violent drug addicted sex offenders. Of course that sounds unappealing and scary and one would be compelled to be against it.

            So you’re driving in your car from your nice middle class neighborhood home to your good job and a drunk driver hits you. You survive but can no longer care for yourself due to a serious head injury. Are you saying you’re ok with being locked away in an institution the rest of your life ? Maybe your family is with you and they don’t make it so there’s no one to take care of you.

            You can actually take people like I described into your own home and make decent money. I know a couple people who do it. So any neighbor at any time could make that choice and people do.

          • Richard Allen
            March 5, 2014 at 9:54 am #

            I worked in some of these institutions back in the 70′s prior to them closing and they were not shut down by “do gooders” They were shut down by the state due to systemic abuse and neglect of patients and patient care. Human beings were being abused, neglected and set aside from society, all for the crime of being mentally retarded, autistic or any host socially unacceptable behaviors. People with chronic depression, mania, and other treatable diseases were placed in institutions. It was a horrible place to work and horrible to witness. The alternative at the time was the group home. The majority of people in Group homes are able to access employment(sheltered or otherwise), society and live as normal a life as possible within a therapeutic setting. The Nimbyism in this thread is astounding. There are badly run group homes just like there are badly run prisons and hospitals. These people have the right to live in society just like
            we do. Until they forfeit that right through criminal behavior, this conversation is a whole lot of hot air.

          • Mike Ward
            March 5, 2014 at 10:55 am #

            Thanks for your perspective Richard. At least the conversation is happening. Somewhere between NIMBYism and shrill political correctness there is room for a reasonable conversation about the effectiveness of the group business model and the rights of homeowners.

          • danvalenti
            March 5, 2014 at 7:53 pm #

            Yup.

      • Payroll Patroit
        March 4, 2014 at 6:56 pm #

        Mike only one group was put in ward 4. It is not a group home on your street. Remember the residents in group homes change constantly. One week a person with a brain problem, the next a non released sex offender. Would you move next to one with your family? Is the real question.

        • Mike Ward
          March 4, 2014 at 7:14 pm #

          How do you know this? Is there a map available?

          Would I move next to one? I don’t know, that would have to be one charming house.

          • danvalenti
            March 4, 2014 at 7:32 pm #

            Well, all I can say is that the population of the “group home” on Stonehendge has been defined. Also, the population, unless defined by contract, is not defined. That opens a huge door to “unwanted critters.”

        • B
          March 4, 2014 at 7:47 pm #

          I believe there was one or still is one right on Elm Street in Pittsfield

  8. GMHeller
    March 4, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

    Mr. Valenti,

    Given the relatively high number of Group Homes in Berkshire County and especially PIttsfield, it sure would be of interest to know if anyone affiliated with CIL or BFAIR has made political campaign contributions to any of these local politicos who now appear to be playing CYA over the Stonehenge matter.
    Candidates’ quarterly campaign finance reports are supposed to contain the names and company affiliations of anyone donating money to a candidate, and are supposed to be on file with the Massachusetts Office of Campaign & Political Finance.

  9. GMHeller
    March 4, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

    Mr. Valenti,
    It might also be helpful if each of the politicians in Berkshire County was asked if they had received campaign contributions from anyone affiliated with CIL or BFAIR, and the total received from persons affiliated with these entities?
    A cross check with records on file with Massachusetts Office of Campaign & Political Finance would confirm or refute.

  10. Joe Blow
    March 4, 2014 at 3:52 pm #

    I’m not a fan of these group homes and the non-profits that run them. But I don’t think it’s fair to lump all of them in blue-collar neighborhoods either. My family has lived in the Springside park area for many years and we are sick of being the dumping ground for these places!

    • danvalenti
      March 4, 2014 at 4:36 pm #

      I’m sure Mayor Bianchi “feels your pain” … not!

    • joetaxpayer
      March 5, 2014 at 4:02 pm #

      Joe Blow Dumping ground. Is that anyway to talk about the handicapped!

  11. Scott
    March 5, 2014 at 4:37 am #

    Yes exactly Joe without even realizing it they say it’s not ok for thier neighborhood but they are fine with them in ours.

    • joetaxpayer
      March 5, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

      Scott you and others say they are know problem, so why not recruit them. Maybe there’s a vacant house or lot on your or a neighboring street, reach out to the non-profit group home. Win Win

      • joetaxpayer
        March 5, 2014 at 4:21 pm #

        No problem

  12. Spider
    March 5, 2014 at 5:46 am #

    SHH: You define the Federal Housing Laws as FAIR HOUSING ACT. “fair” to whom? Certainly not the neighborhoods!