Joanne DeRose makes the acquaintance of her colleagues on the Planning Board. DeRose was appointed to replace the late Edna Rudnick.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Planning Board is awaiting a legal opinion before it continues a permit for the West End Market at 437 West Main St.
Barry Garton purchased the historic market four years ago from Charles Huberdeau, who operated a secondhand and antiques shop there, with the intention of relocating his coffeehouse Brewhaha from Marshall Street. But time and money has forced him to change his plans.
"The extent of the renovation was such that we just decided to do everything that needed to be done," said Garton. "Basically, the money that I borrowed to move there, to shut down and to buy new equipment, all got eaten up by the renovations."
Garton now wants to lease the space but is running into a two-year permit deadline that could see the commercial site revert to residential.
"I'm a little at a loss to be honest with you," Building Inspector William Meranti told the planners. "I think that in all fairness to Mr. Garton, he has been working on it and it has not been abandoned ... for that period of time."
According to the city ordinance, the variance runs out after a property has been unused or abandoned for two years. There's no spot zoning to grandfather it so it reverts to residential.
Chairman Michael Leary said it was obvious a significant amount of work has gone into the building but the board couldn't extend a permit without having the legal authority to do so, particularly not knowing who might be taking over the property or when it might happen.
He cited the 2006 permit as stating "this permit shall lapse on Oct. 16, 2006, if substantial use has not started at that time."
"It doesn't say substantial construction, it doesn't say substantial work, its says substantial use," said Leary "... the question is how does the city define substantial use?"
If the permit lapsed in 2008, the question is moot. If the permit is good throughout the "work period," even if it's four years, then the two-year deadline begins now. That would give Barton time to find a leasee for the spot.
David Babcock's last meeting was Monday. After serving on the board for more than two decades, Babcock is retiring.
"I see an art gallery or an office of some kind but the storefront would remain the same," he said, because the intent had been to maintain the historic porcelain front with the West End Market name.
Planner Wayne Wilkinson described the opinion as a "test case."
"There's a bunch of commercial buildings in North Adams that are in the exact same situation," he said. "They haven't been used in two years; their obvious only use is a commercial use."
He pointed to the former NAPA store on State Road as one example that's sitting vacant because it can no longer be used for commercial purposes because it's reverted to residential after two years being vacant. "We need to change the ordinance or come up with a new idea," he said.
The board continued the matter until its next meeting pending an opinion from the city solicitor.
The board also welcomed a new member and bid farewell to an old one.
Joanne DeRose attended her first meeting as the mayor's appointment to fill the seat held by the late Edna Rudnick. DeRose is an account executive at National Grid and member of the city Democratic Committee and the North Adams Rotary Club. Rudnick died last fall.
David Babcock ended his term on the board at 22 years, three months after asking the mayor not to reappoint him. Babcock is retiring from BerkshireWorks on Sept. 9. Leary personally thanked him for the years of service he's given the city of North Adams.
Wilkinson and Paul Senecal were selected as the nominating committee for the Feb. 14 election of officers.
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The difference between the old Sofco site and West End Market is Bloom's building is in a commercial zone and West End Market is in a residential zone. When the West End property was approved as the new location for Brewhaha, which was seven years ago, the permit lasted two years and the owner had to, in that time, show some usage. He may or may not have done that with his renovation work, which is what the solicitor has to determine. If that work does count as "usage" in the legal sense, the board can extend the permit.If that doesn't count as usage, that means the permit expired in 2006, and as such, any future plans for the building must be residential to match the zone. In Sofco's case, the building sat empty, but because it was in a commercial zone, any commercial plans for it were allowed, regardless of how long it sat empty. And before you ask why the city can't just rezone the West End location, "spot zoning," or rezoning a single parcel, is illegal - you would need to change the entire section of town near it to commercial, and it's clearly residential.
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