Councilor Marie Harpin questioned why relocating and new downtown businesses weren't going before the Planning Board. Councilor Michael Bloom, second from left, worried about micromanaging businesses and Coucilor David Lamarre, next to him, said the Planning Board should be concerned with standards, not matters of taste.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday referred questions about the purview of the Planning Board to the city solicitor.
The request was prompted by Councilor Marie Harpin, who expressed concern that downtown businesses were not being properly vetted by the Planning Board.
"The Planning Board doesn't just fall under the city ordinance; it has to comply with that state law," she said, referring to Chapter 41, Section 81 of the General Laws. "By not coming through the Planning Board, even if it's an existing business, it still has to through for the signage and parking and all those other issues."
Harpin pointed to the recent musical chairs on Main Street in which Shear Madness, I Got Goodies and Shima relocated to larger quarters, and to the reopening of a restaurant on Marshall Street as the barbecue joint RUB.
"I attend every Planning Board meeting and I haven't seen any of those people," she said.
(RUB, I've Got Goodies and Shima submitted letters to the Planning Board notifying the board of changes and two were approved for new signage; Shima kept its original sign.)
Mayor Richard Alcombright said the none of the businesses needed site plan review because they were a pre-existing conforming use.
"When you have an existing business that's basically moving two doors down to expand their business, they don't have to go before the Planning Board," he said. "I don't think we're outside the ordinance and I don't think we're breaking any laws here."
Councilor Michael Bloom, also a local business owner, said the board would not be out of the loop because any business would have to contact the building inspector, who would tell them the planning process.
While Harpin worried about broken rules, Bloom was concerned that the rules would be too tight.
"If we're going to micromanage, it's anti-business," he said. "If you want to have cookie-cutter signs that are all black and gold throughout the entire city, all one exact look, that's your opinion ... I think diversity will attract more people to the city."
Harpin, however, thought the proliferation of colorful nonstandard signs, like those at an Eagle Street pizza parlor, wasn't putting the city in the best light.
"So we become the city of the rainbow," she said. "We have to abide by the rules we set up, otherwise why have them?"
Councilor Lisa Blackmer said she had had a long conversation with former Administrative Officer Jay Green shortly before his departure about site plan review and how the city's practices compared to those of other municipalities.
Blackmer said she was of the opinion that "we're actually lucky that someone didn't have the financial wherewithall to sue us in some cases because of some of the things we denied or hoops we made people jump through."
Harpin said planners had expressed their concerns to her.
As part of the agenda, Robert Cardimino spoke against the biomass plant being proposed across the border in Vermont, citing concerns over air and water pollution, logging and the effect of heavy traffic that will come with it. Alcombright agreed, noting up to 100 trucks a day are expected to arrive at the plant — most of which will come through the city.
The mayor said he has been in contact with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and Williamstown officials and had sent a letter to the BRPC, which has been granted intervenor status, to be included in the consortium.
Cardimino asked the council to adopt a resolution against the plant; Harpin believed former councilor Gailanne Cariddi had started one before taking up her duties at state representative. Alcombright asked the council to keep him apprised of their decision on a resolution or letter "so we're working together on this."
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Councilor Harpin..."too many chefs"...........let the businesses try to succeed instead of worrying about meetings and boards and useless fretting. the businesses only moved to larger spaces. Talk about old regime rules, micro-management, etc. that need to go!
If it were elected and all business owners or all people who want black and gold signs were elected then it would be by the will of the people. There hasn't been a drought of candidates for City Council in recent years and I would think that there wouldn't be one for the PB, afterall wouldn't the nine appointed members want to run for election to their seats?
And Harpin will soon be gone so her absuard and uninformed opinions will be gone too.
question....for instance in RUB case....who approved the sign that is above the entrance?...does the planning board approve signs?....and in rubs case the building inspector has to sign off on correct?
thanks for the info...then i think their is not a problem in the way the business by the planning board is being in this case...but what if a restaurant( that was approved by the planning and certified by the building inspector and health inspector), decided it was not making enough selling sandwiches and they decided to open up a naked donut and coffee shop?....could this be done...inquiring minds would like to know thanks
Editor: I'm not an expert but I would guess the "naked" part might fall under the Board of Health for safety reasons. Frying donuts and hot coffee can be quite dangerous to naked flesh. I Agree (0) - I Disagree (0)
Indeed: The building inspector makes sure everything is in order to open the business from a safety standpoint. If there is food service, the Health Inspector must approve from a health standpoint.
The council actually has some governance over the sign, as you have to prove to them that you are properly insured should the sign fall and hurt someone.
What Councilor Harpin wants is a "taste" board that chooses colors and makes everything look the same.
That is definitely not under the purview of the Planning Board... and there is repeated state case law to support that. And she has been told this before.
As usual, Tremblay likes to compare apples to kiwi. The city council, as he should well know, is a paid position, and therefore will naturally attract some candidates for that purpose alone. The Planning Board is not paid. They are all volunteers, and I would bet several of them, if they were required to run for election, which comes with potential advertising and fund raising and the filing of mandatory state reports, would not run for their posts. He also seems to think that each and every time an election is held, there are droves of candidates running. That isn't true, either. The school committee is elected and attracts few candidates, and I think education is a fairly critical issue. The same goes for the McCann board, which is elected. I can easily recall many city council elections where only a few more than nine people ran. There are nine positions on the planning board. You would not get nine people to run. Just amazes me how Tremblay hated when Barrett was in office, got his wish for a change, and now doesn't trust Alcombright either.
Harpin has no clue what it takes to start and run a business. If she did she wouldn't be trying to make it harder. The planning board process is one piece of what it takes to start a business. Why did she complain about Shima, The RUB, I Got Goodies and Shear Madness? They look great and the city should be working hard to get more, not slow the process down.
Maybe Mr. Tremblay should read up on state law governing planning boards, which states: "Such members shall in cities be appointed by the mayor, subject to confirmation by the city council and in towns be elected at the annual town meeting or be appointed in such manner as an annual town meeting may determine." As long as North Adams is considered a city and has a Mayor, the board must be appointed. Massachusetts law, Chapter 41, section 81A. But hey, I would never expect him to research something before he makes his bold statements.
Coucilor Harpin needs to leave North Adams on occasion and vist other communities. Take a ride down to Lee, Lenox or Great Barrington and take a close look. Not everything is cookie cutter, black and gold. Restaurants, shops, insurance offices and other businesses are thriving. I see various types of signs such as neon signs and sandwich board signs. It looks busy and it looks appealing. It looks alive. Keep it up Councilor Harpin and you can run on the anti- business platform next time around.
Harpin doesnt have a clue an hopefully she wont run again. PB should have NO say in what color a building is or what a sign looks like. As long as the business meets all codes nobody should be able to dictate above an beyond that. This city needs diversity and old war horses need to be led to the barn an allow fresh minds to steer the citys future. If not then we mind as well stay a mill town....minus the jobs.
Most of the comments are really from clueless people who don't get it. The downtown with those stupid new lights, painted signs in the windows along with neon lights makes downtown North Adams look like a carnival. Williamstown has high standards and North Adams should to. Most of you people have no clue as to how bad things were in North Adams. Bad mistakes led to a Kmart on Maim St. which few of you even knew about and that was less then 10 years ago. Ask people who have been here more than 10 years on how bad the signage use to be or when the Brien Center on Main St was a garage. It saddens me to see what is happening in North Adams after it worked so hard to become a community which people wanted to be proud of, which is why it became the subject of so many positive articles in the the national media. Now we are going the other way. So much for change, hang in there Marie as your the only one on the council with the courage to say enough is enough.
"It saddens me to see what is happening in North Adams after it worked so hard to become a community which people wanted to be proud of, which is why it became the subject of so many positive articles in the the national media."
Blackmer is 100% correct. The Planning Board regularly overstepped its legal authority in the past. There were a couple of cases where it was evident, even to the most jaded, that they were making certain people meet requirements that they did not have the legal right to impose. (How many conforming use businesses had to go to the planning board even though nothing but ownership changed? I know of a few.)
Harpin is right that rules should be followed, however, that especially needs to go for the planning board as well.
As for aesthetics, the planning board should get out of that game entirely. If someone wants to live in a place that looks like it was the setting of the Stepford Wives, they should pick someplace that is not trying to be an art or tourism economy.
As for the person who thinks we should be like Williamstown, please notice that Williamstown's Currier and Ives image is not something that an economically depressed mill town can, or should, emulate.
The fact that so many people are stuck in a 1980's subdivision planning mentality is astounding. IT DOES NOT WORK.
Oh, and if Planning Board Members don't have the guts to openly disagree with the Mayor, they should resign, rather than complain behind his back.
It's not "JBIII's City" anymore. If someone sincerely disagrees with Dick, he/she will not automatically lose his/her appointed position. But if a disagreement makes it impossible for you to do your job in good faith, you need to go.
"Maim St."you might be right- BUT K-Mart was more than 10 years ago-- try 25 or so---and I confess-- my bad- Planning Board is not "Charter" - I forgot---it's set by state law--which in a City has the Mayor as the appointing authority subject to Council approval
Keep up the good word Marie. Finally we have at least one council person that is not aftaid to ask questions and point out what is going on behind closed doors. As long as one person is willing to stand up we still have hope.
You know, I'm no fan of people like Bona and Bond, who talk just to hear themselves talk, but at least they've been consistent in their criticisms of the planning board and the former Mayor. But people like Blackmer and Bloom are just hypocrites. They were both Barrett supporters for years, and not once did they ever question or criticize "his" planning board when he was in office. Now they act as if they've just been completely horrified that in years past the board "made it difficult" for businesses. What cowards they both are. If Barrett were to come back to power, they'd both cower in the corners of the council chambers and claim they were "forced" to make their current statements.
Ms Harpin, you are wrong. Look at cities that are full of businesses and shoppers. Look at North Adams from the 20s-70s when downtown was full of stores and people. The signs colorful, big, small, vertical, lighted, and is Ms Harpin put it a city of rainbows. It wasn't until the 80s that blah became the planning boards standards, boring was their color chart and empty storefronts became the norm. It took over two decades for people to realize the strict planning process doesn't help growth. Glad to see change is allowing those who invest here to be more creative.
I was looking at the 2011 Budget and noticed that it no longer contains the monies that were appropriated for Marie Harpin's employer, Community Action. In years past $30,000 was budgeted for Community Action and Ms. Harpin would vote on that portion of the budget. Interesting how that was not an issue for her but someone trying to operate a business and barely eek out a living is.
Chris you always had trouble reading a budget. There was never any money in the city budget for Community Action. You should be ashamed of yourself for trying to tarnish the reputation of a public official who has dedicated her life to helping the less fortunate. You may not agree with someones position, which is your right, but please save the garbage for Topix.
I have been a buisness owner for 30 years and have endured the pre Alcombright Administration, North Adams Planing Board many times. I can tell you that it was always an uphill battle and avoided if possible . Let me ask you to think back to when you last saw a small buisness in downtown North Adams EXPAND and need to move to a larger location. Expanding the business network in downtown North Adams. WOW !!!!!! WHAT A REFRESHING CHANGE! As a buisness owner in the City, I can say that this new streamed line business supportive atmosphere Planing Board, will help cure a serious illness that many North Adams business owners have suffered from. Its called " Barret Fatigue Syndrome"! It has stiffled business growth in North Adams for years! My hats Off to Mayor Alcombrite and all of his staff for starting this wonderful transition of our city! As for Marie Harpin, she is a wonderful person who has done great things for the people of North Adams in need. I only ask her to go out in the city, talk to the small business owners and get their first hand thoughts on this matter . I think there is a sense of relief in the business community of North Adams that will only continue to help expand growth in the city with this new pro-business supportive atmosphere! LET'S GROW THIS CITY!
Isn't councilor Harpin doing what she was elected to do by the pople of North Adams ?? If she feels she needs more information on any subject before the council , shouldn't she be allowed to ask without so many hate comments ??
Perhaps this is why more people do not attend council meetings , when a respected council person is subject to attact form not only people who hide behind false names bot also from other council members !! When people can not debate the truth they attack the person , not the subject.
Editor: The City Council does not vote on line items, it votes on total expenditures. Check the Ethics Commission here for more information. There also is no line item for BCAC on the budget. Community Action Councils derive the bulk of their funding from the federal government.
Stop the personal attacks, everyone, and stick to the topic at hand, which has NOTHING to do with BCAC. I Agree (0) - I Disagree (0)
The Council actually does not vote on line items is true. They do however vote on total sums and those totals did in fact include $30,000 for BCAC and councilor Harpin has in fact voted on that expenduture. It is not a personal attack it is a fact that can be backed up with documented votes. I hold in my hands a copy of the FY'06 Budget which did in fact include $30,000 for BCAC and Ms. Harpin abstained from that vote after I had questioned if it were ethical. I would not have brought this subject up if I did not have facts to back up my statements. This is not personal it speaks to the moral and ethics of the elected official who claims that now rules that are illegal be enforced.
Editor: Without a ruling from the state, it is still your opinion. I was not at the meeting you refer to so cannot speak to it. However, commenters should be careful of making allegations about morals and ethics and stating them as fact. Prefacing statements with IMO or IMHO would do much to elevate the discourse. I Agree (0) - I Disagree (0)
If Chris Tremblay can produce one City Budget that shows there was a $30,000 expendeture for Community Action I will never question him again. All you have to do is bring proof to Tammy Daniels that there was an expenditure of City funds and that will be good enough for me. Lets make the public aware and Tammy have a camera ready. I'm on several human service agency boards and I can attest the city never gave that amount to BCAC. Get some glasses Chris because your not reading the city budget.
And to the others who use the words "business community" you are non existent. There has been no business community besides the banks in Northern Berkshire for over 30 years. You think you open up a crafts store and your a business leader. The only ones giving any money out these days are the banks and they are forced to. I saw this city when Sprague closed along Arnold Print and then the thousands of jobs lost at GE. No one gave the city a chance to survive but it did. Now the so called business community thinks they have all the answers. No big deal because they thought the same way 50 years ago. The only difference then and now is back then they lasted more than two years. The only businesses expanding happened under the prior administration like iberkshires and other Alverez businesses as he has invested big time. Even Wal Mart was started in the previous administration. While Dick worries about his downtown friends the economy of North Adams shrinks on a daily basis. Where are those jobs we were promised?
I hate to tell you but since Dick Alcombright took over there not been any growth! If this is a "pro business" administration we are in real trouble. Say what you want but at least with Mayor Barrett there was a plan and someone was in charge. I saw Peebles, Staples, movie theaters, Olympia Sports, now I see a Dollar Tree Store,a new beauty shop, another Sushi Restaurant to compete with Taylors, the Rub replaces Hickory Bills and sadly no more more McClelands. Lotta new jobs here alright. Good thing they have the Hub downtown or there will be nobody left. Funny thing about the Hub is that the owner praised Mayor Barrett when they were going through the Planning Board process. Even the Social Security Office is leaving downtown. Seems that old tough Planning Board must have been doing something right because this new refreshing policy sure isn't bringing much business to North Adams. What happened to his friend Bo Peabody and the businesses he was going to bring here? Seems like he moved a couple out of here. All you happy people get excited with your visioning exercises this summer while businesses continue to close up and others look elsewhere. Maybe we can build some more bridges to our neighbors to the west and south for Dick to hold another fund raiser at the Bounti Fare in Adams. Stay excited because thats all you have.
Editor: Let's be clear that the prior administration saw plenty of businesses open - and close! After all it was around for more than two decades and had its ups and its downs. Comparing its track record to the current one, which has been around for all of one year, is rather petty. I Agree (0) - I Disagree (0)
It is too bad that the Editor of iberkshires misses the point. Thus far we have heard nothing but talk from this administration and you as a member of the press has failed to ask the Mayor the tough questions. You know what Mayor Barrett went through in leading North Adams out of one of the worst periods in the history of the city. Through his leadership Mass Moca opened its doors and never once have you reminded these critics of what North Adams use to be like when all the jobs were lost through plant closings. When Marie Harpin asks questions the so called new business leaders make personal attacks on her and say she should be gone. What happened to everyone having a seat at the table? Your better than this Tammy and you should start asking the tough questions of this administration which aren't being asked. Where are the new jobs or better where is his plan to revitalize the North Adams economy which Mayor Alcombright promised? Why is it petty to make comparisons now when the new crowd in town does it all the time and you say nothing. They are the ones who are proclaiming these great new ideas and "a breath of fresh air". What we have seen thus far is a lot of hot air. The only thing remotely new came from Derosa and he was part of the former administration. Promises were made by the Mayor to do a lot of things and he has not done them. Mayor Barrett served this city for 26 years and he deserves our thanks for a job well done. Now it is time for Mayor Alcombright to put forth his agenda which he promised. Thus far the only thing we have seen different are benches, higher taxes and a first ever sewer fee. Oh yes the city is going to do a Master Plan which will do nothing more then waste away another three years and cost lots of money. No pettiness, just accountability.
Dear Editor, You are correct the prior adminstration did see businesses open and close a lot of them in twenty years. But they tried to keep taxes down so people who were laid off or on fixed income could still hold on to there homes. If you promise jobs and only add jobs that the tax payers have to pay more for doesn't make sence. I do not have to tell you we are in the worst economy in sixty years. Is now the time to force people to pay more ??? Again I do not have to tell you people in privet sector jobs have been working without raises and paid more for insurance for years. So to raise taxes more than they ever have been just to help the public sector workers to me is wrong at this time. Also if someone keeps telling you they have saved you money wouldn't you expect to see a savings ???
Have you showed iberkshires the $30,000 that you claim was given to NBCA from the city budget? Seems like your now changing your story to say it was $30,000 for Human Services which is far different then $30,000 for Community Action. Nothing like stretching the truth Mr. Tremblay which has always been your MO.
Mary - In a year and half, Dick has done much to stabilize a downtown that had an accelerating vacancy rate. He has ushered through the WalMart plan that John started. He has actually engaged the major players in town in the shaping of the future of the city (unlike JBIII). He has stabilized the budget - where JBIII had completely depleted the reserve accounts and had --- shifted insurance costs - and now has an open and transparent budgeting process.
Get over the fact that Sprague and other huge employers are likely to never open in our region ever again. As for Peebles, etc... Don't thank John - he wanted to put more artist housing and such in there. He only "compromised" for Peebles, etc.. after the developer decided he wasn't going to be pushed around and demonstrated that he had the economic means to appeal the planning board's illegal ruling and win.
Disparaging the small mom and pop business that open tells me all I need to know about your your motivations.
Editor: Edited because you are making a legal opinion and stating it as fact. I Agree (0) - I Disagree (0)
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:: Preliminary Election: Deadline to register is Wednesday, Sept. 7. (Office open from 8 to 8.)
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