The City Council approved more than a quarter million in free cash transfers on Tuesday.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday approved the transfer of $264,288.38 in certified free cash to various accounts, including $62,686.53 toward the purchase of a building on Furnace Street.
In a communication to the council, Mayor Richard Alcombright said the property at 110-112 Furnace St. cannot be occupied because the road and retaining wall owned by the city is pushing against the building and damaging the porches.
"We were made aware of this situation some time ago by the owner," he wrote. "As a result, the owner is unable to obtain insurance and cannot maintain occupancy."
On Tuesday, he called it a "very weird thing" to bring before the council. The city had been aware for several years that the massive retaining wall and road had been shifting to press against the apartment building's porches and knocking the supports off-kilter.
"It had become worse this past year and they had to vacant the tenant they did have," he said.
The mayor said consultations with the Department of Public Works and the city solicitor offered two solutions: fix the road and retaining wall or buy the structure and eventually demolish it in light of future redesign of the Furnace Street/Reservoir Road intersection.
Fixing the road and retaining wall would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars the city didn't have, Alcombright said. "The money for that just is not possible at this point in time ... I think the right thing to do is buy it from the owner."
There was the potential down the road to access Scenic Byway funds for Reservoir Road and possibly state funding to open up that pinched area and tight turn since the roadway is considered an access to Mount Greylock State Reservation, he said.
The owner, Jeffrey Cellana, accepted an offer of $70,000. The city's insurance company estimated the coverage to repair the porches at $7,313.47, leaving a balance of $62,686.53 to cover the purchase.
Councilor Robert M. Moulton Jr. asked if there were other options, such as not purchasing the property. The mayor said it would likely end up in court and, since the city was responsible for the infrastructure, he didn't see a lawsuit going its way.
Alcombright said the assessed value was about $84,000 to $86,000 and that the price negotiated with the owner wasn't much higher than the initial offer. Councilor Ronald Boucher asked if an appraisal had been done. The mayor said it would be difficult since the structure cannot be used at all, it essentially has no worth.
The vote to approve the appropriation was 7-1, with Boucher voting against. Councilor Eric Buddington was absent. The other transfers were approved unanimously.
Some $48,687.75 in free cash was appropriated to the Flood Control Emergency Repair Account for actions taken to stabilize the flood control chute next to the west end of Building 6 at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. A section of the concrete panels fell into the river earlier this spring and the city was able to convince the Army Corps of Engineers that a temporary fix previously floated would work.
The mayor said there was some possibility of reimbursement and that he had had conversations with the state Departments of Energy and Natural Resources. However, that was for the temporary fix and not for replacing the panel, or the one that had fallen in at Willow Dell a few years ago.
Either of those could cost up to a half-million dollars, he ventured, and repairing or replacing the infrastructure could take decades and tens of millions of dollars.
Councilor Nancy Bullett, who sits on the Hoosic River Revival, said the chutes had a 50-year life expectancy that they have now exceeded. The HRR is looking to replacing the aging concrete corridors with more natural and sustainable works.
An I-beam brace was placed across the Hoosic River holding both sides in place and preventing the next section on the wall near the collapse from moving. While the city is responsible for the 70-year-old flood control system, little can be done without approval by the Army Corps and officials are hoping it will do more toward maintenance and repairs.
The mayor said he would at least like more flexibility to address emergency repairs. Problems with water wearing at the panel were apparent several years ago, he said, but the city couldn't do anything without the Army Corps' approval.
The council also appropriated $88,000 to the stabilization fund (the balance of the free cash) and $25,000 for the demolition of 45 Edgewood Ave., which was declared a nuisance by the council last month and cleared for demolition by the Historical Commission in 2014.
The mayor said the transfer of the balance of $88,000 brings the stabilization fund to just over $1 million and gives the council more control over the money since it requires a two-thirds vote of the council to use those funds.
Another $39,914.10 was appropriated toward completion of community development projects in anticipation of funds from Housing Opportunities Inc. Alcombright said that was largely a "cleanup process" of charges that have been sitting on city's books.
In other business:
• Superintendent Barbara Malkas reported on the actions taken to remediate copper and lead levels in the public schools' water. The problems were largely from older fixtures that have been repaired or replaced; copper levels in sinks at Colegrove Park Elementary are being remediated by regular flushing, as recommended by the Department of Public Health. Two problem fixtures need more extensive work for replacement and will be done this summer. Neither are being currently used.
• The council approved changes to zoning map that places three properties on Veazie Street in the commercial zone. The request was made by Berkshire Hills Development Corp. (Porches Inn) to make all make the zoning in that area consistent.
• The council also gave final approval of changes in the compensation and classification plan and to the fees for the transfer station.
• A recommendation by the Traffic Commission to remove two metered parking spaces on American Legion Drive to make room for a bicycle lane was referred to the Public Safety Committee. The city solicitor is expected to have ordinance language for the committee to review.
• Eric Kerns was approved to a five-year term on the Public Arts Commission. Buddington two weeks ago had requested his re-appointment be held over concerns of his ability to attend meetings; Council President Benjamin Lamb read a letter from Buddington saying he felt the issue had "received the attention it needs" and supported Kerns' reappointment.
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