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Great Barrington Selectboard Gets Public Works Update, Debates Downtown Licensing

A brick building sits behind a green lawn.
Great Barrington, Massachusetts town hall.

At its Monday night meeting, the Great Barrington, Massachusetts selectboard got an update on public works projects in the town and debated the merits of a downtown licensing request.

Department of Public Works Superintendent Sean VanDeusen laid out what he described as an aggressive construction season in the Southern Berkshire town.

“Some of the projects that you might have already noticed that have started – the sidewalk extension in Housatonic," he said. "They're actually going to be finishing up the majority of the paving there, at least in the sidewalk, probably tomorrow. We still have some crosswalks to paint in, some dynamic signs to put up, but that project’s moving along. That is Jack Goncalves Construction. And that was a $230,000 project that was funded by a Complete Streets Grant.”

Another project underway is the multi-use trail known as the Old Route 7 Greenway.

“They did the prep work for the paving that's going to be put down there, but they are currently waiting on the approval for the retaining wall designed by, from MassDOT to start that portion of the project," said VanDeusen. "That's probably four or five weeks away from completion. That's a $507,000 project with $130,000 that was funded by a grant.”

Other projects include replacing the boiler in the Ramsdell Public Library, replacing the roof of the Housatonic fire station, expanding the Housatonic Riverwalk trail and more.

An application for a Wine and Malt Package Store License at 28 Railroad Street led to a dissent from one selectboard member.

“I know that I'm going to be standing out on my own on this one- and that's fine," said Kate Burke.

She thought the board would wait to grant more licenses downtown after giving them to the Berkshire Food Co-op and Rubiner’s Cheesemongers in 2018, noting that the nearby Big Y supermarket has expanded its beer and wine offerings.

“They’re really pushing to undercut all of the other small businesses that are existing in this area already," said Burke. "And I think we also heard a lot from community members about how much they wanted to see beer and wine and food be sold together. So I feel like we're taking a backtrack from that.”

Burke said her concerns came despite applicant Depart Wine’s promise to stock 15% of its inventory from Black, indigenous and people of color-owned or made labels.

“I just also really worry about how not inclusive and elitist Main Street and downtown are becoming, there's more and more people that just don't feel like it's for them, or that they can be included," she said. "And, and I know it's capitalism, and I know that we want these buildings to be filled and many other downtowns are dying because those small businesses aren't lasting and we should feel really blessed. But I just I have some reservations, I guess.”

The selectboard approved the license on a 4-1 vote, clearing the way for Depart Wine to replace the storefront previously occupied by The Gifted Child.

Burke was also the lone vote against an amendment to the warrant for town meeting in June that would raise fees on birth, death and marriage certificates from $2 to $10.

“Right now we all have to get REAL IDs, or we, you know, that's postponed until the end of the state of emergency, but we'll all need them," said the selectboard member. "And for somebody like me, I would need a birth certificate and a marriage certificate if I didn't have them on hand. And I feel like for a lot of people that can be, and if you've been married multiple times with multiple name changes, you have to get all of your marriage certificates. And I just feel like it's a real financial burden for people.”

She described the new Department of Homeland Security mandated REAL ID program, passed by Congress in 2005 at the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, as a poor tax.

“I just don't want to be part of making it more difficult for people that don't have money,” said Burke.

Burke’s suggestion that the fees only be raised to $5 wasn’t accepted, and the proposed $8 increase was accepted 4-1. Voters will decide on the warrant items at June’s town meeting.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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