© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Pittsfield City Council OKs Tax Exemption Plan For Tyler Street Firehouse Redevelopment

A derelict, brick former firehouse with blue doors
Josh Landes
The former Tyler Street firehouse building.

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council has approved a tax increment exemption agreement with a company looking to redevelop a long vacant firehouse.

The former firehouse at 231 Tyler Street was built in the early 1900s, and was last in actual fire service back in the early 1970s. The redevelopment by CT Management Group – which estimates an over $1.2 million investment in the project – would transform the decrepit building into four units: two two-bedroom, 1,250 square foot units for $1,895 a month and two two-bedroom, 1,300 square foot units for $1,795.

The agreement would allow the firm to save around $55,000 in taxes over a decade. The former firehouse was assessed by the city at just under $113,000, with a projected value of almost $530,000 after redevelopment.

“It’s probably inappropriate to call it a building at this point, and more appropriate to call it four walls, with a caved in roof, and mold and the deteriorated interior that cannot be salvaged," said Director of Community Development Deanna Ruffer. “The estimate is that the property will generate about $65,000 over the 10 years in tax revenue over the 10 years of the TIE.”

“We had just heard that this tax increment exemption will make it so the developer can lower the cost of rent to market rate," said Ward 5 councilor Patrick Kavey, speaking at Tuesday’s meeting. "I think it was what almost $2,200 without the TIE is what they need to charge for rent, which is a lot for Tyler Street. So I understand why the TIE is important. This property was city owned before it was falling apart. The roof was caving in in the back. And we were going to demolish it this upcoming year if we didn't have a developer who was able to fix it just because the cost of maintaining it, etc.”

With two councilors absent, the proposal ultimately passed in a 7-2 vote with only councilors Christopher Connell of Ward 4 and Kevin Morandi of Ward 2 in opposition – but not without debate.

“With all the market rate units that have been created on Tyler Street, if this goes through tonight – my calculation to be 73 of them, in one of the lowest income areas of the city, Morningside – I think it's going to be challenging both to find tenants that can afford these rents and for more land or building opportunities to find for more affordable housing units in the Morningside area," said Morandi. “We need to preserve what we have – buildings we have, there's plenty of them – and the land, but we need all kinds of housing, not just market rate. So that is a concern of mine. And I would like to bring up also that I don't like or agree with the RFP process from the start to the finish. This building could have been saved over a year ago by a contractor, not a developer and given the proper attention sooner. We didn't do that. So for those reasons, I will not be supporting this.”

At-Large Councilor Pete White defended the project.

“There are plenty of businesses that tell us that they need housing like this to keep attracting their employees to come here," said White. "And we have to make sure that we're not in a race to the bottom or just trying to save the neighborhood has typically been something so it shouldn't have anything else. We need to have a mixed-use neighborhood. I lived in that neighborhood most of my life, walking past the Tyler Street firehouse to go down to first McCarthy's and then it became Zenner’s. So to me, this is saving the historic nature of the neighborhood as much as it is adding housing that we do need.”

He cited the track record of CT Management managing partner David Carver, who was behind similar Pittsfield redevelopment projects like the Morning Star Apartments, also on Tyler Street.

“We definitely need diverse housing, we need affordable housing, we need middle class housing," said White. "And we do need the housing that is being offered through Mr. Carver's projects. And through these projects, he's been able to save at least two churches in Pittsfield. And we're looking at saving a historic firehouse with this one. These are not cheap projects, and for what has to go into them, that is why they have to demand higher rent.”

Carver responded to a question about whether the project could be eligible for state tax credits.

“There's a number of finance sources that we are pursuing," he told the council. "Not all of them have been secured. We following a process and this this petition to the city council is one of them. And we have every confidence that the financing that we're pursuing for the project will be ultimately approved by each agency we're talking to.”

A 2019 public health study showed that the Morningside neighborhood has the lowest life expectancy average in Berkshire County, at 71.

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.
Related Content