April 07, 2020

Pittsfield planners debate scope of their role

PITTSFIELD – What began as a discussion by planning board members Monday night regarding updates and revisions to the town’s 10-year-old comprehensive plan ended in board members questioning the scope of their roles.

One of the 113 strategies of the comprehensive plan was to determine whether town planners wanted more emphasis on eventual creation of an indoor or outdoor pool.

Although the million-dollar project has been stalled for years, Town Manager Kathryn Ruth explained to the board that the wording in the plan would assist her in seeking future grants.

This, however, caused planner Bernard “Barney” McGowan to comment that there were plenty of low-cost, high-impact projects around town that needed priority attention.

McGowan said he took a ride around Pittsfield on Monday and saw some glaring imperfections.

He called the partially painted, deteriorating caboose at the Pittsfield Historical Society “an eyesore.” He said the basketball hoops at Hathorn Park are leaning out of the ground. He said the front of the theater needs painting and the marquee is a mess.

“These are things we can fix, with very little money, for huge impact,” he said. “When you start talking about $1 million pools and you can’t keep the basketball hoops straight, we are not prioritizing.”

McGowan said that in some areas, the town has made great progress, such as at Stein Park and Mill Pond Park. “But other things have been neglected for years.”

Planner Mark LaGross questioned, however, whether it was the place of the planners to make such recommendations. “Is this our role?” he asked. “My understanding is it is the council’s role.”

Ruth explained that the council prioritizes such projects every year at budget time.

“When I first came here, there was a list of 489 items that the citizens and 23 committees wanted done,” she said. With limited funding, some have to be deferred, Ruth said, adding that $5 million in upgrades have been accomplished through grants.

Planner Troy Lord said, “As a planning board, we define the guidelines. If the theater needs focus, for example, then it is up to the Town Council and the town manager.”

Planner Alan Dunphy added, “It is not up to us as a board to decide what is in [the comprehensive plan]. It is up to the townspeople.”

The board agreed, however, that they can make recommendations to the council at any time.

They approved the revisions to the comprehensive plan and the document will now be reviewed at a second public hearing held by the council.

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