$3M Fire Station addition, zoning bylaw changes to come before Bernardston Town Meeting voters

  • Last year, Frank “Bud” Foster donated to Bernardston his property at 12 Church St., in the foreground, which is adjacent to the present Fire Station, to use for a Fire Station addition. The four-bay garage would be built on this lot separate from the existing station, though it would be attached by an enclosed walkway. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 5/3/2021 3:07:39 PM

BERNARDSTON — With a proposed $3 million Fire Station expansion and potential zoning bylaw changes on the warrant, Annual Town Meeting will be held across two nights this year, on Wednesday, May 5, and Thursday, May 6.

Both nights of the meeting will start at 7 p.m. in the meeting and banquet room at The Farm Table at Kringle Candle, 220 South St. Though Annual Town Meeting has been previously held at Bernardston Elementary School, Selectboard Chair Stanley Garland said the new location will allow attendees to practice social distancing, and has ample parking.

The first 37 articles — which include proposed changes to the zoning bylaws to allow drive-thrus and accessory business uses at farms, changing the start date of elected officials, and approving an operating budget — will be discussed Wednesday.

Article 38, which asks voters to approve a sum of up to $3 million to build a new, four-bay Fire Station addition next to the current building, is the sole article that will be reviewed on Thursday. The cost of the project is expected to be around $2.4 million based on previous Selectboard discussions, but Garland said the $3 million figure will “add a buffer” that could help cover unforeseen expenses.

Fire Chief Peter Shedd has spoken to the need for a new, improved station for years. A $2.6 million proposal to purchase land for and construct a new building at 23 Kringle Drive was overwhelmingly rejected by voters in 2017, sending the Fire Station Expansion Committee back to the drawing board. Since then, Bernardston resident Frank “Bud” Foster has donated his property at 12 Church St., which is adjacent to the present Fire Station, to be used as the site of an addition.

Designs for the proposed Fire Station addition can be viewed at townofbernardston.org.

“The biggest issue so far has been space,” Shedd said during a recent discussion with the Selectboard. “In many ways, when we’re looking for a safe area, it needs space so firefighters can move freely around the vehicles. It’s very tight and cramped in the existing building.”

Additionally, the firefighters would have more room for storing their equipment, and have new shower facilities. Shedd said the current station was built in the early 1970s, when the department would respond to roughly 30 to 35 calls a year, and when firefighting vehicles were smaller. Now, in the last three or four years, he said his crew consistently responds to more than 300 calls per year.

Article 21, which will be discussed Wednesday, also relates to the Fire Department. This article asks the town to use $25,000 from the Vehicle Stabilization Account to buy a used rescue truck from Greenfield, as well as spend $5,000 to remark and rename the truck, for a total of $30,000.

Regarding the fiscal year 2022 budget, Article 5 seeks $575,848 to pay the salaries of all elected officials and for the maintenance of town departments; Article 6 requests $3,258,093 for Bernardston’s education expenses, $2,814,044 of which is for its assessment from the Pioneer Valley Regional School District; Article 7 requests $455,799 for contracted services, pension and insurance expenses; and Article 8 seeks $960,624 for public service departments.

Other articles pertain to proposed changes to Bernardston’s zoning bylaws, and will require a two-thirds majority approval. These bylaw changes, which were reviewed during a Planning Board public hearing in March, include some “housekeeping” items, such as a zoning map change that would remove the elevation contours to allow for easier reading of the map. Other potential changes include updating the marijuana bylaws to incorporate state guidelines and definitions, and adding an accessory agriculture bylaw to allow accessory events and business uses at farms.

The accessory agriculture bylaw is Article 31. According to the warrant, certain accessory business uses that would be allowed include veterinarians’ offices, farm education, rental garden lots, farm stand restaurants and hosting “revenue generating events” like tours, weddings and functions. Planning Board Chair Christina Slocum-Wysk, who is also town clerk, explained the current agriculture zone doesn’t allow such uses. Specific uses that would be prohibited as accessory uses include retail gas stations; retail stores such as drug, department, hardware and clothing stores; and manufacturing of non-agricultural products.

“This is a totally new bylaw to allow our farms to grow and hopefully maintain themselves and give them more opportunities,” Slocum-Wysk told the Selectboard during a recent meeting.

Article 32, which is not supported by the Planning Board, asks voters to permit drive-thrus at restaurants in the Center Village zoning district. This would be a change from a prohibited use to a permitted use requiring a special permit and a site plan review. According to Slocum-Wysk, the citizen’s petition to amend this bylaw came from the Sandri Companies as property owner of 50 Church St., the lot that houses the gas station and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Article 27 asks voters to change the effective start date of elected officials to coincide with the town’s fiscal year. If approved, elected terms would start on July 1 and end on June 30. Those who are currently in office and have terms set to expire after the May 10 election would see their terms extended through June 30.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.

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