Barrington Planning Board making push for more low-income housing opportunities

GREAT BARRINGTON— It’s no secret that there’s a shortage of housing opportunities in town, especially for lower income workers.

“You can go talk to anybody, go talk to Robin at Fuel, or Matt at Rubiner’s, talk to Carla at Botanica, and all the retail stores, I think they have the same problem,” Planning Board member Pedro Pachano said.

Many people who work in town are making the long commute from Pittsfield, which ranges anywhere from 30 to 50 minutes, depending on location and traffic conditions.

“It’s virtually impossible for people who work in any of the businesses in town to actually find a place,” Planning Board member Jonathan Hankin said.

In order to help alleviate the town’s shortage of housing, Pachano and Hankin have teamed up to take a look at the town’s zoning bylaws to see how they can make it easier for developers and homeowners alike to create more housing opportunities.

“We’re going through the bylaw to essentially weed out any restrictions that we see that are kind of onerous and disadvantage homeowners as well as people investing in the town to build housing,” Pachano said.

“The typical answer to that is to create more units, and if you allow increased density that has the potential to facilitate that development,” Hankin said.

To clarify, the subcommittee that consists of Pachano and Hankin is not specifically looking at affordable housing, but rather housing as a whole.

However, by the very nature of opening up more opportunities, such as allowing people to build accessory dwelling units (ADU) and the like, affordable housing options may be a byproduct of those opportunities.

“When somebody creates an ADU for example, they’re creating a unit where the rent, by the very nature of the size of the building, is going to be low,” Pachano said. “It’s not necessarily that we’re building affordable housing, but we are trying to incentivize the housing that will, just by the nature of its character, provide less or lower rent.”

The subcommittee is looking at the possibility of allowing homeowners to put in ADUs, commonly known as “in-law apartments” on their property more easily, reducing restrictions on density, as well as opening up Stockbridge Road to more development. Stockbridge Road has a number of properties which are up for sale.

“Right now we’ve got some districts that are restricted to mixed use or home occupation and things like that,” Pachano said.

The town does intend to look at affordable housing specifically, but that may not happen until some time next year, Pachano said.

“We are going to address specifically the problem of affordability,” he said. “But that’s not going to happen for a year or so.”

The board is hoping to have the amendments on the warrant for town meeting in May, which gives them a few months to draft changes.

Hankin and Pachano’s subcommittee has had a couple of meetings and have spoken with Town Planner Chis Rembold to discuss changes, and presented their findings to the Planning Board at the last meeting on Nov. 29.

Any bylaw changes will have to be voted on by the board, and then presented to the select board, which will then set up a public hearing for the changes to be heard and discussed by residents before they are placed on the warrant for town meeting.

Hankin and Pachano anticipate that they will have further discussion at the Planning Board’s next meeting on Dec. 13.