A Second Chance on First Street

A prominent plot of land that has long been in limbo now has a second chance at becoming a productive, attractive, and community-focused place. The site of the former Plunkett School building and current unfinished building pad at the corner of First Street and Fenn Street is now back up for sale. This is a golden opportunity that cannot be wasted.

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Under the provision of Cafua Management this land has been allowed to languish for the past several years after Plunkett School was preemptively torn down to make way for a new Dunkin' Donuts. After the drive-thru permit for this site was denied, however, the construction halted and the site was left unfinished. From the foundation that was prepared, however, one could easily tell that a typical suburban-style coffee shop design was planned, with parking in front of the structure, which had a deep setback away from the road. Anyone who knows me knew I was very disappointed in those design decisions. Such a design squandered the regulations of the zoning district it occupies, which allows the densest development anywhere in the city. A single-use chain store was an inappropriate use for a lot zoned as Downtown Business within the Downtown Arts Overlay District. We all know downtown Pittsfield deserves better. Now, it appears there is a chance to hit the "Reset" button and develop a site that can make the most of its proximity to the Common, to nearby apartments, and to downtown.

Imagine if a building were designed in the spirit of the Downtown Arts Overlay District, and could help bring more vitality to the neighborhood around the Pittsfield Common. There is still an unmet demand for denser apartment living downtown, and more homes adjacent to the Common will make it an even livelier place. On that note, I tried my hand at developing a concept of what such a building could look like. In some ways, it would be a reflection of the Howard Building diagonally across the street from this lot, with commercial and retail units on the ground floor and residential living above. Giving the intersection of First Street and Fenn Street a more enclosed feeling with a 4+ story structure built up to the curb could also help to calm traffic.

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Remember that the design which one developer pitches is not always the best or most appropriate solution for a site. It is okay to demand more, be creative, and think outside the box. When we start to take a critical eye to car-centric and underwhelming places, the more power we will have over the fate of our city. Though it may not seem like it, developers are bringing their business to US. They should be held to a higher standard than just ticking the boxes on the site plan review checklist. How do you want to build your city?