Great Barrington doesn’t need a new identity

There inevitably comes a point at which we have to make a decision. Do we want government money at any cost or can we finesse the government money, get what we want and need, and thereby avoid onerous government mandates?

The merchants of Great Barrington are up in arms because they (mostly) think that the new Main Street redesign plan advanced by the various planners and managers and endorsed by the entire Board of Selectmen is a disaster waiting to happen. Massachusetts state Route 7 runs right through Great Barrington.

For years, we have been laying layers of asphalt atop other layers of asphalt and things are now FUBAR (“fouled up beyond all recognition”).

Because we are in line for a grant from the state, everybody’s running for the money and the so-called planners came up with a beautification “foo-foo plan” which would include, among other things, “planter strips” running the length of the town that will hinder your progress from your car to the sidewalk. Fuhgeddaboutit! That could only make the town what it isn’t.

What the town is, and what attracted so many of us to it in the first place, is a community with a mixed demographic including working people, rich people, middle-class people and some folks without anything. It is a town that works. It is not Disneyland and we don’t want it to be. Unlike some of the towns nearby, we don’t need old style lamp posts or hitching posts for the horses we don’t ride.

What we apparently do need is the repaving of the street. Hey, it’s a state road, let the state do their job.

The good folks who run the businesses of Great Barrington need and deserve every parking space the town can provide. We also need to facilitate the flow of traffic through the town and get people from point A to point B as fast as possible. Apparently, the new plan will eliminate two crucial right turn lanes at Bridge Street and southbound onto Taconic Avenue. That’s crazy!

Those lanes have meant a huge improvement in traffic flow since they were installed. We don’t need sidewalk “bump outs” appearing where parking spaces once were. I wish someone would tell me one good reason for doing that and don’t give me any malarkey about the “new urbanization.”

Great Barrington is not a city. It is a bucolic Berkshire town and it is the real thing, not a made up fairytale town. Lenox, a town which I truly love, has gussied itself up to the point that it looks like a French establishment of the unmentionable kind. Instead of asphalt, there are tiles and bricks all over the place. Hey, I like sidewalks. I like to park my car.

Our elected Selectmen have voted unanimously for this. We pay a planner and a town manager to represent out interests. Instead, like a bunch of sheep, we are told that if we don’t do what they say to do, we will lose our tax dollars to someone else. First they get you by asking for money to do a “study.” Then when you agree to the study, they tell you that you have to follow through.

Then they tell you the rest of the story. Cut down the trees — they are dying. OK, some of us say, they’ve lived a long time so when they die replace them, but only when they die. Then, when that gambit doesn’t pass the smell test, the rumors begin. “Unless you cut down the trees, the roots will rupture the gas lines and the town will blow up.” It’s all very shameless.

One of greatest benefactors in this town is Chip Elitzer. Remember when he made sure that every child would have a computer? He’s always tried to do what’s right. Michael Ballon of the Castle Street CafĂ© is also dead set against this and passed a petition around that got a lot of signatures. On this one, he is on the money. This will put some of our friends who are struggling merchants out of business. They are close to the line already.

These people deserve to be listened to and I am listening to them. Why in the world would you take away a right-turn lane into Bridge Street or that busy right turn onto Taconic Avenue that we all use?

My hope is that my good friends on the Board of Selectmen will put a stop to this nonsense right now. Hey, fix the streets and get out of town. This is nonsense and the last thing that our beautiful town needs.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 11/13/10

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