NORTH ADAMS -- A special permit to demolish the rear portion of the Dowlin Block on Main Street was approved by the city's Planning Board, pending the approval of the Historical Commission.
The approval, granted during the board's Monday night meeting, clears the way for Scarafoni Associates to demolish some 20,000 square feet of the 60,000-square-foot building, and turn the area into 25 parking spaces and greenspace. The demolition is part of a greater plan to convert the building's 62 apartments into 25 high-end market-rate apartments
"If we don't run into any major obstacles, we'll proceed with financing and final design," David Carver, principal of Scarafoni Associates, said during the meeting. "What we're simply trying to do is balance the size of the building with our lot. The building needs to be renovated. The last time the building was renovated was probably in the early 1970s. The building's systems are shot and we need to rebuild them. As we're going to rebuild the building, we're trying to right-size it with parking assets and what we think is the market demand for housing."
He added, "The most important part of this building to preserve on this building is the facade. There are only six or seven six-story historic buildings in the county and the facade on this one is one of the best, if not the best We think what is lagging in the city is high-quality market-rate housing. In every place that we've done this -- whether it's Adams, Williamstown or Pittsfield -- we've found that for market-rate housing that the parking needs to be close and it needs to be convenient."
Historical Commission Chairwoman Justyna Carlson said that while her board was aware of the demolition permit coming forward, it had yet to address it formally. Members of the commission had the opportunity to tour the building with Carver on Monday to get a first-hand look at the condition of the building and how it would be modified during renovations.
"I believe those who had questions had them answered today," Carlson said. "We will be making a decision at our next meeting, which will be coming up soon."
Resident James Burdick spoke out against the permit, stating that the city had already lost enough of its history on Main Street to urban renewal.
"The Dowlin Block was built in 1895 It's part of the city's skyline when you look to the west," he said. "I think ripping down this section of this building now will result in us losing another part of our heritage and more of our downtown."
City Councilor John Barrett III spoke in favor of the demolition and future project.
"If you're going to rebuild a downtown, one of the strongest cornerstones you can have is good housing; it will lead to other things in the downtown, whether it be shops or restaurants," he said. "I think this will be tremendous asset to the city -- much more than the first proposal with student housing and the program that was first proposed. I think Mr. Carver has been more than patient. I agree with Mr. Burdick's statement about saving historic buildings. I think this project will go a long way to saving this building and other buildings in the city. It can go a long ways toward further development, especially in the Monument Square area."
Prior to submitting the request for permission to demolish the rear section, Carver was in talks with the city, MCLA and Mass MoCA, with hopes that the Dowlin Block could be used for student housing and classroom space for MCLA's arts and fine and performing arts departments, which would also utilize the adjacent Mohawk Theater. Mayor Richard J. Alcombright indicated on Friday, that he hopes those talks can be resurrected in the near future.
In other action, the board approved plans for the Conte School renovation project, plans for the Rudd Art Museum in the former First United Methodist Church, a traffic pattern change for the Best Way Car Wash on River Street and the creation of a parking lot at 180 Ashland St. Application for Shaker Workshop, at 456 Ashland St. was denied as the applicant failed to provide more information as requested three months ago.