Airport land owner given OK to build

PITTSFIELD -- Just seven months after taking part of Watroba Farm to expand Pittsfield Municipal Airport, the City Council last night approved two measures that eventually will allow the owner of the South Mountain Road property to both farm and build on the land that he still owns.

The council approved the execution of a conservation restriction on a 114-acre parcel that belongs to Edwin F. Watroba of Dalton, a measure that will allow the property to remain as farmland in perpetuity. The council also approved the first reading of a measure that will rezone a portion of that 114 acres from light industrial to residential use. The 114 acres currently are divided between light industrial and residential zones.

Watroba requested the zoning change so that he can build two houses on the property, his attorney, Ira J. Kaplan of Great Barrington, said. The council is required to approve two readings of any zoning change before it can go into effect.

The conservation restriction needs final approval by the state before it can go into effect. Watroba entered into the agreement with the Trustees of Reservations, a Boston-based nonprofit conservation agency founded in 1891.

Agency spokeswoman Lee Alexander described the conservation restriction as a "legal agreement" between the landowner and the nonprofit group. She said that Watroba agrees to give up development rights to the land, while the trustees "monitor" that agreement.

"Commercial and industrial development is prohibited in the future," Alexander said. "Residential development is limited to the two houses. ... He also has to remove a farmhouse that is in disrepair."

The City Council in April voted to take 3 1/2 parcels of Watroba Farm by eminent domain to expand the airport's runway by 1,000 feet and to create an aviation easement. Under the terms of that agreement, Watroba will continue to farm an 8.83-acre parcel that originally was scheduled to be added to the nearby Wild Acres Conservation Area.

The city offered Watroba $1.3 million for the farmland, which his aunt, Bertha Howard of Pittsfield, said has been owned by the family since 1919. According to Howard, the land has been farmed since 1859.

"Ed has been through a lot with the city," Kaplan said. "He's a farmer who never intended to be in the spotlight. That's not his idea of a good time."

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop, whose jurisdiction includes the airport, said granting Watroba a conservation restriction did not seem possible three years ago.

"We had a press conference three years ago on airport property, and this wasn't mentioned," Lothrop said. "As this went on, it was clear that Ed Watroba wanted to save his land as a farm, and it's the city's intention to do that."

To reach Tony Dobrowolski: , (413) 496-6224