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CONNECTIONS: Let’s hold on to what makes the Berkshires a grand place to live

Concern and a helping hand are not implied criticism. Most of the time we humans can use all the help we can get, and those who offer help are rarely intending an insult; they care—that’s all.

We are lucky in our surroundings. As growth was rapid in other parts of the country—with both the disadvantages and the advantages that attend that growth—Berkshire County remained more rural. If any of us take a single-engine plane ride over the county, the amount of open, green space is just beautiful. It is very different from the view over the I-95 corridor from Miami to Maine.

I love where I live, and I love what I do. Like all of you, I read the news and have been struck recently at how attractive all that green is to developers. Moreover, we all watch as prices rise on everything from milk to mortgages. The value of our land has risen exponentially. I was concerned—maybe you were too.

Out of concern, I wrote a column called “Rents and rates.” I wrote it for a couple of reasons. I wanted to share both the new owners’ and the renters’ perspectives on the possible rise in rent. I wanted to say, “I do not view this as a West Stockbridge problem. It is a Berkshire County problem.”

That is, the attraction of many of our towns and villages to outside investors is growing and the concomitant impact on our communities is marked. I used two examples: the proposed rise in rent in West Stockbridge from approximately $200 a month to over $700 a month and the proposed rise of 120 percent increase in monthly water bills for customers of Housatonic Water Works. Water and a place to live are not optional luxuries, they are necessities. The cascading impact in our communities is really felt.

The Residences on Mill Pond in West Stockbridge are part of affordable housing mandated by the Commonwealth. Rising rents and rates drive some people out of our villages. Our towns become so attractive that our population has changed. In Stockbridge, the percentage of second-home owners to locals is now 60 percent and growing. Development shrinks open space. Rising rents and rates create an affordable housing problem. In our small communities, services from doctors to electricians are squeezed. The investors are more focused on the bottom line; locals are more focused on community and the character of our communities. We all know this; we are experiencing it. Finally, I wanted to say, since all our little towns are experiencing this, we should work together. Help each other.

Ironically, I was lambasted for the suggestion. As if acknowledgement of a problem and offer of a helping hand were implied criticism, I was told West Stockbridge could handle their own problems. As if using two examples as symptomatic of a wider problem was a difficult thing to explain, I was told my writing was rambling. Ironically, suggesting support and cooperation was answered with an attack. An attempt of making a point was met with an ad hominem attack.

The letter was public; however, it was one of a string of personal attacks on anyone (me and others) who expressed concern or offered help. The other attacks were delivered privately. Either way, why? Why the rancor toward neighbors who mean well?

It is of concern to all of us in Berkshire County if rates and rents rise beyond the ability of some of our neighbors to pay. No one should apologize for caring about that. No one should apologize for wanting to lend a hand. Concern and a helping hand are not implied criticism. Most of the time we humans can use all the help we can get, and those who offer help are rarely intending an insult; they care—that’s all.

We live in difficult times. This country has suffered years of bad behavior, bad language, misinformation, disinformation, and ad hominem attacks. All, until recently, were aired without consequence. In that flood of nastiness, we can lose track of the basic values that always made the Berkshires the Berkshires. Don’t let go of our character any more easily than we let go of our green spaces. Hold on to what made this a grand place to live.

I also wrote, “With respect to the mortgage, it appears the mortgage is paid to the last owner, who is also the West Stockbridge Plumbing Inspector. If true, is that a conflict, and how is that conflict resolved?”

I reported a question asked all over that room. Frankly I didn’t know the name of the West Stockbridge plumbing inspector until someone asked me if it was the same person. Another asked, if so, is there a conflict? The name was the same, and the chance for this mistake was so obvious that during the public meeting, someone might have made the distinction. No one did, and among the dozen questions asked by residents, I included that one. Help is not implied criticism, and a question is not an accusation.

We live in difficult times. We have been exposed to years of language that is frankly unacceptable, behavior that may be illegal and certainly is ill advised. My mother and grandmother would have been appalled and “put a stop to it.”

I love where I live. I hope our new attraction to investors, the new language proliferated on air and online, doesn’t change us, doesn’t rob us of being who we always were. Let’s be alert to the possibility and protect what makes us us. We know help is not implied criticism, and a question is not an accusation.

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