Williamstown Planners Look For Ways To Save FarmsBy Andy McKeever
01:59PM / Wednesday, October 19, 2011
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Planning Board is looking for ways to save local farms by allowing new usages to increase revenues.
Last Tuesday, Topher Sabot of Cricket Creek Farm proposed changing the zoning bylaws to allow the farm to host weddings, concerts and events like yoga classes that are not currently allowed on farms.
"In terms of events, we are limited to agricultural-related ones," Sabot said on Thursday. "It would be a nice supplement."
While agriculture will remain the farm's focus, a supplement income would be "critical" to the farm's survival, Sabot said. The proposed changes are still in the works but Sabot said he hopes to have a full proposal developed in time for the next town meeting, where voters would have to approve the changes.
"Our hope is, if there can be a change, it can be for next summer," Sabot said. "The proposal is still a work in progress."
Tuesday's meeting with the Planning Board was the start of what Sabor said will be an ongoing conversation toward making those changes. The board was in favor of working out the language and details of the move. The board will still have to flesh out definitions but also ways to regulate noise, times, numbers of people and vehicles.
"I think the move is to allow things that will help farms survive. I'm going to work hard to make sure it can happen," Ann McCallum, board member, said.
At Cricket Creek, Sabot said he explored asking for the changes years ago and is now pushing for them. The farm constantly gets requests for weddings, he said, and hosting those would be the main aspect of the proposal. Small-scale community concerts and "creative arts" events could be added to give flexibility for farms.
"One of the missions of the farm is to support the community. This is another way to be a community resource," Sabot said. "We have no desire to be full-time event planners."
The board could consider limiting the number of events or the scale of the events but that is still being worked out.
"Farming can take on a new look," Chris Winters, Planning Board member, said. "If we like farms, we like all the things that go with farms."
But allowing events is not the only move that the board is looking to make to save farms. The board is also considering changing the bylaws to allow for second dwelling units on lots in some of the rural districts. That move could help save farms by allowing the owners to transform a barn or garage into rental space.
That proposal, being headed by McCallum, has been in the works since last year and aims not only to help farms but also to fill business areas as well. Residents are not allowed to build a second dwelling on the same piece of land but bylaw changes could pave the way for townhouses to be allowed in places like Water Street.
Sabot hopes to continue his discussions with an updated proposal at the next Planning Board meeting.