Shamus Heffernan is helping the Affordable Housing Committee as a local, volunteer liaison for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Here he shows locations where the committee could develop more housing.
Proprietors Fields Plans Expansion in Williamstown
By Andy McKeever iBerkshires Staff 10:03PM / Wednesday, November 09, 2011
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Local housing groups are planning a 20 -25 unit expansion of Proprietors Fields.
The Berkshire Housing Development Corp. and the current 60-unit complex's owners, the Williamstown Elderly Housing Corp., have begun planning the expansion in the wake of about 200 homes in the Spruces Mobile Home Park being destroyed by Hurricane Irene.
The groups are hoping to file an application for government funding to construct the additional housing by the beginning of the year. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and the state Department of Housing and Community Development as well as local sources are being eyed for possible funding sources.
Council on Aging Director Brian O'Grady and Affordable Housing Committee Chairman Catherine Yamamoto announced the planned development at a committee meeting on Wednesday night while town officials were discussing using the site for development. The Affordable Housing Committee is planning on doing a feasibility study on multiple properties in town to determine its development viability.
Committee members each have been taking looks at possible housing developments for each meeting as it prepared to ask the Community Preservation Act Committee for money to perform the study on the top three plots of land. On Wednesday, the group was intrigued by the possibility of adding four additional units to the Spring Meadow development on North Hoosac Road.
Committee member Cheryl Shanks said she had spoken with the owner, David Carver, about a possible addition. Carver can use the same blueprints and a development should only take about six months. The 6.8-acre plot is appealing because it is close to public transportation, has on-site utilities and the correct zoning. However, the committee did not like that only four units would be developed.
The group also looked at the Burbank property, off Luce Road, and the Lowry property, off Stratton Road. The town owns both properties but those were set aside for conservation and therefore requires a lengthy process to become usable.
The Burbank property is the largest at 140 acres and there is access and nearby utilities, Shanks said.
"It's a big open space and a lot of it is dry," Shanks said. "There is a lot of road access."
While much of the land is swampland, there is buildable land, she said.
The Lowry property showed promise because a lot of the work had already been completed. A 2002 feasibility assessment had been done for the purpose of building housing. While that property does have buildable lots, committee members were nervous about why the previous development failed as well as trying to get the land back from the Conservation Commission.
Those ideas are added to previously looked at locations — including reusing the Spruce park — and the members each took additional properties to examine before it craft its proposal.
"We want to look at everything and evaluate it on its own merits," Yamamoto said. "The approach and the solution is not one project, not one focus."
The group is hoping for multiple development projects in different parts of the town.
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The Youth Center should be required donate its current building to the Town for affordable housing. Let John Olver help to get a grant to install an elevator and we're good to go after renovations.
Or use the old Town garage site and build towers up to the height of the Williams building next door. Or would that create parking problems for the people/groups that use it as a free parking lot?
I like the idea of more affordable housing in Williamstown. It will provide better, and obviously, more affordable housing for those that cannot afford to live in Williamstown. And it will create more competition between the local distributors of weed, who will undoubtedly inhabit these units, making sweet, sticky weed prices go down. Weed is so expensive these days!
But alas, I suspect the Youth Center will expect the town to buy it at an inflated price via the CPA tax. The same town that voted to GIVE the youth center land for free.
Thus completing the perfecta of hitting the taxpayer twice. Windfall free land at WES and unloading the old one too. The Town is the only sucker who would buy that shell of a building. Tax dollars apparently come cheap in Williamstown.
The existing youth center would be a money pit for the town to try and convert to affordable housing. A new construction would be much cheaper and ultimately result in high quality and better facilities.
In the meetings I attended regarding the new YC, I believe it was stated that the YC plans to sell the old building to raise capital that will be used to sustain the new building. Good Luck with that! Trifecta: 1. YC suckers town into free land via CPA; 2. Convinces hapless donors that a YC is needed even though the WES building is emptying at an alarming rate and could house YC; 3. Eventually gets CPA to buy decaying old YC building. Boy are the Williamstown voters a bunch of hapless feel good nitwits!
Expanding the number of units at Proprietor's Fields is both needed and suitable for the community. From what I know, the housing there has been a valuable asset for the community and serves many who benefit.
I'm sure the committees exploring the options are thinking through all considerations from tax consequences to convenience to the potential future residents. Theirs will be a time consuming and demanding task but one that needs attention indeed.
The loss of much if not eventually all of the Spruces would be a blow to the town. Were it not for the river and periodic flooding it would have been considered an ideal location. It's almost a pity there isn't some engineering that could be done that would raise the units to a safe height much like homes in low lying Florida or other coastal areas. Aside from the fact that now in hindsight the park should never have been built due to the floodplain, it is there now and if there were any way to make changes to allow its continued use, that might be worth considering. Of course many of the homes are now very deficient and should be removed anyway.
One last suggestion: how about considering the land the college acquired from what was formerly the site for the Ivy Guild on Rte 7 north, next to the Veteran's home. ITs flat, accessible and perhaps the college has no further need of it. Worth asking.