WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Town planners have set public hearings on two bylaw changes — one to help farmers survive and the other to increase downtown density.
On Tuesday, the Planning Board set a Feb. 14 public hearing to finish crafting the new bylaws in time for town meeting in May. The second dwelling unit article was crafted by the board and the accessory to agricultural bylaw was crafted by attorney and Cricket Creek Farm trustee Sherwood Guernsey. The first is attempting to allow residents to turn barns or garages into apartment buildings while the latter is attempting to help sustain farms by allowing additional property usage.
The second dwelling unit bylaw is additional changes planners are making in hopes to increase the vibrancy of Water Street and other downtown areas. Last year, the town approved the board's proposal to allow residential living on first floors, which was previously excluded, to fill the vacant or underused buildings.
Now the next step is to increase density by allowing homes in residential neighborhoods to add apartments or guest homes to their property by right. Planning Board Chairman Pat Dunlavey said planners have been chipping away at restrictive zoning that went into place in the 1980s.
Affordable Housing Committee Chairwoman Catherine Yamamoto voiced support of second dwellings because it would help address a shortage in elderly and low-incoming housing.
"It provides an opportunity for people to live in a small dwelling unit," Yamamoto said. "We are very happy and would like to endorse this and we'd be glad to endorse it at town meeting."
The accessory-use-to-agriculture bylaw will allow weddings, concerts and other celebrations at farms. The proposal came from Cricket Creek Farm's attempts to find supplemental income. The farm drafted the bylaw changes and presented them to the Planning Board in October. The board then spoke in favor of the move but wanted to hash out details.
However, at what was intended to be just an informative meeting in December, the Board of Selectmen voted to suggest the bylaws to the Planning Board, which opens legal questions about any changes to the proposal. Since the proposal was submitted by the Board of Selectmen, the Planning Board now has to figure out what type of recommendations it can legally make or suggest and the public hearing must be on the proposal as presented.
Planning Board member Christopher Winters said he likes the proposal less now because of additional language Guernsey added to the October draft. Winters contended language was added that restricts these additional uses to only "farms" and not any property that fits the frontages and acreage requirements.
"I am for giving farms additional rights but then I ask, 'why not other properties?'" Winter said and added that he supports the idea behind the proposal and would hate to vote against it.
Board member Ann McCallum continued the discussion by adding that the proposal was intended to help farms because the town sees farms in particular as an asset. However, Dunlavey stopped the conversation because it was straying into what would be discussed at the public hearing.
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Was the Planning Board meeting about Cricket Creek's proposal ever filmed for Willinet? I can't find it. This proposal needs a LOT more vetting by the public, and I'm very surprised that the Planning Board seems to be waving it down the pipeline with so little forethought.
While most people would agree that helping farms is a good thing, allowing such 'by right' uses opens a huge can of worms for public safety and public health. There are better ways to support agriculture.
How would a 'farmer turned impresario' manage the huge liability of concert goers wandering the property? How would proper sanitation be maintained? Who would police the property? How would a farmer manage traffic coming and going? What would be the plan for trash collection and removal?
How would a 'farmer turned event planner' handle the responsibilities inherent where alcohol is served and consumed? How would food safety be assured? Where would the farm animals and farm machinery be stored, and how would the safety of the guests be guaranteed? What if it rains?
While this is an interesting idea with some potential to help landowners, it MUST be by special permit only. I agree with Selectman Tom Costley - anything else is crazy.
It's easy to imagine a beautiful white wedding tent, or a chamber music concert, or a square dance - but allowing events by right would allow ANYTHING by ANY FARMER. All farmers are not created equal, nor are all farmers likely to be terribly well-versed in the many pitfalls encountered when dealing with the public....
Tread carefully on this one, Williamstown - it sounds lovely and feel-good, but could turn out to be quite the opposite.
Interesting that there is an effort to make farms sustainable now and not during Green River Farms attempt. In fact, South Williamstown was in an uproar for Green River Farms trying to find other ways to supplement the farm... and now we all get to watch one of the most beautiful farms in Williamstown deteriorate... what a shame.
If I were a farmer and someone suggested that I wasn't smart enough to expand my business, I might take offense at one of these comments (the long one by "Guy"). My gosh, we live in a highly educated community and farmers are generally pretty smart people. This sounds like the NIMBYism of a few South Williamstown people that have left MGRH with the only option of tainted water because they fought the new line and defeated it with similar illogical statements. After years of saying the College or the Clark did nothing, they voted against that water line and a great collaborative effort that would be the end result between the institutions. The World Moves On South Williamstown! Get ready for it! It's coming! Get ready Guy... it's upon even South Williamstown!
I never suggested that a farmer wasn't smart, or smart enough to expand his farm (business). I happen to know more than you about THAT, my friend.
What I did say, was that most farmers are expert in farming, not in event planning. That's why the Planning Board should be asking the same questions I'm asking. Maybe they did, but I haven't been able to find a video of the meeting.
I also did not say that I am against it - I said that it MUST be by special permit, so that the USUAL oversight and regulation of public safety and public health is applied.
I think that the folks at Cricket Creek are well-meaning, and it's not at all surprising for them to be thinking along these lines... that's a gorgeous property, and it's another way to use it. However, using it in that way brings with it a whole set of new problems - problems that should be thought about now, with the guidance of the Planning Board.
The folks at Cricket Cricket might turn out to be better event planners than farmers, who knows? I'm simply suggesting that making this zoning change for ALL farms, across the board, is complicated.
The whole scene at Five Corners - both sides of it - was and is a disaster. Didn't we learn anything?