David Richardson said the South Williamstown Community Association would create a brand new non-profit group to run the Store at Five Corners.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The South Williamstown Community Association wants the town's help in purchasing the Store at Five Corners to operate it as a non-profit organization.
On Tuesday, Barbara McLucas and David Richardson of the association is asking the Community Preservation Act Committee for $400,000 to purchase the store that has sat vacant for nearly a year.
However, the group does not know if the owner, Frank Lewis, is willing to sell only the store nor do they have a business plan in place for its continued operation. The store and the Green River Farm together is currently on the market for $5 million.
"The community wants that building to be alive," McLucas said. "At the very least you can open the door, serve coffee and have newspapers."
But the association is on the clock. The building is grandfathered into old zoning bylaws and if it does not reopen within 24 months, the store will not be able to operate commercially because it is in a residential neighborhood. The association hopes the $400,000 will be the "seed" for a capital campaign.
"We don't know whether he'll sell us just the store," McLucas said but added that the association would look at the possibility of buying the farm as well.
The association is looking for grants from the Berkshire Community Taconic Foundation and the state Historical Commission and private donations on top of the CPA funds. From there, they will purchase the store and form a new non-profit organization to run it.
Richardson said the total project, estimated at about $1 million by the association, would include the purchase, repairs to the building, legal cost, stock and operation for six months. Richardson also pointed to the association's track record of completing projects with the CPA funds, such as improvements to the Little Red School House.
Richardson also compared the project to last year's CPA funding of the Community Preschool's purchase of the First Methodist Church. Committee member Malcolm Smith agreed that the two projects bear some comparison, the unknowns of this proposal made the committee wary of the project.
"It's the speculative nature that concerns me," Smith said.
Committee member Dan Gendron said he understands the "importance" of that building but the town has bigger concerns right now. Affordable housing issues are much more important and buying the store would drain the town's resources for those project.
Also before the board this year is a proposal from the Affordable Housing Committee for $107,500 to research areas in town for development of a new housing project. This has been a project the newly formed Higher Ground organization has been spearheading in response to the flooding of the Spruces Mobile Home Park.
Elton Ogden has plans for an expansion (in blue) at Proprietors Field for elderly housing. That project will take at least three years to complete, he said.
The Berkshire Housing Development Corp. is also asking for $80,000 to perform pre-development work for a 25-unit extension on Proprietors Field for elderly housing. The development would be near the Harper Center.
"It's to have this project as close to shovel ready as possible," Elton Ogden, president of the Berkshire Housing Development Corp., said. "The proposal is to do the pre-development work only."
The non-profit organization will put in $15,000 of its own and apply for state and federal grants to complete the project. The proposal received support from Brian O'Grady, director of the Council on Aging, Catherine Yamamoto, chairman of the Affordable Housing Committee and Chris Winter, the only abutter to the project. Winters is also a member of the CPA committee but recused himself from board for this proposal.
Other projects seeking funding include $10,000 for the Cal Ripkin Baseball League to replace the scoreboard at Bud Anderson Field, an additional $4,000 for the 1753 House Committee to replace the house's chimney and $48,800 to finish the South Williamstown Historical Committee's efforts to replace the gravestones at Southlawn Cemetery.
Absent this time was a proposal to purchase the Sand Springs Pool. In November, Janette Dudley presented an application for a group of residents to purchase and operate the pool.
The CPA funds come from an additional 2 percent in taxes that is set aside each year to fund open space, historic preservation and affordable housing. The committee is expected to start voting on this year's recommendations at their next meeting, which will then go to the voters.
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Good grief. I can't believe that the SWCA has asked for nearly half a million dollars for coffee and newspapers, without doing a business plan or even determining if the property can be bought without the farm. (I can hardly wait to see their plan for the farm...)
How ironic. The place has never been profitable, at least they've got that part right.
The whole scenario is a shame - but the store hasn't been profitable for years (can't run anything on coffee and newspapers, people!), and farming isn't a money-making proposition either. I'd like to see it become an agricultural school, connected with UMass.... but if the SWCA's "vision" is strictly coffee and newspapers (and wine), it'll never happen.
Lewis is getting the last laugh, if this is all SWCA has to offer.
I don't believe Frank Lewis's Green River Farm is on the market, nor the Store At Five Corners, what is on the market is WAUBEEKA and it's on the market for 5,000,000, could the committee be mistaking one property for the other! Bright bunch!
Why should the town residents compete against other businesses which will in turn make them go out of business? Unfortunately there are not enough people in town to support businesses and those that are here would rather support big box stores where they can save money and waste gasoline. Why not turn the old town lot into a park and put an amphitheatre there to supplement the performing arts and attract tourists. At least we could have some fun while we are losing 1% of the population every year. Why is the town wasting such a prime lot anyway?
I am sure an old farm and out buildings that will eventuality start to rot will look better than a playground. This poor man went through hell and back for a "roof" on a playground. He was driven out of business by unnecessary expenses and red tape. He could have been very successful like a Whitneys but now it is just a defunct business. I doubt he will be willing to cut any deals to the town or anyone associated with the folks that put him out of business.
Well here we go again. The wealthy, mostly the trust fund folks, of South Williamstown are asking the rest of us to help them buy a store so they can have their coffee and bagels, in their backyards. Drive to town and spend your money there. The South Williamstown folks might not see it but most of our businesses in town are becoming"nonprofits" as it has become more difficult to sustain themselves. Maybe the don't like the overgrown property that 5 corners has become? Can you see the parallel with the cell tower here?
What the SWCA thinks - "The community wants that building to be alive," McLucas said. "At the very least you can open the door, serve coffee and have newspapers."
What the working class people of Williamstown see - Hey Williamstown, I know you are finacially strapped, but can we have a handout so we can have our own space to drink coffee and read newspapers? We, the SWCA, promise not use the Playground next door, and we promise not to use our AT&T cell phones.
I truly hope that the Select-board of Williamstown has the common sense to see this is a No Win situation. Let a private person/company buy and open the 5 Corners Store again. That way it will generate Taxes (Revenue) for the town.
And does the Town of Williamstown really need to be part owner of a swimming pool too?
Let me get this straight, they want the town to allocate $400,000 so someone can have a cup of coffee and get a newspaper? It better be great coffee and the New York Times. I believe the town's money would be better spent to solve more pressing issues such as affordable housing and, has anyone noticed the deplorable condition of the high school? How about focusing on those issues? Maybe the town could use the Five Corners area for affordable housing rather than a a high end Starbucks 5 miles from the center of town. It wouldn't be a bad site for a new high school either.
FYI, I live in East Williamstown and we do not have an association. Lets hear from the folks in North Williamstown and West Williamstown.
Just want to point out here that it isn't the Selectmen who will ultimately make this decision - it's Town Meeting. CPA Committee chooses the projects, Selectmen and Finance Committee recommend passage or don't, and then the article goes into the warrant to be voted on at Town Meeting in May.
Don't see it happening, though. This one is DOA.
It might be an omission by the reporter, but I was struck by the SWCA's strange reasoning. No mention of the historic building or the sensitive nature of the location, OR the fact that the farm is in APR. If I remember correctly,it could be taken OUT of APR, if the back taxes were paid and ... there might need to be an act of legislature or Town Meeting or something. The point is, it can be taken out of APR, albeit with some difficulty.
One year left on the grandfather clause, before it reverts to residential use... time to make nice to Mr. Lewis, because he has very deep pockets and OWNS IT ALL.
I'm not in favor of the town purchasing the property to operate as a non-profit. But "He was driven out of business by unnecessary expenses and red tape" is nothing but sour-grapes baloney; the venture went out of business because there is no way to operate both Green River Farms and 5 Corners together as a profitable entity.
I agree with Two Cents - it wasn't the Town or the building inspector (who applies the law, but doesn't make it) that caused the problem. Lewis tried to do too much, in too many different directions. He had WAY too many employees, and was trying to be all things to all people, willy-nilly. He started charging to go into the petting barn, but entrance to the grounds was free,etc. The two stores competed against each other - didn't make any sense.
The playground could have been made a lot less intrusive by removal of the turquoise curly slide, which IS ugly. The rest of it isn't so bad, although too close to the road for my parental comfort.
What I saw as the main drawback was the lack of car and foot traffic control, which made the intersection a potential death trap. The South Williamstown neighbors had other objections, but they were not terribly neighborly themselves, so...
All in all, a sad picture - farms aren't supposed to be theme parks, and it's sad when they have to pimp themselves in that way to survive. It's even sadder when a "community" is so utterly unwilling to work with someone who is trying something new.
Please note that the article refers to Mr. O'Grady as director of Williamstown Commons. This is incorrect. Mr. O'Grady is a town employee and is director of the Council on Aging, not Williamstown Commons
Crazy! Use tax money to buy a business to compete with other businesses who pay taxes. Once the property is owned by the town or a non-profit the town gets no taxes on it. That's an expensive cup of coffee to swallow.
If the store at five corners was for sale, it would have been purchased already. And for the town to give $400,000 so that people can drink coffee and read the paper is completely ridiculous. Our town high schol can't even get $250,000 from AT&T -- and that's over ten years. There are much better things the town of Williamstown could spend that $400,000 on -- the town should be focusing on where to put the money so it will have the greatest impact. SWCA needs to grow up.
Oh thats just great! Another thing for the town of Williamstown to get involved in! They can't run the town right and now someone wants them to get into business... Government and business need to stay away from each other! Its just church and state, water electricity. These are things that don't go well together. But I am 100% sure if they do go this route it'll give the town another reason to raise taxes on us!
I am a life long resident of South Williamstown and worked at the Store for many years. I remember when it was Steele's Store and behind it was Modern Dairy. Times change, and so did th farm and the store.
Many local pele were not good, supportive neighbors of Mr. Lewis. None of this is relevant to the issue at hand, though.
The CPA started out as a good idea, and I vot for it. Then the state start to cut back it's share of th funding. Worse, we as residents start supporting what I think are foolish, "feel good" projects examples of which include renovating a silo for rural lands, spending a huge amount of money to renovate a church for affordable housing (with David Carver being the big winner in that deal!) giving $250,000 to the Wiliamstown PreSchool to buy the historic church (let me ask, should money be given to Pine Cobble to renovate the historic Cluett estate and preserve the grounds acted by Olmstead) and now this ludicrous idea to give $400,000 to partially fund the store purchase so it can become a non profit.
I just think it is absolutely crazy. Taxes go up, our population is going down, and these are the answers? Hopefully others will see how crazy this idea is and kill it before of goes any farther.
The CPA seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, though, I say it is time to repeal it.
Sorry for any and all typos. I am writing this on my Verizon iPhone and have trouble seeing the little letters.
Well, the limousine liberals are at it again. Let's hope that their newspaper are printed on recycled organic paper. These people act like they're helping the environment by driving a Prius, but then there's only two of them living a 5,000 square foot house, and their other car is an SUV that gets 15 miles a gallon. Williamstown is not without its problems, and $400k of tax dollars to prop up a nonprofit so that the Walden types don't have to drive into town to buy a cup of coffee is the height of starry-eyed hypocrisy. The last two owners tried hard, but the traffic and dollars simply aren't there to support the businesses at that location.
Why would the "village beautiful" even contemplate allocating this money, when there are SO many other "high priority", potentil projects waiting for funding!?!?! LIKE A NEW POLICE STATION for example.............
It is not fair to say that the Affordable Housing Committee's efforts to create more permanent affordable housing in Williamstown were "spearheaded" by Higher Ground. The AHC under Catherine Yamamoto is investigating many possible sites for more housing: infill in town and development far from Spring St, town-owned property and private property, new development and adding incrementally to complexes that exist already. The AHC's constituency includes the home owners at the Spruces, who are/were mostly lower-income, but it also includes people eligible for subsidized, income-tied and section-8 properties, as well as housing for families and the disabled (which were not at the Spruces). Higher Ground and AHC work together but the AHC has responsibility to seek housing solutions for many more types of people than those displaced at the Spruces. The two groups work independently and help each other out. Give credit.
To me, the most important sentences in this article are these:
"However, the group does not know if the owner, Frank Lewis, is willing to sell only the store nor do they have a business plan in place for its continued operation."
The pre-school had a business plan and knew what they were going to do. These guys are clueless, and don't know what they are doing at all - it's just idle speculation at this point. I'll vote NO at the Town Meeting on this one, unless they can show me a business plan and that there is a possibility that the store could actually succeed.
It is true that CPA funds cannot be used for a police station. However, consider what the CPA funds really are -- a voluntary tax that taxpayers have opted into.
If you consider that any given taxpayer has a finite ability/willingness to pay taxes, then the existence of the CPA competes directly for every "extra" dollar that a taxpayer is willing to pay, either through increased property tax or through a voluntary override.
So, it is quite reasonable to assume that the existence of the CPA competes dollar for dollar with the taxpayer's willingness to pay for other, perhaps higher priority projects, such as an improved high school or police station.
In other words, "would the town be more willing to pass an override for the schools with, or without, the extra burden of the CPA?" The answer is, of course, "without." Thus, the CPA is directly competing for those resources.
Because "those resources" are MORE than just CPA dollars. They are, in fact, "a taxpayer's ability/willingness to pay."
Yes, the tax dollars are fungible in the long term, but the CPA money has already been collected and must be spent on open space, historic preservation, and community housing. It cannot be spent on a high school, or a police station, or snow removal, or any other line item in the town's budget.
That the CPA is a 2% tax that could be otherwise be applied to the general funds is an argument against the CPA, not this project at Five Corners.
Regardless of the worth of this project, let's not pretend that funding it is a choice between a police station and a coffee shop.
As a town, we cannot be flip about the CPA fund. For every dollar collected, 25 cents is contributed by the state. 25%! Not bad considering the lack of state funding. Lets pay attention to how the money is spent and lets look at the possible allocation process. Perhaps the town could vote that 10% of the money is allocated to open space, 10% is allocated to historic preservation and perhaps 80% to affordable housing.
Paul, we can't afford NOT to be flip about the CPA. That state match you are so fond of is still YOUR money. It isn't free. The state doesn't print currency! It comes from taxpayers.
Have you ever closed on a house, or refinanced a mortgage, and been shocked by the baloney closing costs tacked on at the end? Well, $20 from each deed registered goes to fund the state's CPA match.
What does the CPA have to do with registering a deed? Nothing! You can thank one of our former Republican governors (Celluci) for that one. The CPA fee was one of many fees that he and his buddy Mitt raised so they could later claim not to have raised our taxes.
So, you can call it a tax or call it a fee. All I know is once I pay it I can't afford as much groceries or gas. But hey, on the bright side I can look forward to subsidizing someones daycare or cup of coffee.
I like Paul's idea to allocate a certain percentage to open space, although it should be 33.3%. Projects with buildings will always benefit the users, managers, and owners but open space has no inherent interested parties to champion it. I am appalled that in a town so beautiful there isn't one decent park.
Support your downtown where you can get great coffee, congregate with friends, buy national newspapers, have amazing lunches, and pick-up groceries.
We have the best downtown anywhere but if we take it for granted and boycott it, we will be left begging the taxpayers for farm stores. Why invest in a new store that will preclude tourists from coming downtown? If there is one lesson that should be learned from the closure of the two stores and farm it is: appreciate what you have (by spending your money) before it is gone (because you didn't appreciate it while it was here).
I usually consider myself a big-government liberal, but this is insanity. If a store in that location could be run profitably, an entrepreneur would purchase it and do just that. This is as ridiculous as the bakery on Spring Street circulating a petition to force the college to buy its failing business. I'd rather the funds be used as incentives to get the Cable Mills project off the ground.
I have a great idea for the money. The town should purchase the space that has the play ground on it at green river farms. Let them open a coffee shop in the play ground since it is a structure (says the building inspector). I bet it would only cost a fraction of the cost of the store.
Small town governments should not be in the business of investing taxpayer dollars in businesses. That is an absurd proposition and smells of Socialism. This is a free market society. If the SWCA wants to run the Store at 5, they can make a satisfactory offer to Frank Lewis and buy his Store at 5 and run the store any way they like -- FOR A PROFIT. I suggest they get a business plan together first.
...check out this definition and function of the Community Preservation Act and CPA Committee. http://williamstown.ws/?page_id=2461
If we're going to bark up a tree about the town purchasing a business, non profit or not, this is the place to start. Let the committee members know what a bad idea it is and why. Municipal-owned Store at 5 sounds like another Solyndra deal. Is this what Williamstown needs? Or should they donate their funds to a new high school? I think we should put the kids before the coffee drinkers and newspaper readers.
@Editor - Exactly! Per your own article, that's what SWCA wants. Newspapers. Something no one reads anymore. If there are going to be higher taxes next year, maybe the CPA can forego a tax hike this year so that a tax hike could go toward the needed school building activities instead.
I am new to the area, living over the line in Hancock. While there may be worthwhile projects on which funds could be better spent, I have found myself wishing there was some kind of small store, gas station, gathering place at this site. I'm hardly a "trust-fund" resident, but having a place where residents in this area could get a coffee, a paper (some of us DO still read them,)or say hello isn't such a terrible idea. Love downtown Williamstown too, but it is a bit of a drive from out here just for a cup of good coffee. Seems like there is a lot of vitriol around this proposal and "us and them" side-taking. That's too bad. Hope it gets better.
There is no need for class warfare here. The corner store was used by everyone -- tradespeople, construction guys, tourists, riders, rich, middle class and poor. The store was profitable when it was a stand-alone business. Frank Lewis is a highly successful business person but a very poor retailer. HIs operation was terrible, he did not control expenses, and he did not accept suggestions. He is now getting his "revenge" by letting the place deteriorate. I agree that we cannot float any purchase proposals from any source until we know what Lewis is prepared to do, and it is a bad idea to ask for public funds in the context of such an open situation. We all need to wait this out until the owner is ready to deal seriously and in an arms' - length manner. He certainly understands what kind of loss he will take if the grandfathering date passes with nothing done.
It's not clear that Lewis would take ANY loss if he let the property convert from commercial to residential. Indeed, it might be worth MORE to prospective buyers as a nice home rather than a doomed business. South Williamstown is a highly desirable place to live. Surely there are a lot of folks who would be tickled to live in a big, historic, home in a primo South Williamstown location. Such a home would at least contribute to the tax base.
Don't be shocked if Lewis takes the lands out of trust, pays the difference between ag and commercial rates in back taxes, and sells the whole lot to a developer for homes.
It is not revenge, but rather irony. It has been the zero-development crowd in South Williamstown that makes all that land so damn valuable. He's got it listed for $5 million. I'll bet he is patient enough to wait.
But I wouldn't blame him if he was annoyed with the SWCA. $10 says they haven't even asked him what his plans are, but yet they want to have meetings about the future of HIS land:
Frank is probably much more interested in making as much money as possible off of his investment than he is in getting revenge on a bunch of self important "preservationists."