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Community Preservation Funds Sought for Williamstown Park

By Stephen Dravis
Williamstown Correspondent
12:06AM / Friday, December 14, 2012
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The Conservation Commission is seeking CPA funds to drill well that will allow the bathrooms at Margaret Lindley Park to reopen.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Conservation Commission on Thursday night asked for Community Preservation Act funds to help restore the bathhouse at Margaret Lindley Park on Cold Spring Road.

The park, a popular swimming hole for town residents, has for several years featured an unusable restroom facility thanks to the failure of the well that supplied water to the bathhouse. Portable toilet facilities have been supplied by the town.
 
The Con Comm voted Thursday to ask the Community Preservation Act Committee to recommend to town meeting that the town spend $65,000 of its CPA funds to drill a new well to supply the bathhouse.
 
"This will be a nice convenience to have the civility of having a bathhouse," Commissioner Philip McKnight said.
 
The Con Comm has an estimate for between $65,000 to $70,000 from Williamstown-based engineering firm Guntlow and Associates, which notes in the estimate that those numbers are "conservative."
 
"We would hope that the actual costs may be 25 percent less," the civil engineering firm wrote in its estimate.
 
McKnight said the application was made possible by a recent change in the commonwealth's CPA law that allows CPA funds to be spent on recreational facilities whether or not they were purchased originally with CPA funds. Before the change, facilities purchased outside the CPA program were not eligible for spending from the funds, generated by a surcharge on property taxes.
 
At town meeting in 2002, Williamstown's voters decided to adopt a 2 percent CPA property tax surcharge that excludes the first $100,000 of valuation.
 
"This sounds like a good use for CPA funds," said Conservation Commissioner Sarah Gardner, who joined in the unanimous vote to send the application to the CPC before its Dec. 21 deadline. The CPC is next scheduled to meet Jan. 9.
 
Thursday's meeting featured a larger than usual crowd, most of which went home disappointed after acting Chairman Van Ellet informed attendees there would be no discussion of the town's proposal to develop affordable housing on 30 acres of conserved land off Stratton Road known as the Lowry property.
 
Ellet explained that the decision to not hear discussion of Lowry (which was not on the commission's agenda) came at the request of Con Comm Chairman Hank Art, who was unable to attend Thursday's meeting.
 
"The chairman would like - if we're going to have a discussion on Lowry - for all commissioners to be present," Ellet said.
 
"If you have information you'd like us to read, we'd be happy to accept it."
 
Dr. Eric White points to 39 acres off Oblong Road for conservation. A large crowd hoping to speak about another plot of conserved land left disappointed.
Several residents passed along letters opposing the proposal and a petition addressed to the Con Comm, the Board of Selectmen, the state Legislature, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the town Affordable Housing Committee and the trustees of the town's Affordable Housing Trust.
 
"I primarily bought our property because it was adjacent to conservation land knowing at the time the intention was that it would never be developed," read one such letter, signed by Heather Lomax and Robert Moses. "The land is used and appreciated not only as conservation land for the enjoyment of its beauty and use recreationally but is also valued for the very sacredness of its existence."
 
Former Selectman Ken Swiatek, who formed a group called Friends of Williamstown Conservation Lands and filed an Open Meeting Law complaint against the town this week, was one of those who attended the meeting. He attempted to address the board about Lowry immediately after and in spite of Ellet's request that the topic not be addressed orally.
 
"I just want to keep you informed, but if you don't want to be informed, I can't help that," Swiatek said.
 
In his letter to the commission, Swiatek argued that the Lowry property was not suited to development of a large-scale housing project under existing town zoning by-laws. Though his letter does note those by-laws can be overriden for the purpose of building affordable housing under the commonwealth's Chapter 40B regulation.
 
The Con Comm plans an open forum on the Lowry proposal at its Feb. 14 meeting and is considering a larger venue than the Selectmen's meeting room in Town Hall. McKnight noted that the issue could be moot by Feb. 14 if the town fails to receive the hoped for Federal Emergency Management Agency Hazard Mitigation Grant that is at the heart of its plan to acquire and close the Spruces Mobile Home Park and create affordable housing on the Lowry property.
 
In other business, the commission recommended that the town approve a conservation restriction on 39 acres on Oblong Road that was formerly owned by the Carmelite Fathers, a Roman Catholic order, who operated a retreat on the land.
 
Current owners Dr. Eric White and two abutters are seeking the restriction to ensure that the land will stay in agriculture.
 
"We're in the process of restoring these fields for the good of the community," White told the commissioners.
 
"This land has been used but not well taken care of over the years," abutter Averill Cook told the commissioners. "A conservation restriction allows anyone in the agricultural field to invest some money in it."
 
White said he had not heard any objections from neighbors to his plan, which has the approval of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.
 
The commissioners voted unanimously to recommend his proposal to the Selectmen.

Tags: conservation commission,   conserved land,   CPA,   park,   

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