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Williamstown's Affordable Housing Trust Board of Trustees also met at Town Hall on Wednesday.

Housing Report Will Inform Williamstown's Planning

By Stephen DravisWilliamstown Correspondent
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Affordable Housing Committee Chairwoman Catherine Yamamoto places a call to housing consultant John Ryan so he can participate in a conference call with her committee.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The consultant hired to do a housing needs assessment for the town on Wednesday promised that his final report will help officials target their affordable housing efforts in the direction that will do the most good.

"I will find the most current and useful information I can find for levels of need for different levels of housing," John Ryan of Development Cycles told the committee in a conference call. "I'll provide a meaning profile of the kind of need that exists in the community and give a sense of how that need might change over time.

"The bulk of the work will be the kind of information that will allow you in the long- or medium-term to look at opportunities that may arise. ... It will give you the opportunity to say, 'By doing this, we will address certain needs.' "

Ryan's Amherst firm drafted a housing feasability study on the town-owned Lowry property in 2003 on behalf of the North County Community Development Corp. and the town. But he said for the new study, he will start pretty much from scratch, pulling current data and — as needed — reanalyzing statistical information that predates the '03 study.

"It's easier for me to go back and redo it than use [data] piecemeal," Ryan said.

The Affordable Housing Committee and Affordable Housing Trust are sharing the $8,500 cost of Ryan's study.

On Wednesday, he explained to the committee that he will pull data from a variety of sources, including the U.S. Census, its complementary annual American Community Survey, assessors data and interviews with local experts, including real estate agents and representatives of Williams College.

In response to a question from committee member Bilal Ansari, Ryan said the college can be a critical source for information in a small academic town like Williamstown.

"Williams College may be a significant landlord in town, and how they're planning to manage property in town could affect the market," he said. "The other way they can make a big difference is as an employer. I'd look at economic trends in the community, so I'd certainly call a major employer and try to get a sense of their (historical) trends and how they might see them changing."

Ryan agreed to meet with the committee in person on Feb. 12 to share his preliminary data and allow the committee — based on that data — to pose questions it would like to see addressed in the final report. That report is expected at the end of March.

The Affordable Housing Committee and the trustees of the town's Affordable Housing Trust met back-to-back on Wednesday night. Each panel's discussion touched on the three town-owned parcels actively under consideration for development for subsidized housing.

Longview Terrace resident Robert Scerbo spoke during the public participation section at both meetings and pressed both panels to gather more input from the abutters to one of those parcels: the 30 acres of conserved land off Stratton known as the Lowry Property.

Housing Trust Chairman Stanley Parese said there will be 'time for public conversation' as housing plans move forward.

Referring to a preliminary housing schematic the panel commissioned from Guntlow & Associates, Scerbo asked whether the engineering firm had spoken to any of the landowners adjacent to the Lowry site.

Affordable Housing Trust Chairman Stanley Parese said he did not know whether Guntlow's personnel spoke to any abutters before drafting what he characterized as "an initial conceptual design."

"The process will involve a lot of conversation publicly," Parese said. "At some point, I'm sure abutters will be heard, and their concerns will be given careful consideration.

"I don't doubt there will be time for public conversation. If nothing else, there will be a permit process."

Scerbo said abutters should be brought into the conversation sooner rather than later.

"In that planning process, people become more entrenched ... in their vision of what it should be," he said.

Scerbo also questioned why the Affordable Housing Committee presented the schematic for possible housing sites on Lowry but did not publish similar designs for two other town-owned sites: the former Town Garage site at 59 Water St. and the former PhoTech mill site on Cole Avenue.

Affordable Housing Committee Chairwoman Catherine Yamamoto emphasized that all three sites are currently being considered, and all three — if not more — will be needed to meet the town's affordable housing needs. The committee at its Dec. 18 meeting did present the Guntlow schematic for Lowry because it paid for that plan. There are similar, very preliminary designs for the brownfields sites that have been drawn up by architect Ann K. McCallum, who chairs the town's Planning Board and shared her drawings at its Dec. 11 meeting.

Yamamoto said if McCallum gives the go-ahead, the Affordable Housing Committee would post her concepts for all three sites on the committee's website.

Other highlights from Wednesday's meetings included:

A proposal from Stratton Road resident Suzanne Kemple that the town use affordable housing funds to buy existing homes in the currently stagnant real estate market and create subsidized housing.

• A report from Yamamoto that the town manager's office is compiling a list of current residents of the Spruces Mobile Home Park who would be interested in moving to single-family housing if it is developed on the Lowry property, as the town has proposed. To date, that list reportedly has about 15 names.

 •A clarification from Town Manager Peter Fohlin about the flood plain status of the PhoTech site. He said the entire property is in either the 100-year or 500-year flood plain, but only about the third closest to the river is in the 100-year plain. "For what it's worth, [Tropical Storm] Irene was categorized as a 75-year flood," Fohlin said.

• A reminder that the town's Conservation Commission, which manages the Lowry property, plans to hold a public hearing in February on the issue of potentially developing the site. The date and time are to be announced. The Con Comm's next regularly scheduled meeting is Jan. 10 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

Tags: affordable housing,   affordable housing trust,   housing,   

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