Letters: Why Not a New Spruces?

By Ken SwiatekLetter to the Editor
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To the Editor:

Recently, I was grumbling while carrying paper grocery bags up 8 feet of stairs to my kitchen. Hey, I'm a card-carrying senior citizen, grumble, mumble.

Then it hit me, not referring to those mischievous cans of beans and bags of rice.

Right before our eyes all along: the "New Spruces."

When Williamstown submitted its now infamous FEMA grant application, it was required to offer two alternatives to its submitted, secretive "evict and bulldoze" proposal.

One alternative to build a levee to keep the Spruces drier was dismissed as being too costly.

The other was to elevate the existing mobile homes 6 feet off the ground and make them high and dry. This was dismissed as being too costly: $40,000 per unit (sic), and given the age of some of the homes in the Spruces, impractical. Also, since the Spruces is an age 50 or older park, entrance ramps would be recommended for easier and safer entrances and exits.

My idea: Construct new homes on the Spruces site with elevated concrete and steel reinforced 7- or 8-foot high open air foundations. Build ramps, and decks around these homes for the occupants' use and enjoyment. Residents would also be able to use the under-the-house area as a picnic shelter, to park their cars, eliminating brushing off that pesky winter snow, providing shade in the summer, and some storage space, while still allowing future flood waters to flow unimpeded under their homes.

These elevated homes would be "Way Cool" places to live with enhanced views of the surrounds, and would once again be a source of pride for Williamstown residents, as the Spruces once were, and provide cutting-edge housing not only for all current and relocated Spruces residents, but for as many as, let's say, 300 affordable housing units.

Williamstown has very talented and acclaimed architects who might be interested in designing the New Spruces foundations and ramps and perhaps the houses. There are many spacious, tasteful prefab home companies currently out there offering affordably priced homes to be placed upon the New Spruces foundations.

Current Spruces residents would be permitted the option of remaining in their existing homes with the expanded options of either moving into a new home near their current home or having their current home elevated.

Where would the money come from? Had Williamstown's FEMA grant proposal for $6.2 million utilized the win-win ideas contained here, there would be plenty of money. The intended bulldozing funds could have been used to repair infrastructure. The $3,000,000 targeted as a carte blanche gift to the Williamstown Affordable Trust and the intended $20,000 per resident relocation money could be used to insure Spruces residents could stay and Spruces refugees could return home. The work could be done on an as needed and progressive basis.

The New Spruces houses would be sold as rent-to-own houses with fixed inflationary-indexed prices. Current Spruces residents and Spruces refugees would be required to use grant funds to increase their equity and reduce their mortgage/lot rent payments. The town or the Housing Authority would own the land and operate the park.

While the houses will be elevated sufficiently to keep everyone high and dry, the town must nevertheless fix the problem of the three streams that overflow into and flood the Spruces. A little scouting indicated that this water that appears to be causing the Spruce's flooding may originate from the North Adams' Mount Williams Reservoir, the Williamstown reservoir and the Burbank conservation property.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should also be asked to make recommendations regarding these streams and the banks of the Hoosic.

With 114 acres available at the Spruces site, there might be enough space left over to allow a bike path, a couple of town-owned tennis courts, a basketball court, and a soccer field. Shuffleboard, anyone? Who knew?

Ken Swiatek
Dec. 31, 2012

Tags: FEMA,   letters to the editor,   Spruces,   

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