The Affordable Housing Committee plans presentations on reuse of the old town garage and Photech sites.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Public listening sessions on developing a pair of town-owned brownfield sites could be held as soon as the week of Sept. 30.
The Affordable Housing Committee met Tuesday with the housing and planning consultant it hired
to help the panel develop requests for proposals from developers interested building on the former town garage site on Water Street and the former PhoTech mill property on Cole Avenue.
Consultant Connie Kruger of Amherst and the board discussed a timeline that would see the town issue RFPs for the sites (or, perhaps one RFP covering both) in mid- to late November with a potential deadline for replies before the end of the calendar year.
To meet that ambitious timetable, the committee seized on the first available dates offered up by Kruger and her partner, Jennifer Goldson of Boston, who pitched eight potential dates when they could be in town to facilitate public meetings.
Kruger also discussed the importance of gathering public input when planning a subsidized housing project.
"The more people feel they are involved in the process and understand the process ... you're laying a pathway for public support when it gets to a town meeting vote to release the land — if that's needed — or to a permitting process," Kruger said. "You're including people in the conversation."
The public forums also allow planners to accumulate local knowledge about potential housing sites, she said.
"Let me give you an example: People who live near a site know that there's an informal trail that people use to cross over the back side of a property," Kruger said. "We're looking at aerial photography and maybe don't understand there's this informal trail people are used to using. ... You'd want to say in the RFP, 'The developer will maintain public access ...'
"It's something we wouldn't necessarily know. That's the kind of thing a nearby resident might be able to offer."
After Goldson and Kruger help the committee host the two public meetings — one for each property at locations to be determined — the consultants will help the committee draft the RFPs in late October, Kruger said.
She took a little time Tuesday to talk with the committee about some of the issues it will need to consider when writing up the RFP.
One piece of advice she offered: Don't fill the request with too many specifics.
"If you keep it simple and don't load it up with too much ... that will make it more attractive [to developers]," she said.
"Some communities want LEED-certified [construction] or whatever. How many restrictions do put on in order to meet your goal. How many amenities do you ask for? Do you ask for a swimming pool?"
That said, Kruger outlined a number of considerations that the committee will want to consider when weighing proposals from developers.
"Ownership or rental? ... Developers who do one model don't usually do the other," she said. "You may have a preference for one over the other.
"Do you have feelings about density. Do you want a minimum density of X number of units or do you not want it to be so many?"
In response to a question from AHC Chairwoman Catherine Yamamoto, Kruger said the bare minimum for a subsidized housing development probably would be five units, but even that number is unrealistic.
"The smallest I've heard is 20, but you really want [at least] 40," she said. "There are economies of scale when you're able to spread your soft costs [over more units]."
Other considerations for the panel to keep in mind include: the level of affordability targetted in the development, whether it is for families or older residents, whether services would be available to residents and whether the entire parcel would be developed or some set aside for, say, recreation.
Committee member Cheryl Shanks noted the last concern is particularly relavant at the former PhoTech site.
"We don't have parks in town, really," Shanks said. "People walk their dogs on part of the college campus. The [Field Park] rotary is our only public park.
"Is something like river access, having a park component — would that be part of this process?"
"You could put it in [the RFP]," Kruger said. "Or in the evaluation process, you could say that credit would be given to public uses like a park in the flood plain.
"You could say, 'Be creative, Mr. or Mrs. Developer. What can you come up with?' "
In other business Tuesday, the Affordable Housing Committee discussed its response to the latest open meeting law violation accusation by Stratton Road resident Ken Swiatek, who earlier this year filed separate complaints
against the committee and the Board of Selectmen.
In his latest complaint, filed to the attorney general on Aug. 20, Swiatek alleges that the committee formed a subcommittee on May 28 in violation of the OML. The "subcommittee," which included two members of the AHC and Selectman Thomas Sheldon, convened to organize the criteria that the committee would use to evaluate proposals for developing housing on town land.
Chairwoman Catherine Yamamoto read Swiatek's complaint and her response, in which she noted that his complaint was filed after the the 30-day deadline to make allegations and argued that the task force of Sheldon, Leigh Short and Van Ellet did not reasonably resemble a subcommittee.
"Messrs. Short, Ellet and Sheldon completed their task at a meeting the following day and had no intention or need to meet again," Yamamoto wrote. "When Messrs. Short, Ellet and Sheldon met, they took no votes and did not deliberate or act on any items other than in regards to the document that they drafted for review by the Affordable Housing Committee.
"The document drafted by Messrs. Short, Ellet and Sheldon constitutes their entire notes, findings and recommendations."
Updated on Sept. 4, 2013, at 7:23 p.m. with more on the conversation about the RFP and add the open meeting documents.