The vacant lot at 59 Water St. is the subject of an information session on affordable housing development on Monday night at 7 in the Wiliamstown Elementary School auditorium.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Do not expect any of the rancor that accompanies discussions of other properties when the Affordable Housing Committee hosts a Monday evening public listening session on developing the former town garage site.
Over the last 11 months, affordable housing advocates have drawn heavy criticism for suggesting that a pair of town-owned parcels currently in conservation could be developed at some future date.
But no one has raised any concerns about whether to build on the vacant lot identified on tax rolls as 59 Water St., an acre of land currently used as a de facto, unpaved parking lot.
The Affordable Housing Committee has long listed 59 Water St. as its top priority for developing subsidized housing, and it has spent thousands of dollars studying and remediating ground contamination at the site.
This summer, the property received a clean bill of health. This fall, the committee is working on a request for proposals, or RFP, from developers interested in building on either the town garage site or the former PhoTech mill property on Cole Avenue (another town-owned lot) or both.
The committee plans listening sessions on both brownfield sites over the next two weeks. Both will be held in the auditorium of Williamstown Elementary School at 7 p.m. Both will be facilitated by consultants hired by the committee to help it develop RFPs.
Ultimately, the decision of how — or whether — to build on either site rests with the Selectmen.
It's likely there will be little opposition to developing the town garage site, at 59 Water St., which is vacant but hardly unused.
Since the garage was torn down, the lot has become a popular parking area for people going to nearby businesses on Water Street and Spring Street during the week and is heavily used by spectators at Williams College athletic events because of its proximity to Weston Field (football), Chandler Gymnasium (basketball) and Chapman Rink (hockey).
The lot also routinely fills with cars during special events like Holiday Walk or the town's Fourth of July parade, when Spring Street is closed to vehicles and much of the Latham Street parking lot is closed off to accommodate a townwide cookout.
But none of those uses have inspired the kind of passion shown by advocates of open space and agriculture, who rose vehemently in defense of the town-owned Lowry and Burbank properties, effectively closing off debate on whether they should be developed.
"We don't have a formal position on it," said Jennifer Civello, the executive director of the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce. "On issues like this, we would prefer to be an intermediate information dissemination service. We certainly could host a forum so people could share their respective opinions.
"When the Chamber hosts events or when there are a number of athletic events at the college, that parking lot is pretty heavily used. There would be the need to find alternative parking for when we have special events or when the college is having athletic events.
"The college probably has a stronger stake than we do."
Perhaps, but the college is making no public statements on the development plan.
Last fall, the assistant to the president for public affairs told iBerkshires.com that the school essentially had no comment about plans to build on 59 Water St.
"We're certainly following all discussions in town," James Kolesar said. "I think what I would say is any plan to use that space would have to include consideration of the effect on parking. I assume good decisions will be made."
Civello said no one in the business community has approached her with concerns about site. And she expressed optimism that even if the parking area is lost, the town will figure out a solution.
"We do utilize the parking lot," Civello said. "If the parking lot isn't there, we'll make do.
"You have to bend with the changes."