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Assistant Fire Chief Robert Briggs explains a conceptual drawing of how a fire station might be situated on the Lehovec property.

Williamstown Vote Falls Short for Fire District Land Purchase

By Stephen Dravis
Williamstown Correspondent
09:48PM / Tuesday, December 03, 2013
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Edward McGowan and Edward Briggs of the Prudential Committee cast their votes in favor of the land purchase at Tuesday's meeting.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — For the second time in three months, the voters of Williamtown have decided not to authorize the Fire District's purchase of a Main Street property.
 
A special Fire District meeting voted Tuesday night by a 249-167 margin in favor of the purchase, but the motion fell just short of the two-thirds majority needed for passage.
 
Nearly 60 percent of the voters at the meeting decided in favor of the purchase; the motion needed 279 votes for passage. On Oct. 15, the same proposal garnered 62 percent of 245 votes cast on the question.
 
A member of the three-man panel that governs the district said after the meeting that Tuesday night's vote will be the last on the department's plan to buy the so-called Lehovec property.
 
"There's no time [for another vote]," Prudential Committee member Edward M. McGowan said after the voting at Williamstown Elementary School. "The purchase and sales agreement is obsolete, I believe, as of the 27th of December."
 
McGowan also said the Prudential Committee has no plans to ask the Lehovec estate for an extension on that purchase and sales agreement.
 
"They say they have people lined up to buy [the property]," McGowan said. "I guess now they'll show us who those people are."
 
The Fire District negotiated a price of $575,000 for the 3.7-acre parcel just east of the former Agway on Main Street (Route 2).
 
McGowan acknowledged that the Fire District has the option to seize the property by eminent domain, but he said the Prudential Committee was loathe to take that step.
 
"It always leaves a bad taste in people's mouths when you do that," he said. "That's why we decided to do what we did. I think we did it the right way."
 
Now, fire officials are back to "square one" in their efforts to address their aging and inadequately sized station on Water Street, Briggs said.
 
Tuesday's meeting featured about 40 minutes of debate on the solution fire officials have been developing since 2006.
 
"This has been a well-thought-out and organized process that has gone on over the last seven years," Fire Chief Craig Pedercini told the voters at the outset of the meeting.
 
"There is no other piece of property with this amount of land that is geographically appropriate and available in the center of town."
 
The majority of speakers who rose to debate the proposal spoke in favor of the purchase. But once again two of the plan's most outspoken critics took their turns at the microphone as well.
 
Charles Fox and Daniel Gendron of the town's Finance Committee each argued that the proposals by the district — a separate governmental entity outside of town government — should be coordinated with the town's other capital needs: a new police station and a new or renovated Mount Greylock Regional School.
 
Fox said in his opinion the aging junior-senior high school and the police station are higher priorities.
 
"Unfortunately, at the present moment, we have no clear idea how much of a burden will be placed on us by either of these two higher-priority items," Fox said. "Tonight's proposal is surely putting the cart before the horse."
 
Two other members of the town Finance Committee, K. Elaine Neely and Elisabeth Goodman, spoke in favor of the Lehovec purchase.
 
Fire Chief Craig Perdercini speaks in favor of the land purchase.
Goodman emphasized the need of a new fire station to accommodate a tanker truck that is critical to the growing number of town residents who live outside the zone served by fire hydrants.
 
Neely said the town will be better able to afford the expense of building a fire station down the road because of the retirement of current debts in the coming years.
 
Local realtor Paul Harsch added to the fiscal argument in favor of buying the Lehovec property by pointing out the town's tax base will grow significantly beginning in 2015 when the first phase of the Cable Mills housing project on Water Street opens.
 
In addition to dry discussions of tax rates and debt obligations, the meeting featured an emotional moment when a Church Street resident came to the microphone and was moved nearly to tears in making her case for the Fire District's plan.
 
"About a month ago, we had a complete blackout over there," she said. "For two days, we were without electricity. The boys and Mr. Pedercini were wonderful. I couldn't ask for a better fire department. I think everything they need, they should get."

Tags: fire district,   fire station,   land sales,   special meeting,   

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