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Williamstown Fire Committee Holds Postmortem on Land Vote

By Stephen Dravis
Williamstown Correspondent
03:31AM / Thursday, December 19, 2013
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The Prudential Committee said it bowed to the voters wishes to not buy land on Main Street but predicted it would be regretted later.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town is going to regret the missed opportunity to acquire a 3.7-acre Main Street parcel for the purpose of building a new fire station.
 
That was the consensus of the three-man board that governs the Williamstown Fire District when it met on Wednesday evening.
 
It was the first meeting of the Prudential Committee since district voters narrowly rejected for the second time this fall the acquisition of the so-called Lehovec property next to the former Agway building on Route 2 (Main Street).
 
Although a majority of voters at both special meetings approved the $575,000 purchase, the district failed to achieve the two-thirds majority needed to OK the purchase.
 
"The voters spoke," committee member Edward McGowan said. "We did the best we could do. I don't think we have anything to be ashamed about.
 
"The only thing that bothers me is somewhere down the road we're going to build a fire station in the center of town ... "
 
"And it's probably going to cost more than if we had had the chance to go ahead," committee member Edward Briggs completed McGowan's thought.
 
Prudential Committee Chairman John Notsley was out of town for the second special Fire District meeting and Wednesday's committee meeting but participated by speaker phone. He agreed with McGowan that the committee had done "an admirable job of educating the taxpayers."
 
"Unfortunately, the opposition chose to bring up the $9 million, the total tax burden that would happen down the road as if it would happen tomorrow," Notsley said. "That scared some of the older taxpayers in town, and that's why it went the way it did."
 
The Prudential Committee worked for six years to identify and negotiate a purchase-and-sales agreement on a property it feels is needed to replace an aging Water Street facility that the department has outgrown. That purchase-and-sales agreement expires next week.
 
Critics of the Fire District's plan argued that the district — a separate taxing authority outside the town government structure — should coordinate with town officials in light of other pressing capital needs, specifically a new police station and a new or renovated junior-senior high school.
 
And although the Fire District has no formal designs or cost estimates for a new station, those same critics pointed out that the $575,000 before the voters this fall was the first step in what would become a more costly project down the road.
 
The Prudential Committee, meanwhile, says it is willing to coordinate its efforts with the town's, and to that end has contributed a member to the town's Public Safety Building Study Committee.
 
Briggs, who currently occupies that seat, on Wednesday briefed the Prudential Committee on the study committee's activities.
 
The town committee has engaged Reinhardt Associates to help evaluate several potential properties to see if they can accommodate either a police station or a combined police/fire facility. Briggs said the consultant is looking at a half-dozen sites, including the Lehovec property, the former Williamstown Financial Center site at 296 Main St., a parcel at 311 Main St. next to Harsch Associates, the former Williamstown Medical Associates site on Adams Road, the former town garage site at 59 Water St., and a North Street (Route 7) parcel used the last two summers as a parking lot for the Clark Art Institute during its construction project.
 
Briggs said he told the Public Safety Building Study Committee the last property would be impractical even if the town also could acquire some adjoining parcels.
 
"I jumped in and said that wouldn't work for us because that's a very poor line of sight area," Briggs said. "I didn't want to see us driving trucks onto North Street and have a tractor-trailer coming up ... even though it's a 30 mph zone, cars come up there pretty quick. ... It's an accident waiting to happen.
 
"We don't want to be halfway out in the highway and have a tractor-trailer — or anyone else for that matter — coming south on Route 7 into our path."
 
The Prudential Committee members noted that several of the properties on the public safety group's list had been considered by the Fire District and studied already by its consultants at the Maguire Group.
 
"Mr. McMillan, the engineer from Reinhardt, made a comment at the end of the discussion that none of the properties he looked at that day with the committee were really great properties for both fire and police without a fair amount of work and expense," Briggs said. "I think what that does in my mind is just confirms what we have done for the last six years, trying to find the right location at the right price.
 
"In the long run, this committee is going to come back and say, 'You know what? The Fire District was right. ... On Dec. 27, when someone else has an opportunity to buy [the Lehovec property], that's the end of the game."

Tags: fire district,   land sales,   prudential committee,   

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