The Selectmen on Monday approved two requests for proposals for redevelopment of two sites for housing and hired a relocation adviser recommended by Town Manager Peter Fohlin for the Spruces.
WILLIAMSTOWN, — The Selectmen on Monday approved two requests for proposals to develop affordable housing on a pair of town-owned "brownfields" parcels.
On a vote of 4-0, the board OK'd the RFPs for the former town garage site and the former Photech mill property, endorsing two long-term projects of the town's Affordable Housing Committee.
The town took another significant step in its efforts to address its housing needs on Monday when the board approved a contract to hire a relocation advisory agent to assist residents of the soon-to-be-closed Spruces Mobile Home Park.
The park, which was devastated by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, still has 66 households. Many of those residents are uncertain where they will live once the park is closed within two years under the terms of a federal Hazard Mitigation Grant.
The town on Monday hired Patricia Smith of Springfield to help those residents find new housing and help determine how much compensation each resident will be eligible to receive from the Federal Emergency Management Agency grant.
Town Manager Peter Fohlin said Smith was selected from among a relatively small pool of consultants approved by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development to fill that role.
"She is quite thoughtful," said Fohlin, who had two telephone conversations with her before bringing her name to the Selectmen. "She's not hesitant to say, 'I'll think about that.' She came across as knowledgeable but not a know-it-all.
"She conducted a good two-way conversation that led me to believe we'll be able to work with her."
The town agreed to a compensation of $58,080 plus expenses for the two-year contract. Smith likely will work in town two days a week from now until January 2016, Fohlin said.
"We've talked to the college about borrowing a desk for her," he said. "We're going to set her up on the third floor of Town Hall. We're in the process of setting up her own direct phone line. We're going around the building collecting pencils and erasers to stock her desk."
Fohlin cautioned that the task facing Smith is significant.
"While all of the relocation agents I interacted with have relocation experience, none of them have relocated the Spruces before," he said. "This is going to be a new and different experience for everyone.
"We have to keep in mind that relocating folks in Northern Berkshire is different than relocating folks in Springfield or Boston or Worcester. We have to understand that the Spruces Mobile Home Park was exceedingly affordable to the residents. ... Relocating someone who is used to paying $258 a month plus utilities is going to be no mean feat."
It also has been no mean feat to create RFPs to develop housing on the town garage site, also known as 59 Water St., or the Cole Avenue site that is the former home of Photech.
"This is the culmination of at least five years of work on the sites by the Affordable Housing Committee," that body's Chairwoman Catherine Yamamoto, told the board. "It was put on hold by contamination on the sites, and our work on Church Corner.
"We've completed, along with help of the town, the remediation of contamination at 59 Water St., and there is ongoing work funded by the state at Photech. There's still a report that needs to be finalized on Photech, but that work is done to the point where development can occur."
The Selectmen authorized Fohlin to issue the RFPs on Tuesday, and that will allow them to be posted on the commonwealth's Central Register next week. Under Massachusetts' uniform procurement law, such a proposal involving the conveyance of real property requires at least 30 days' notice in the register, but the Affordable Housing Committee draft accepted by the Selectmen on Monday has a six-week window for receipt of proposals.
The stated deadline is March 7, and Yamamoto said she hopes to have her committee consider proposals in March and, perhaps, make recommendations to the Selectmen in early April. The Selectmen, which Monday expressed a willingness to work with the Affordable Housing Committee during the evaluation phase, has the authority to dispose of the properties.
The Selectmen asked questions about the design of the RFPs but appeared satisfied by Yamamoto's answers on Monday. The board offered one copy-editing change before unanimously approving the documents.
"We do not expect the development of either or both of these sites to fulfill the documented need for affordable housing in town," Yamamoto said. "The town will have to commit other town-owned land and/or acquire other land in the future."
In other business on Monday, the selectmen heard a report from David Irwin of Adelson and Co., the Pittsfield accounting firm that conducted an audit of town finances.
"The town's finances are maintained in great shape," Irwin said. "It's an easy audit. We didn't have any comments or recommendations."
The Selectmen thanked town Finance Director Janet Sadler and Accountant Donna Estes, who attended Monday's meeting, for their work on the town's books.
The board also thanked the managers of the town's businesses that hold liquor licenses Fohlin reported that on Dec. 18, all 22 establishments were subjected to a compliance check in which two 18-year-old minors asked to be served. At all 22 establishments, the minors were carded and denied service.
The Selectmen also approved a special one-day liquor license for Images Cinema to host an event on March 2 from 8 p.m. to midnight to coincide with that evening's Academy Award telecast.
David Irwin of auditors Adelson and Co. said the town's books were in great shape.
John Strachan of the Images Cinema board was granted a temporary liquor license for Oscar night.