Williamstown Selectmen OK Lease to Operate Spruces

By Stephen DravisWilliamstown Correspondent
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The Selectmen will take control of the Spruces Mobile Home Park on Saturday.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Selectmen on Monday approved a lease agreement that will allow the town to operate the Spruces Mobile Home Park during the period leading to its closure.
This Saturday, Feb. 1, the town expects to take over formal operation of the park, Town Manager Peter Fohlin told the board.
Williamstown will continue to collect rents from the mobile home owners and will be responsible for maintenance of the Spruces while those residents seek other living arrangements. The park is scheduled to be shut down in early 2016 under the terms of a federal Hazard Mitigation Grant.
The town originally had hoped to acquire the park from Rochester, N.Y.'s, Morgan Management at the start of the Massachusetts-mandated two-year notification of intent to discontinue the park.
"That would have made administration and financing a lot simpler," Fohlin told the board. "But FEMA stopped us from doing that because federal regulations require that after 90 days of taking possession, we had to have everyone gone.
"We came up with the device of a lease from Morgan so we could take over operation without taking ownership of the park."
Fohlin is scheduled to appear before the town's Board of Health on Wednesday to obtain a license to operate the park.
The town's application includes a set of rules for the park that are identical in every respect to the rules that have governed the property, he said.
Starting Saturday, residents at the Spruces can talk to on-site manager Marilynn Kirby or to Debra Turnbull in Fohlin's office at Town Hall.
Starting last week, the Spruces residents also have access to a relocation advisory agent hired by the town with a portion of the FEMA grant money.
Trish P. Smith, the Springfield-based consultant hired for the task, appeared last night to introduce herself to the Selectmen.
"It's a very challenging endeavor to take on," Smith said. "We will get through this. We will find them all a decent, safe and sanitary place to live.
"But it's just going to take time."
Fohlin said Smith was at a well-attended meeting of Spruces residents last week, and she began one-on-one meetings with residents on Monday.
"We're off to a roaring start," Fohlin said.
Relocation advisory agent Trish P. Smith introduces herself to the Selectmen; Craig Clemow discusses his desire to join the Affordable Housing Committee.
The board voted unanimously at Monday's meeting to sign a letter to the commonwealth's Department of Housing and Community Development endorsing the Higher Ground-led project to build replacement housing for some Spruces residents on land being donated by Williams College. Developer Berkshire Housing Development Corp. asked for the letter as part of its application for low-income housing tax credit funding for the Highland Woods project.
Housing issues once again dominated the agenda, as the Selectmen also appointed Craig Clemow to the town's Affordable Housing Committee.
Clemow is a veteran of the Williamstown School Committee and the committee responsible for building the 10-year-old school.
"During Tropical Storm Irene, I was involved with FEMA as a psychologist workint with people in the [Spruces]," Clemow said, explaining his interest in the issue of affordable housing.
He said he previously had talked with committee Chairwoman Catherine Yamamoto about joining the panel, but other commitments made it impossible for him to serve.
"Just recently, I wrote Cathy and said if there is still room and interest, I'd like to be involved," Clemow said. "This whole process of what's going on in town is very close to me, and I'd like to be able to see if I can help."
In other business on Monday, the board heard an update from Selectwoman Jane Patton on the town's Public Safety Building Study Committee, which she chairs.
Patton told the board that the committee along with a consultant from Reinhardt Associates of Agawam toured 11 potential sites and found six could "possibly meet the needs of a new police facility and/or police/fire district combined facility."
Patton said the committee is exploring how many of those six properties might be available to purchase, and it plans to meet on Monday, Feb. 3, to review the six sites.
Fohlin told the board he would be asking it to hold a special meeting some time between now and its next regularly scheduled meeting (Feb. 10). He needs the board to approve a warrant for a planned special town meeting to resolve a property issue related to the bridge replacement project on Hopper Road.
The state Department of Transportation has determined it needs a 725-square foot temporary easement on private property adjacent to the bridge work. And federal funders will not allow the project to proceed until the easement is obtained.
In order for bids on the project to be posted this spring, the town needs to finalize the easement expeditiously, Fohlin explained. He is in the process of discussing the terms of the easement with the landowner.

Tags: affordable housing,   Spruces,   

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