Williamstown Select Board Lets Housing Committee Vet Proposals

By Stephen DravisWilliamstown Correspondent
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The Selectmen decided Monday night to let the Affordable Housing Committee evaluate two proposals for town land; Selectman David Rempell reiterated his belief that the board should be more closely involved.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen on Monday decided not to insert itself directly into the evaluation of two proposals to develop housing on town-owned "brown field" parcels.
Instead, the board decided to let the Affordable Housing Committee take the lead on evaluation and bring its recommendation to the Selectmen for an up or down vote.
Last Friday was the deadline for Williamstown's requests for proposals (RFPs) to build subsidized housing on either the former Town Garage site on Water Street or the former PhoTech mill site on Cole Avenue.
Boston's Arch Street Development and Pittsfield's Berkshire Housing Development Corp. submitted proposals. The former has plans to use both properties; BHDC sent a proposal using just the Cole Avenue site.
Affordable Housing Committee Chairwoman Catherine Yamamoto appeared before the Selectmen on Monday and told it her committee would welcome any level of involvement from the board, which appoints members of the AHC and ultimately will decide what, if anything, is done with the sites.
"My druthers would be that we all meet together ... [and] go through the proposals," Selectman David Rempell said. "We could meet once, meet twice, whatever. Hopefully, both proposals are of a high enough quality we'd want to speak to the submitters and make our decision by April 15."
Rempell was the lone member of the Selectmen advocating for a joint meeting of the two bodies.
Selectman Thomas Sheldon suggested what he characterized as a "middle road," sending perhaps one selectman as a liaison to the Affordable Housing Committee during the process. Sheldon also noted that as Williamstown residents, individual members of the board were welcome to attend the meetings, though he admitted it was a gray area if a quorum of the Board of Selectmen ended up at a meeting where the board's business is discussed.
Chairwoman Jane Allen said she did not see a need for the board to be involved in the evaluation process.
"We know the criteria," Allen said. "I have complete faith in the Affordable Housing Committee to do the task.
"We have a different level of responsibility than the Affordable Housing Committee. ... The Affordable Housing Committee must look at these [proposals] through an affordable housing lens. We, as the Board of Selectmen, must look at the properties ... and decide if it's the best use of the properties because they lie within the jurisdiction of the Board of Selectmen."
Both Selectwoman Jane Patton and Selectman Ronald Turbin sided with Allen on the issue, which did not come to a vote of the board.
Rempell pointed out that he shared his colleagues' faith in the Affordable Housing Committee but still thought their board had a role to play.
"The way I'm approaching this is, if I was a member of the Affordable Housing Committee, I'd much prefer having everyone at the table than doing all the work ... and conceivably having a different group of people reject the recommendation," Rempell said.
"But as I said before, I accept defeat. Let's move on."
In other business on Monday evening, the board unanimously agreed to support the application of a group of citizens to have a large portion of the town designated a Cultural District by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
The designation would make Williamstown eligible for state-funded signage and promotion of arts and cultural offerings.
Allen said the arts groups collaborating on the application hope to win approval from the Mass Cultural Council in time to have the designation in place before the July 4 grand re-opening of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, one of the anchors of the proposed district.
The board also on Monday approved a reduction in the fee the town charges for applications for one-day liquor licenses, which are frequently sought by nonprofits holding special events in town.
Allen suggested lowering the fee from $200 to $50 after she researched the issue and found that 14 towns around the commonwealth responding to a survey reported fees ranging from $40 to $75. A large percentage charge $50; Lenox and Pittsfield charge $25 and $35, respectively, Allen said.
The Selectmen voted to lower Williamstown's fee to $50 effective beginning with applications received on March 11.

Tags: affordable housing,   RFP,   

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