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Williamstown Housing Committee Reviews Proposals

By Stephen Dravis
Williamstown Correspondent
10:05AM / Friday, March 14, 2014
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Craig Clemow and Catherine Yamamoto of Williamstown's Affordable Housing Committee read through one of the proposals to develop housing on town-owned land.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Affordable Housing Committee began its process of reviewing proposals on Thursday to develop two town-owned properties, and one clear theme emerged.

The panel has at least as many questions as answers about one of the proposals.
 
First the good news: Committee members were impressed with the degree of affordability proposed for units on both the former town garage site and former PhoTech mill property.
 
"One thing I was thrilled about for both proposals was that there was no market-rate units in either," Chairwoman Catherine Yamamoto said.
 
"And it's all 60 percent [of area median income] or below," Cheryl Shanks interjected.
 
"And no mixed used," Yamamoto said. "It's all residential.
 
"I thought that was very positive."
 
And there were other positives to each of the proposals the town received in response to its requests for proposals (RFPs) on the two sites. Boston-based Arch Street Development submitted plans for both brownfields sites; Pittsfield's Berkshire Housing Development Corp. and Boston's Women's Institute for Housing and Economic Development sent a proposal just for 330 Cole Ave., the former PhoTech property.
 
In general, the latter proposal appeared to strike committee members as more complete.
 
The Berkshire Housing/Women's Institute plan included conceptual designs supplied by Dietz & Company Architects and Williamstown engineering firm Guntlow & Associates.
 
The fact that the plan included the names of those partners weighed heavily in its favor, as did the fact that the proposal included visuals of how a proposed 46-unit, three-story building would be sited on the property.
 
By contrast, committee members expressed frustration with the lack of specificity in the Arch Street proposal.
 
"They don't propose a team," Yamamoto said. "They said, 'We chose to put together our development team on a project by project basis ... [and] we prefer to work with local team members as much as possible.'
 
"We know they have existing relationships here. But they didn't state that."
 
Likewise, when it came to describing the design of Arch Street's proposal for either property, committee members struggled to find a clear plan in the two-page "development summary."
 
"The problem right now is they're so vague," Shanks said. "They're not below the line or above the line."
 
"They could give us a site design," Craig Clemow said.
 
"They are in the business to do this," Van Ellet added. "If they want to give us visual information, they're more than capable of doing that."
 
Although the consensus opinion of the committee was that the overall quality of both Arch Street proposals was "not advantageous," it nevertheless was willing to give the Boston firm the benefit of the doubt. It decided to invite the principals from both developers to come to Town Hall for an interview later this month.
 
The committee on Thursday began compiling a list of questions it would ask both developers. Those questions will be supplemented by individual members of the committee and discussed with Town Manager Peter Fohlin, the town's procurement officer, at a meeting next week to determine what the committee can and cannot ask under the rules of the commonwealth's Chapter 30B procurement law.
 
And while the the committee members clearly had more questions about the Arch Street plans, there were some apparent gaps in the Berkshire Housing/Women's Institute proposal.
 
Yamamoto asked whether the three-story building proposed would be in character with the neighborhood.
 
The committee's deliberation included the public reading of a letter submitted by an abuttor, Kevin Kennefick of 308 Cole Ave. Kennefick is a frequent attendee at meetings where the PhoTech property is discussed.
 
He apologized for not being able to attend Thursday's meeting, but asked the committee to consider whether such a large structure would take away the "view shed" of local residents.
 
"We are the most crowded neighborhood in Williamstown, and our only sense of space is visual," Kennefick wrote. "This proposal will only further damage a neighborhood that needs help."
 
Kennefick also expressed concerns about whether the Cole Avenue site should be developed at all, and the committee addressed those issues. But the view-shed question is one that Yamamoto agreed the panel should pose to the developer in the interview process.
 
"I'd like to know, if I'm in Kevin Kennefick's back yard, what do I see?" Yamamoto said, referring to the possibility of computer models that show the impact of a proposed apartment house on sight lines.
 
"My major question for the Women's Institute proposal is how does it relate to the existing Mill Street homes?"
 
In contrast to Arch Street's overall rating of "not advantageous," the committee rated the Berkshire Housing/Women's Institute proposal as "advantageous."
 
"They really did their homework," Dylan Stafford said. "They gave us everything we asked for. They have an existing relationship with the town: Berkshire Housing, the Women's Institute, Guntlow. But they're proposing less units than Arch Street."
 
The Arch Street proposal for 330 Cole Ave. calls for 60 apartments — in addition to the 25 units it proposes for 59 Water St., the old Town Garage site.
 
"But Arch Street doesn't give us much to go on," Stafford concluded. "I'd definitely like to hear what Arch Street has to say."
 
The committee has targeted April 15 to make a recommendation to the Board of Selectmen, which will decide whether the town will enter into an agreement with one of the developers.

Tags: affordable housing,   RFP,   

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