Williamstown Selectmen Reaffirm Housing Decision

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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The selectmen on Monday reaffirmed their decision to build affordable housing only on Cole Avenue.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen on Monday tacitly rejected a last-ditch appeal from the Affordable Housing Committee.
The board authorized Town Manager Peter Fohlin to negotiate terms of a purchase-and-sale agreement with the Women's Institute for Housing and Economic Development and Berkshire Housing Development Corp. for the transfer of the former Photech mill property at 330 Cole Ave.
The board's selection of the Women's Institute proposal over the more comprehensive plan submitted by Arch Street Development led to the resignation of three members of the town's Affordable Housing Committee.
At the end of Monday's meeting, Chairwoman Jane Allen read a plea from one of the remaining committee members, who asked that the board reconsider its decision.
Allen read the letter from Dylan Stafford during the "other business" portion of the meeting, well after the board voted on how to proceed with the Women's Institute proposal and after the it formally voted to accept the resignations of the housing committee's chairman, vice chairman and secretary.
"Building on Water Street and Cole Avenue will provide the future workforce of Williamstown with a place to live," Stafford's letter read, in part.
Selectman Tom Sheldon, part of the minority in a 3-2 vote that sided with the Arch Street Development plan to build on Cole Avenue and Water Street, picked up on that line from Stafford's letter and hinted the town's need for workforce housing may be much greater than the 46 units projected by the proposal picked.
"One of the most interesting data points I saw in the [John] Ryan report ... was that 27 percent of the support staff at Williams College lives in Williamstown," Sheldon said. "Seventy-three percent lives elsewhere. Forty-eight percent of the [college's] administration staff lives in Williamstown.
"I think Dylan has a point in terms of the people who work here and/or would like to work here and the housing that is available."
Allen, who voted for the Women's Institute/Berkshire Housing plan, said she knows many people who happily and by their own choice work in Williamstown and live in surrounding communities.
"I don't think we should flatter ourselves with the idea that everyone who works in Williamstown wants to live in Williamstown or that everyone wants to live in Williamstown," Allen said.
She did not ask for or receive a motion to reconsider the April 15 decision.
The exchange came at the end of a two-hour meeting that covered a wide range of topics — from health care to the high school and from parking to the Revolutionary War.
On the affordable housing front, the board read through a purchase and sales agreement the town pursued with the Eby Group when that entity was looking to purchase the Cole Avenue site to build a senior assisted living residence.
Fohlin suggested the town could use the prior document as a template for the coming land transfer.
Among the points to be worked out between the town and the developers: the purchase price for the property and the establishment of milestones that the developers will need to meet in order to keep the agreement in effect.
The board indicated a preference to establish a nominal purchase price rather than the $150,000 figure in the Women's Institute proposal as a way of creating a town contribution to any housing that is created. Both proposers to build on the town-owned parcels indicated that state funding agencies like to see a local contribution to projects. The Women's Institute proposal included as part of its funding plan a contribution from the town's Community Preservation Act funds.
"From the town's point of view, I think it's not good financial sense to buy our property with our own money," Fohlin advised the board.
Mount Greylock Regional School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Greene spoke on the feasibility study required by the MSBA.
The board on Monday voted unanimously to accept the resignations of three departing members of the Affordable Housing Committee with the town's "great thanks to all three," in Allen's words.
Sheldon, who noted he also served on the Affordable Housing Trust with former committee Chairwoman Catherine Yamamoto, said her departure from both bodies was a double loss to the town.
Each of the resignations was considered separately by the board. In seconding the motion to accept the first of the three letters of resignation, Sheldon noted he was doing so, "with pain in my heart."
The board also received an update from Mount Greylock School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Greene, who reviewed the need for the feasibility study that Williamstown and Lanesborough voters will be asked to authorize at each town's Annual Town Meeting this spring.
Greene gave a PowerPoint presentation outlining the need and the process for continuing in the Massachusetts School Building Authority's system.
And she stressed that the Mount Greylock Regional School District will face very costly repairs on its own if it does not remain in the MSBA system, in which the district would receive at least a 55 percent reimbursement for all building project costs, including the $850,000 feasibility study that appears on the Town Meeting warrants.
"The main cost [of a failed vote] is we will be forced to address the building's issues without reimbursement from the state," Greene said. "The state will say, 'We have plenty of other schools of equal need,' and we will be on our own."
In other business on Monday, the Selectmen:
♦ Voted to eliminate some on-street parking spaces at the south end of Park Street in order to eliminate a hazard created when legally parked cars force southbound motorists to cross the center line.
♦ Granted a one-day wine and malt beverages license to the Trustees of Reservations for a May 14 Chamber of Commerce event at Field Farm, where the Trustees plan to roll out a series of cultural programs at the Sloan Road property.
♦ Appointed Richard Allen to the fence viewer position vacated by Cheryl Shanks, who resigned that post along with her position on the Affordable Housing Committee.

Tags: affordable housing,   MGRHS,   

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