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David Johnson and Katharine Levering from Williams College discuss an Aug. 31 event with the Board of Selectmen.

Williamstown Selectmen Decline to Discuss Land Hearing

By Stephen Dravis
iBerkshires Staff
10:34AM / Tuesday, July 15, 2014
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The Selectmen have shied away from further debate on the future of the so-called Lowry and Burbank properties. A hearing on the conservation status of the lands is set for July 24.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen on Monday declined to inject itself into the coming discussion of the status of town-owned land currently under the auspices of the town's Conservation Commission.
 
The Conservation Commission has set Thursday, July 24, for a public hearing to discuss whether either the Lowry or Burbank properties should be protected under Article 97 of the commonwealth's constitution.
 
The former chairman of the town's Affordable Housing Committee asked the town's elected governing body to enter the conversation.
 
"I was wondering if the Board of Selectmen had a position on the two properties and their status or what it should be," Catherine Yamamoto asked during the petitioner's requests portion of Monday's meeting.
 
"I think it's important the Selectmen either participate in the hearing or discuss the two properties. It is 170 acres of town-owned land either adjacent to or near town services."
 
The two town-owned properties have been much discussed in recent years after advocates of affordable housing proposed either be considered as possible sites to develop low-income housing.
 
Last year, the Selectmen came down on both sides of the issue in a matter of weeks — first asking the Con Comm to consider releasing the land from its "care, custody and control" and then pulling that request.
 
The issue was dormant until last month, when the commission decided to revisit the question in an effort to gain some clarity.
 
It set the July 24 meeting as the first of several discussions.
 
No one on the Board of Selectmen appeared eager to hold its own discussion of the lands' status, and no one on the board voiced an opinion about whether the Selectmen should attend next Thursday's hearing.
 
"There's been no discussion that I'm aware of of this board, which was reconstituted by 40 percent after the May election," Selectman Thomas Sheldon noted.
 
Selectwoman Jane Patton did point out that with the 114-acre former Spruces Mobile Home Park scheduled to go under a conservation easement in 2016, the town could potentially be losing several hundred acres of potentially developable land in a brief period of time if Lowry and Burbank are both afforded Article 97 status.
 
Last summer, Patton joined then-Selectwoman Jane Allen and current BOS Chairman Ronald Turbin in voting to rescind the request to the Conservation Commission.
 
For a history of the debate on the two properties, see "A Question of Land."
 
Although the board did not take any action in request to Yamamoto's request, it did take action on all of the items on its agenda, including the approval of an Aug. 31 closure of Spring Street between 4 and 7:30 p.m. for the Spring Street Food Fair being organized by Williams College.
 
David Johnson and Katharine Levering from the dean of the college's office addressed the board about the event, which the college hopes will introduce its freshmen class to the downtown eateries.
 
Students will be given an allotment of "Spring Street Bucks" that will be printed by the college for use during the event, Johnson said. The Spring Street merchants will then exchange the script for real money from the college after the fair.
 
The school ran a similar event last year with about 225 students. This year, it plans to include the entire freshman class plus upperclassman on campus for orientation, bringing the total closer to 800, Johnson said. That is why this year, the school is asking to close the road.
 
"The hope is they will visit more than one vendor for a taste or a try," Johnson said.
 
The Spring Street eateries are being asked to set up sidewalk service for the fair, which the college hopes will not interfere with regular restaurant service during the Labor Day weekend.
 
Members of the public also will be able to take part in the event by purchasing items for cash.
 
Town Manager Peter Fohlin on Monday gave the latest in a series of regular updates on progress of relocating residents of the Spruces.
 
That process began with 66 households when the town began operating under the terms of the Federal Emergency Management Agency grant. To date, 22 households have relocated from the park; five of those have remained in Williamstown. Ten more residents have identified their next home and have scheduled to move by the end of August.
 
The Selectmen are scheduled to meet again on Tuesday evening in a joint session with the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee. At the 6 p.m. meeting at the junior-senior high school, the Selectmen and School Committee will approve an appointee to serve the remaining term of committee member David Backus, who moved out of the area this spring.
 
His departure and the decision by another member of the School Committee not to stand for re-election leaves two Williamstown vacancies (in addition to one from Lanesborough) on the regional school committee. On Monday, Turbin made a pitch for town residents to submit their papers for the November election; the deadline to file signed petitions is July 22.
 
The board also asked for a volunteer to serve as the town's representative on the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission's Woodlands Partnership Committee. The BRPC is driving an initiative that would create partnerships with private landowners interested in making their property part of a network of forestland with National Forest designation.

Tags: affordable housing,   conservation commission,   conserved land,   lowry property,   public hearing,   

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