Williamstown Planning Board Discusses Master Plan Revision

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Planners Carol Stein-Payne, left, Ann McCallum and Amy Jeschawitz. Jeschawitz is pushing the board to overhaul the 2002 Master Plan.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The newest member of the Planning Board on Tuesday pushed the panel to take up some old business.
Amy Jeschawitz, who was elected to the board in May, advocated for a major overhaul of the town's Master Plan, which was drafted in 2002.
The document came up in the context of the board's review of "Sustainable Berkshires," a report issued this spring by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.
Board member Carol Stein-Payne suggested that some of the issues in the BRPC report could be addressed through modifications to the town's subdivison zoning regulations — a discussion the Planning Board began in March.
"To me, that all goes back to the Master Plan," Jeschawitz said. "I know I'm new, but it all still flows into having a Master Plan. The way I see things is there are all these pieces to a puzzle, but the puzzle's never going to work until you put it all together."
Ann McCallum said she appreciated Jeschawitz's energy but pointed out that drafting a Master Plan is a major undertaking.
"The last time, it was a huge effort," McCallum said, recalling the public hearings involved in creating the 2002 document.
"It can be revised," Jeschawitz said. "It doesn't need to be redone. What I'd like to see is to have community members in our audience. In order for us to move forward as a town ... we need to have input from the community.
"It's going to take the Select Board and the Zoning Board. We all need to work together and all need to be on the same page."
Town Planner Andrew Groff told the board that the BRPC document gives the town a good head start toward generating a revised Master Plan. Ultimately, the responsibility for writing that plan lies with Planning Board.
"It's your plan," Groff said. "You own it as a Planning Board, and you can revise it from time to time as you see fit. If you choose to do so, you've got to have a public participation process from a broad swath of the community."
Groff, who also staffs the town's Conservation Commission, said that in addition to public hearings that are not always well attended, the board could consider other ways to gather public input.
"Last year, when [the Con Comm] worked with Sarah Gardner's class on the recreation aspect of the Open Space and Recreation Plan, we did a survey and got a phenomenal response rate," he said. "One of the things the [Williams College] students did well was, in trying to reach out to two target groups, school-age children and seniors, they did focus groups with seniors at the Harper Center and at Williamstown Elementary School and Mount Greylock."
McCallum pointed out that the Planning Board did do extensive work over the last year updating the action plan portion of the town's Master Plan — deciding what objectives had been achieved since the 2002 document and which are no longer relevant.
And while no one disagreed with Jeschawitz's main point, Stein-Payne said the Planning Board has other priorities it needs to address while it conducts any work on the Master Plan.
"I admire the idea of redoing the overall Master Plan, but let's sink our teeth into some real projects," she said.
McCallum said that while the town currently does not have much interest from developers looking to build subdivisions, that could be changing.
"We're a bellwether in our architecture firm," she said. "Over the past three years we've had maybe six to 10 new houses [in Berkshire County]. And in the past six weeks, we've had inquiries about 10 new houses. That's a huge difference.
"Maybe we will get some subdivision interest."

Tags: master plan,   Planning Board,   

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