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Commissioners Richard Schlesinger and Sarah Gardner.

Chairman Philip McKnight, left, and Commissioner Robert Hatton listen to testimony on Thursday night.

Williamstown Con Comm to Issue Statement on Lowry, Burbank Status

By Stephen Dravis
iBerkshires Staff
03:41AM / Monday, August 18, 2014
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Conservation Commission is close to producing documents that it hopes will add clarity to the status of some of the lands under its control.
 
The commission this summer has been addressing the lingering controversy surrounding the Lowry and Burbank properties, which last year were discussed as possible locations for replacement senior housing for the Spruces Mobile Home Park.
 
Although that debate stalled when the Board of Selectmen withdrew a formal request to the commission to consider releasing the parcels for development, their status is still a point of contention — and not a new one.
 
"The history of Lowry in particular and Burbank ... was that very soon after the 1987 Town Meeting ... the Board of Selectmen started talking about using those properties for affordable housing," Commissioner Hank Art said on Thursday.
 
To help inform any future discussions, commission Chairman Philip McKnight on Thursday suggested the panel author documents that lay out the histories of each of the properties under its control, including Lowry and Burbank.
 
"The statement will be a historical delineation of how the property came into the possession of the town and any restrictions," McKnight said.
 
"That sort of historical record would be an aid to those who might want to look at the provenance of the properties. We could put that kind of statement on the land records."
 
Then McKnight added, "It would not try to draw legal conclusions that would be subject to later judicial action."
 
Art and Commissioners Sarah Gardner and Robert Hatton took exception to the last part and pressed McKnight to go a step further.
 
"If it's just the facts, it's nice, but we're not adding much to the level of protection," Gardner said. "We started out, I thought, wanting to make it clear the land is in the care, custody, management and control of the Con Comm."
 
McKnight responded that while the Con Comm can draw a conclusion from the facts, its decision is not enforceable.
 
"I feel like if we're just presenting the facts, it's so wishy-washy we're adding little value," Gardner said.
 
Art, who communicated on behalf of the Con Comm with the attorney general's office last year during the height of the controversy, said that based on those conversations and his own research, he has no doubt both Lowry and Burbank fall under the protection of Article 97 of the commonwealth's constitution. The attorney general's office never gave a specific opinion one way or the other.
 
Art said he did not understand why Town Counsel Joel Bard reached the conclusion last year that Lowry was not protected by Article 97.
 
"In contradiction to what town counsel said about the Lowry property originally being purchased for a secondary school, the town on May 12 [1987] said that's not the purpose of the land," Art said. "The [Town] Moderator admonished the voters, saying if you vote for this, it would be much more difficult changing the use in the future.
 
"Frankly, I don't know how the town counsel came up with his [March 2013] opinion, but I take it as an opinion. We cannot sue the town as a town commission, but we need to take a stand on this."
 
McKnight was persuaded that the Con Comm should take such a stand and agreed to incorporate it into the draft statement that he will bring to its next meeting.
 
"This is a lingering issue, and I'd hate to see it linger any longer," Art said.
 
In other business on Thursday night, the Conservation Commission:
 
Allowed Bruce Beverly to build a driveway and single family home on a lot on Summer Street.
 
•  Allowed Niels Oleson to replace a single family home and install a new septic system at 147 Old Mill Road.
 
Granted a request from Williams College to install data cable at Cole Field that will facilitate webcasting of sporting events from the venue.
 
•  Allowed the college to make repairs and improvements to Coles Grove Road.
 
Issued a certificate of compliance to the owners of the 1896 House on Cold Spring Road. The owners wanted the Con Comm to confirm they complied with a 2001 order from the commission in order to pave the way for the sale of the property this month. During a site visit to the inn, Art found an unrelated issue (the location of a large propane tank near Hemlock Brook), which he asked town Conservation Agent Andrew Groff to look into.
 
Gave its OK for the college to use a portion of the Weston Field complex (the field hockey field) for practice before a final certificate of occupancy is given on Sept. 5. The town's building department sought the Con Comm's guidance before giving its permission for the partial use of the complex because of stormwater issues over which the the commission has jurisdiction.
 
Discussed making further improvements to Margaret Lindley Park, namely trail improvements, now that the commission's restoration of the bath house is complete.

Tags: conservation commission,   conserved land,   lowry property,   

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