Williamstown ZBA OKs Williams Science Center
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday night granted a special permit for Williams College's science quad expansion.
The board declined a request from two residents to allow more time for review of 500 pages of supporting material presented with the request.
Wanda Bubriski, a Hoxsey Street abuttor to the project, and Roger Lawrence, a resident of South Street, said the board needed to give them more time.
Lawrence's case was bolstered by his discovery on Wednesday night of a paragraph in Williams' application that directly contradicted what he heard from the board and the college's attorney at the beginning of the ZBA's public hearing on Jan. 21.
At that meeting, Lawrence was told that a town-college discussion of extending Walden Street to South Street had nothing to do with the college's planned 177,000 square foot project.
Lawrence, who lives at what would become the corner of an expanded Walden Street and South Street, expressed fears that construction traffic accessing the job site via Walden Street would disrupt his quality of life.
"Your concerns are moot," ZBA Chairman Andrew Hoar told Lawrence on Thursday, reminding him of the college's assertion at the Jan. 21 meeting.
"If that was true, I wouldn't be here today," Lawrence replied.
Lawrence then drew the board's attention to the eighth page of the college's application, a narrative that lays out the broad strokes of the project.
"The Town Manager has convened a working group to pursue a permanent extension of Walden Street to South Street," the application reads. "The college is an active participant in these conversations and will support the Town's efforts with this project. If this road is constructed before the completion of this project, construction traffic may be re-routed from Stetson Court to South Street."
"This is the only loophole I've found in this presentation, but this is a loophole you could drive a truck through, and, in fact, I think many trucks could be driven through," Lawrence said.
"That's totally acceptable," said Art, who signed the application to the ZBA on behalf of the college. "The intention of the logistics plan and the intention of that sentence was to keep construction traffic out of the Knolls, off Hoxsey Street and off the northern part of Spring Street.
"Honestly, we didn't understand your concerns until you brought them to our attention at the last meeting.
"If that needs to be stricken from the application, that's OK with us."
Prior to approving the special permit, the board made sure the paragraph was deleted for the record and included a condition that if during the expected five-year project the logistics change (i.e. if Walden Street is extended during the period), the college come back to the ZBA for further review.
Those provisions did not appear to satisfy Lawrence, who attended the meeting with an attorney, Sherwood Guernsey, whom he hired on Thursday morning.
"I only found this loophole at 10 o'clock last night," Lawrence said. "I want to petition this board to delay [its] vote until I and others who represent me have a chance to review the document."
Bubriski joined Lawrence in that request.
She used the public comment portion of Thursday's hearing to question the college's architect, civil engineer and construction manager about various aspects of the two-phase project: stormwater management, increased shadows from a taller structure than the current Bronfman Science Center and blasting required for excavation.
"For a lay person who has other things to do and is not spending all of their time reviewing this stuff, it's a lot to digest," Bubriski said of the application. "Five hundred pages — you must understand that this is really technical stuff. They've brought technical advisers from all over the state."
Art said the application was submitted on Dec. 23 and was available on the town's website. He indicated that a two-week delay would be detrimental to the college.
"The college has been very transparent," he said. "The meeting on Spring Street, mailings to all the neighbors and the college will continue to work with the neighbors on all this stuff.
"But there are construction schedules where things need to get timed to the construction season. The college has done a lot of work to communicate and listen to neighbors and respond to their concerns and will continue to take their input into consideration."
Art noted that the college will be back for another ZBA review after it finalizes plans for phase two of the project, the north building that will directly impact Bubriski's property.
"One reason [the plans are] not finalized is we want to consult with Wanda," Art said.
Guernsey told the board that his client, Lawrence, would rather have the ZBA delay its decision two weeks to allow more review than have to appeal the board's decision if more "loopholes" are discovered after the permit was approved.
Hoar said Thursday's decision was not the end of the Zoning Board's involvement.
"If a problem arose, the board would have no problem bringing the petitioner back in," Hoar said. "If you find something that was amiss on this board's part, I'd encourage you to bring it to the board's attention and we'll address it with Mr. Art."
Board member David Levine suggested that Lawrence review the document and work with the college on addressing concerns before the window closes for an appeal.
"Since there's a 20-day appeal period, why don't you agree to meet with them in 10 days, while you still have leverage?" Levine said.
In other business on Thursday, the ZBA re-established a nonconforming building lot at 33 May St. at the request of North Hoosac Road residents Ken and Diane McAlpine and granted a permit for an acupuncture and internal medicine practice at 25 Main St.
Xing Ning Chao and Shao Hua Tang appeared before the board to make the request for the former Country Peddler and Dion Money Management building near the North Adams line.
Chao told the board that ultimately the couple plans to operate both enterprises at the location but, "right now it's just acupuncture." Tang, whose medical license was suspended last month, attended the meeting but did not address the board.
Tags: science center, Williams College, ZBA,
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