Williamstown Selectmen Vote Opinion on Town Meeting Articles
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen on Monday unanimously recommended that town meeting approve a zoning change that would allow Williams College to proceed with a planned hotel at the bottom of Spring Street.
But in response to issues raised by a resident opposed to the project, members of the board were quick to note that the expansion of the Village Business District is the first of several town approvals that would be needed before the creation of a new Williams Inn.
Roger Lawrence of South Street asked the board to "slow this juggernaut" and recommend against the zoning change, which will require a two-thirds vote at the May 17 annual town meeting.
Lawrence argued that the proposed location of the new inn would create parking and traffic issues on Spring Street, which already is too congested during peak traffic times.
He said the college is not planning for enough parking to accommodate hotel guests, employees, restaurant guests and users of a proposed 200-person event space.
"That burden will be accommodated off-site, and that means Spring Street," Lawrence said.
He also challenged a college-commissioned parking study.
"I hope this [parking study] wasn't done by the same outfit that did the parking plan for the Clark Art Institute," Lawrence said. "We have a precedent in our town for a large nonprofit to get it wrong in a way that hurts residents of the town."
College attorney Jamie Art said the college is aware of Lawrence's concerns and interested in addressing them to minimize any negative impacts.
"The expansion of the Village Business District does not mean that the inn at the bottom of Spring Street gets built without further municipal review," Art said. "There will be at least three public hearings before three public boards where all these concerns — parking, traffic, impact on neighbors — things the college is already working on, will be addressed.
"The college will spend a lot of time developing concrete answers to the very real concerns."
As for the parking needs of the hotel, Art said the college's current plan refers to the town's regulations for parking at a hotel the size of the facility proposed.
"But the [Zoning Board of Appeals] might say, 'We're concerned about impacts on parking … and as a special condition, we may force you to alter that plan,' " Art said. " 'We may force you to have contingency plans for peak events.' Those are real concerns. But those are concerns that will be addressed as part of the permitting process."
Chairwoman Jane Patton said she appreciated Lawrence's concerns, but she echoed Art's sentiment that the time to hash through specifics of a building project is during the special permit process.
"Remember that this amendment does not create a 'golden ticket' and an end run around anything," Patton said. "I believe very much in creating possibilities and opportunities. There are enough … pitfalls that can come up and enough double checks and rechecks and opportunities to vote and make sure this does not turn into a juggernaut.
"But to manufacture obstacles to growth and revenue … All kinds of good things can happen from this as well."
As expected, the Selectmen tabled its recommendation on another hotel-related zoning change on the annual town meeting warrant. The board decided to hold off on its advisory vote on the proposed Waubeeka Overlay District until the Planning Board has a chance to consider amendments to the proposal placed on the town meeting warrant by citizen's petition.
"I think the town has been universally willing to do the country inn process that Mike [Deep] originally proposed," said Selectman Andrew Hogeland, who argued against recommending the citizen's petition warrant article at last month's Planning Board hearing. "I would encourage the Planning Board to be receptive [to an amendment discussion] tomorrow night. I think the petition as currently written is not going to be acceptable to the town."
Board reviewed all the town meeting warrant articles, recommending approval of everything except the aforementioned Waubeeka article.
Town Manager Jason Hoch provided the board with an explanation of one item: Article 29, which revises the lease authorization for a ground-mounted solar photovoltaic installation at the town-owned landfill.
Town meeting will be asked to revisit an issue it settled in 2014 in light of changes in the regulatory and financial landscape that have occurred in the interim, Hoch said. The 2014 warrant article authorized the town manager to negotiate an agreement with a "commercial solar developer." The 2016 warrant article would change that language to allow an agreement with "a solar developer, commercial or otherwise."
"This gives me a little more flexibility to make sure we get a deal to move that project forward," Hoch told the board.
The board also appointed two new members to the board of the Affordable Housing Trust: Liz Costley and Patrick Quinn.
And Patton, with much enthusiasm, read a proclamation to recognize Arbor Day in the town on April 29. Selectwoman Anne O'Connor used the moment to recommend that the town explore a plan to replant trees that have been lost on the Town Green along Main Street, or Route 2, from the Field Park rotary west.
"You can see stumps of trees that died and needed to be removed," O'Connor said. "I can remember as a child sitting on a bench in Field Park looking down Main Street at all the elm trees ... sadly lost to Dutch elm disease."
Hoch agreed it is worth looking at how the town might be able to replant in the area.
Tags: arbor day, commercial zoning, overlay districts, town meeting 2016, waubeeka, Williams College,
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