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Planning Board members Elizabeth McGowan,left, Chairwoman Amy Jeschawitz and Sarah Gardner consider a property subdivision prior to Tuesday's discussion of the Waubeeka Overlay proposal.

Williamstown Planning Board Considers Waubeeka Rewrite

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Planning Board on Tuesday began hashing out compromise language on the zoning bylaw that would allow a hotel to be built at Waubeeka Golf Course.

But after the board's discussion ended, the attorney for Waubeeka's owner indicated a key aspect of the board's current bylaw remains unacceptable.

Town Manager Jason Hoch introduced the draft to the board as a "starting off" point to reset the discussion that became increasingly contentious before the board's decision to stop working on its own bylaw in January and became even more rancorous after proponents of the hotel idea put a bylaw on the annual town meeting warrant by citizens' petition.

Under the draft amendment crafted by Hoch and Community Development Director Andrew Groff, the overlay district would allow for up 20,000 square feet of buildings on the property with the possibility to build out to 50,000 square feet if the owner puts a proportionate amount of land into conservation restrictions.

Afterward, attorney Stanley Parese indicated that the idea of a conservation restriction is, as he told the Planning Board months ago, a "non-starter."

"Clearly, there is absolutely no way the entire golf course is going into a conservation restriction," Parese said. "We've said that at every turn.

"The basic tradeoff is — and you can pull out the Cranwell restriction and look it up — when there are CRs, there are sales of residential units. We're talking about a 95 or 96 percent restriction [in acreage] with no residential sales allowed."

The Town Hall proposal (technically an amendment to the existing citizens' petition warrant article, but it basically would scrap the existing language) states that any development above the 20,000 square foot mark would trigger a requirement to put 67 acres in conservation. For every 4 acres over that 67 acres, the developer could build an additional 1,000 square feet, with a cap of 50,000 square feet.

That means a 50,000 square foot building would require 187 acres to be placed in conservation — the initial 67 acres plus 120 acres, or four times 30.

The entire property is about 200 acres, which means that except for the building envelope itself, effectively the entire property would need to have a CR in order to build out to the maximum allowable square footage.

Planning Board member Ann McCallum, whom Hoch credited with being "really helpful late in the process," characterized the bylaw's "Conservation Bonus" as a win-win that satisfies pro-development and pro-conservation camps.

"If you want to go bigger than [20,000 square feet], then you have to start preserving land," McCallum said. "We give you this, you have to give something the townspeople want. You get the 20,000 for free."

The discussion on the board broke down along familiar lines, with McCallum, Elizabeth McGowan and Sarah Gardner advocating for the idea of maintaining a CR requirement. Chris Winters and Chairwoman Amy Jeschawitz disagreed that the bylaw should force the landowner to put a CR on his or her land, and Jeschawitz argued that the 20,000 "free" square feet are insufficient.

"The numbers are placeholders," Groff said. "I did more research on square footage after those numbers were written."

In supporting data provided to the board, Groff reported that the current Waubeeka buildings, a club and pro shop and maintenance shed, total nearly half the 20,000 baseline in the draft amendment (9,989 square feet). Pittsfield Country Club, which has no rooms but has a large function space, has 22,780 square feet. In the past, Deep has said a banquet facility is part of his vision of a Waubeeka development.

Groff's research showed that Williamstown's two largest hotels currently, the Williams Inn and the Orchards, have about 75,000 and 51,000 square feet, respectively. Williams College's current plans for a replacement to the Williams Inn is about 50,000 square feet with 65 standard-sized hotel rooms, a 200-seat function space, a restaurant and bar.

"That gives us a general idea of what you get for 50,000 square feet," McCallum said. "That seems like as good a place to start as any."

"To me, the 20,000 is too small," Jeschawitz said. "I would like to see that number be higher.

"In order to get the adequate square footage, then you have to conserve the entire property. I'm not comfortable with that. It should be a choice. It shouldn't be a given that you have to do that."

McGowan pointed out that the 20,000 square foot figure was inserted in the draft before additional research was done, and Jeschawitz agreed that the board should hash out specific square footage numbers at a subsequent meeting.

McGowan also noted that some sort of provision for conserving land might be necessary to get an overlay proposal the two-thirds majority it needs to pass at town meeting.

"What we're trying to do is create an amendment that can be made on the floor [of town meeting] that will pass by a two-thirds vote," she said. "We heard from the applicant in a public hearing. We've heard from dozens of people in the neighborhood who want to preserve the golf course. We want to support the development of an inn … but there's another group that wants to protect the scenic views and the environment.

"To make everyone happy, there has to be some sort of protection put in at some point in the bylaw. … We do have to expand this 20,000 square foot number. We want to keep the applicant happy. We want to keep the long-term viability of the golf course people happy. And we have to keep the conservation people happy.

"In the big picture, we have to keep those three important aspects of this project in mind."

"Well said," Jeschawitz said.

The board did not entertain any public comment on Tuesday but promised to do so at its next meeting on April 28.

Tags: bylaws,   commercial zoning,   conservation restriction,   motels, hotels,   town meeting 2016,   waubeeka,   

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