WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Proponents of a zoning bylaw that will slightly expand the Village Business District again made their case at Monday's Planning Board hearing.
Taconic Golf Club is asking the town to expand the district by a little less than three acres to incorporate the land on which sits the course's clubhouse.
Currently, the clubhouse is in a residential district but is allowed to operate as an amenity to the course, a land use that predates the implementation of zoning in the town.
The problem, club officials say, is that while the club's restaurant is open to the public, such an operation is not strictly allowed in a residential zone, and the club therefore cannot promote itself as being open to the public.
A zoning change would recognize the existing business model, the club said.
"We don't see a massive shift in how we're currently doing business," Taconic facility director Jane Patton said. "We just want to make sure this facility is more … welcoming and known to the public as being welcoming and make sure it's used more.
"Right now, we are limited in whom we can market to or advertise. Right now, it's restricted primarily to golfers. Because of its proximity to Spring Street and Water Street, folks can come in and enjoy dinners there, and it functions like other businesses do."
But unlike other restaurants, the dining room at the clubhouse has a "weird status," Williams College attorney Jamie Art said.
"It's a golf course that predates zoning and also part of the college's educational exemption," Art said. The college, which owns the land and leases it to Taconic Golf Club, joined the club in asking the town to make the zoning change.
The request generated some inquiries from town residents at Monday's hearing.
John Gerry of Meacham Street, the closest abutter to the clubhouse, said Taconic always has been a good neighbor, but he was concerned about the unintended consequence of a zoning change that would allow uses of the property not contemplated by the club's current leadership.
"The club could be successful in this venture, which I hope it is, and the ownership of the club changes and the new owners have a different vision," Gerry said. "I think this is a very benign proposal at the moment, and maybe the new owners aren't as benign to the residential fabric of the community."
Patton, who also serves on the town's Board of Selectmen, sought to reassure Gerry that the current board of directors that manages the golf course has no intention of changing the operation at the clubhouse.
"I do appreciate the conversation about this because it's good for people to get it out there and understand [the issue]," she said. "This is just an opportunity for us to be more proactive in marketing and getting people there."
Art emphasized that the proposed change would allow an existing business to continue in a manner that's consistent with the law.
"From the college's perspective … there's a line out there, somewhere," Art said. "You can advertise as a golf course. You can advertise as a clubhouse that's ancillary to the golf course, but it's the tenant's obligation to comply with all the bylaws. … Advertising to non-golfers is beyond that line of ancillary use.
"It really boils down to: Can they get their message out that the restaurant and patio are amenities available even if you don't want to play golf, even if you aren't connected to the college?"
The Taconic Golf Club rezoning is one of five warrant articles generated by the Planning Board that were the subject of Monday's public hearing.
No one rose to address Article 36, which essentially cleans up the bylaws by removing a mobile home park overlay district from the former Spruces property on Main Street and applying the same overlay to an active mobile home park off Henderson Road.
Article 34, which cleans up the town's rules on off-street parking for multifamily residences and reduces the requirement for parking spaces on Spring Street, drew just one comment at the meeting, from a resident who applauded the proposed change.
"I've represented each of the last three efforts to permit multifamily housing in Williamstown," attorney Donald Dubendorf said. "In each case, if we had been compliant with the bylaw, we'd have had more parking than our experience said was needed."
As an example, Dubendorf pointed to the recently opened Cable Mills apartments on Water Street, where a 35-space south parking lot is rarely full.
Dubendorf indicated that the proposed bylaw change might not go far enough in reducing the burden on developers to provide off-street parking, but it it is a start.
"The numbers I see used more broadly in other jurisdictions are something like 1.25 spaces [per unit]," Dubendorf said. "This proposes 1.3 per unit."
The biggest change in the Planning Board's plans to come out of Monday's hearing concerning Article 35, which would have rezoned 17 acres of town-owned land near the Green River from Limited Industrial to General Residence.
The rationale for the change is that the commercial zoning was a vestige from a time when the all of Water Street was zoned industrial. And back in the 1960s, the town envisioned a small industrial park on the land.
Today, the Planning Board argued, no one is talking about developing the site commercially.
Selectmen Jeffrey Thomas, who chaired the town's Economic Development Committee in 2015, asked the Planning Board to reconsider its proposal to May's annual town meeting. Thomas argued that Williamstown has precious little developable land, and it would be a mistake to wipe any of it off the zoning map — regardless of whether there is immediate potential for development.
"I'm not advocating for smokestacks, but light industry and the things advocated in the 1963 Master Plan are things many of us would like to see happen," Thomas said. "It seems to me this is a failure of imagination. I don't know how it could be developed, but I'd sure like to leave it as a possibility."
Planning Board member Chris Winters suggested that instead of simply rezoning the Green River parcel, the panel challenge by finding equivalent acreage in town to rezone commercial at the same time.
With that in mind, the Planning Board voted 5-0 to recommend that the May 16 annual town meeting table Article 35 and return to the idea at a future town meeting when such a swap could be proposed.
The board also voted unanimously to recommend the town approve the articles concerning off-street parking, the Taconic Golf Club clubhouse and the mobile home park overlay districts.
The Planning Board vote was 4-1 in favor of passing Article 37, the pot bylaw the planners amended at Monday's hearing.
The Board of Selectmen is expected to vote its advisory positions on the zoning bylaw proposals and all town meeting warrant articles at its April 10 meeting.
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