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The Planning Board is considering changes to the town's standards for exterior lighting.

Williamstown Planning Board Looking at Lighting Regulations

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Planning Board is looking at whether to propose modifications to the town’s standards for exterior lighting.
At the board’s June 13 meeting, planner Chris Kapiloff told his colleagues that he and Ann McCallum hope to bring a recommendation back to the full panel as soon as September.
Kapiloff said the two-person working group has engaged Williams College and the Williamstown Fire District, which is responsible for street lighting in the community.
Kapiloff said the college already had a plan in motion to help create “softer, less piercing” lighting around the campus, which abuts various residential neighborhoods.
“I was not surprised that this is something Williams has not only been thinking about but actively doing,” Kapiloff said. “They’ve changed lights all over campus. They directed Ann and I to places where there is literally one building where the lights have been changed next to one where they have not so we can see the difference between them.”
Kapiloff, who at Tuesday’s meeting was elected the board’s chairman for 2017-18, said that any changes proposed to the town’s code would have to balance the desire to lower “light pollution” with the need to maintain public safety.
“It could probably be possible for our committee to go overboard with its recommendation,” Kapiloff said. “We have to keep the town safe, and lighting is a big part of that at night as well.
“We have had some input. We’ve printed hundreds of pages of reading material to see what other towns and cities throughout the country have done.”
Chris Winters and Kapiloff both expressed an aspiration that the town could reduce its street lighting if the Fire District thinks such a move is possible.
“It’s striking flying over the countryside and noting just how many street lights are lighting up huge swaths of nothing for eight hours at night, wasting tons of energy,” Winters said in a meeting telecast on the town’s community access television station, WilliNet. “They would seem to be relics of the past when there was, perhaps, need for light in those locations but not anymore.
“It would be nice to try to rationalize the street lighting in Williamstown, but it will require, of course, coordination with the Fire District.”
Kapiloff agreed and emphasized the need to generate a consensus before bylaw changes are proposed.
“We’re trying to rope in as big a group as we can,” he said. “I think it’s really important to take a reading of where the town is at the beginning of what we do so we don’t reach for too much and end up not accomplishing anything.”
Earlier this year, the Planning Board launched a community conversation to try to build consensus for changes to the housing bylaw that might allow more diversity of housing options in town.
On Tuesday, Town Planner Andrew Groff and Amy Jeschawitz related their experience sharing the initial results of the board’s study at a conference hosted by the Massachusetts Housing Partnership.
The town is using an MHP grant to hire consultants to look at the bylaw and gather community input.
“Where I see this going currently is I’d like to take the results we got from that community outreach process, the information that was compiled by [consultant] Jen Goldson and work on really trying to pull apart the bylaw and try to figure out how we can apply those lessons,” Groff said. “So in the fall, we’d be well positioned to have a proposal ready and have Jen come back and help us facilitate a community conversation around that proposal.
“As we’ve seen before, we’re clearly going to get more community response when there’s something concrete for people to toss back and forth.”
Planner Susan Puddester volunteered to join Jeschawitz on a working group to develop ideas to bring to the full board for consideration.
As soon as its next meeting, the Planning Board may see the fruits of a District Local Technical Assistance grant it received to look at land-use regulations related to agriculture.
On Tuesday, Jeschawitz told her colleagues she and Groff had met with representatives of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission about a possible “ag overlay district.”
“That doesn’t mean that’s what it’s going to be, Jeschawitz said. “For lack of a better term, that’s how we phrased it.”
The intent is to help promote agriculture in the town, and the Planning Board and BRPC plan to engage the town’s Agricultural Commission in the discussion, Jeschawitz said.
“This is something we’ve talked about the last couple of years in fits and starts: how we can help the agricultural community business-wise,” Jeschawitz said.

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