WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Williams College's plans for a new Williams Inn on Spring Street cleared one regulatory hurdle on Tuesday and face another test on Thursday at Town Hall.
The Planning Board on Tuesday gave its blessing to the 64-room inn, which the college hopes to have online by the spring of 2019.
On Thursday, the school will be before the Zoning Board of Appeals in search of a special permit for the project, which will exceed the 5,000 square foot threshold allowed in the the Village Business District.
Most of the discussion before the Planning Board revolved around its determination that the parking plan is appropriate for the hotel.
Specifically, the college is planning for 30 spaces adjacent to the inn with an additional 71 in the expanded municipal lot at the bottom of Spring Street nearby.
"Under the bylaw for the Village Business District, off-street parking isn't required for a hotel or a restaurant," Williams attorney Jamie Art told the board in a meeting telecast on the town's community access television station, WilliNet. "It is required for public assembly uses. The [planned] inn has an event space that could hold 150 to 170 individuals. That's what's triggering the parking determination.
"As a practical matter, the inn has a cohesive program to it that includes 64 hotel rooms and ancillary restaurant and event spaces and meeting spaces. People are going to park for the inn, have a meal at the restaurant, attend a wedding in the event space. It doesn't make sense to split that up."
The college looked at the off-street parking that would have been required for the inn in another location in town: 64 spaces for the hotel (one per room), 19 for the restaurant (1.5 spaces for every four seats) and 10 for employees (one space for every two employees at peak times).
By that formula, the bylaw would require 93 spaces for the same property in a different part of Williamstown.
He said the college is sensitive to concerns that have been expressed in the community about the relocation of the inn putting a stress on the available parking on Spring Street, so it is adding a little more parking than would be required under a strict reading of the bylaw.
The current public lot will have 137 spaces -- 17 more than it currently has -- according to the college's application to the Planning Board. There actually will be a net gain of just 15 spaces in the public lot, because two of the current on-street spaces across from Tunnel City Coffee are being moved inside the municipal lot, which is owned by the college but operated by the school and town.
In addition, except during peak times at the inn, the 71-space inn lot adjacent to the municipal lot will be open to the public. During peak times at the hotel, gates will restrict access to that lot.
Members of the Planning Board pressed Art about what will happen if there is an event, like a wedding, at the inn that draws additional cars beyond those associated with guests at a time when room occupancy is high.
"We've talked to the [inn's] operators about special events, and they have contingency plans," Art said. "Depending on the time of year, in coordination with the college, the operator will have lots of spaces off site. If it happens at a time when Taconic Golf Course is not in use, we can put them there. Or they can have the inn's employees park in the Weston Field lot. … Or they can shuttle people in from Poker Flats.
"We don't want to build out for parking based on special event weekends. … There are costs associated with overbuilding parking spaces. There are economic costs. There are environmental costs, and there are public design costs of having more blacktop than necessary in the downtown area."
By means of comparison, Art noted that the "old" Williams Inn on Field Park, which has about 120 rooms (depending on how many are in service) has about 150 spaces in its lot, and its restaurant is larger than that in the proposed inn.
In the end, the Planning Board voted 4-0 (with member Chris Winters, an employee of the college, abstaining) to OK the parking plan and, in a separate motion, voted 4-0 to find that the plan had adequate access, drainage and utilities.
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