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Williamstown Planners Looking at Possible Bylaw Amendments

by Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Planning Board used its monthly meeting on Tuesday to continue its ongoing discussions about potential proposals for bylaw amendments to bring to town meeting.
The board hopes to have at least one proposal ready to go in time for a prospective special town meeting in November to decide whether to expand the Mount Greylock Regional School District to include Williamstown Elementary and Lanesborough Elementary.
Among the topics the panel is considering: creating more options for assisted living and amending the "mother-in-law" apartment bylaw town meeting passed in 2012.
Although the town has one assisted-living facility, Sweetwood, there are other models for such facilities that are not allowed under the town's bylaw, Town Planner Andrew Groff told the board, as broadcast on public access station WilliNet.
"[Developers] call our office and want to figure out what's possible," Groff said. "After having multiple conversations over the years with folks interested in this type of business, it's clear our bylaw is very specific to one business model defined by the state, and there are all sorts of models out there now."
The so-called "mother-in-law apartment" bylaw, which allowed creation of a second dwelling unit on a residential building lot, has been little used since it was passed because, the planners believe, it is too restrictive.
"The biggest problem is on pre-existing non-conforming buildings and lots, you cannot convert a structure," Groff said. "That takes out a whole section of the heart of the walking part of Williamstown."
Much of the town's General Residence zone consists of homes that predate zoning and that are built too close to one another — i.e. non-conforming — per the bylaw.
"Since this passed in 2012, we get about five or six [requests] per year," Groff said. "Those numbers have been going down because some of the askers of that question are local contractors, and they know the rules now. They see it in the field and say, 'Nope, you can't do it.' "
In addition to those prospective zoning changes, the Planning Board on Tuesday heard an appeal to amend the bylaw to allow co-housing developments like the Blackinton Village project in neighboring North Adams.
One of the developers of that project, Williamstown resident Jane Shiyah, told the Planning Board that there is strong interest in the town for the housing model, which allows residents to cluster together in individually owned units that share amenities and green space.
"The problem with our zoning laws for multifamily housing ... is they demand you have a certain large amount of road frontage per unit and a large amount of land per unit," Planner Ann McCallum said. "When you put eight units together, you get no benefit from the cluster approach."
Shiyah noted that the co-housing model is growing nationally and could address one of the town's current priorities: housing that allows residents to age in place.
"There are close to 200 [projects] in the country," Shiyah said. "Northampton has three now. Amherst has two. … The biggest growing space in co-housing is age-in-place housing.
"If a co-housing development was built in Williamstown, we'd have a waiting list."

Tags: bylaws,   Planning Board,   town meeting,   zoning,   

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Mount Greylock Committee Hears Concerns About Turf Field Plan

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff

Rubber infill from the turf field at Weston Field adheres to a reporter's leg after a minute lying down on the surface to take a photo.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock School Committee last week declined to slow plans for installing an artificial turf field at the middle-high school but members noted that there is still time to weigh health and environmental concerns before shovels go into the ground.
The full School Committee earlier in the spring authorized the Phase 2 grounds subcommittee to put the turf field out to bid this summer.
Since that time, committee members have heard from a number of residents concerned about studies that have linked "infill" materials in used in turf fields to higher rates of cancer and environmental contamination due to runoff from those fields.
"Some of the chemicals found in crumb rubber are known to cause cancer," a fact sheet from the Toxics Use Reduction Institute at University of Massachusetts at Lowell reads in part. "Because of the large number of chemicals present in the infill, as well as the health effects of individual chemicals, crumb rubber made from recycled tires is the option that likely presents the most concerns related to chemical exposures."
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