Williams College attorney Jamie Art addresses the Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday continued its hearing on Williams College's applications for special permits to allow construction of a new inn and the reconfiguration of the public parking lot at the bottom of Spring Street.
The board scheduled a site visit at 4:30 and a special meeting at 7 on Monday, Aug. 21, to continue its deliberation and possibly vote on the request.
On Thursday, college attorney Jamie Art walked the board through some of the details of the project and explained what relief from bylaw requirements the college was seeking.
The parking lot project and the inn are related. As part of its plans for a 64-room new Williams Inn, the college wants to expand the existing public lot and add 71 spaces in adjacent bay that will be designated for the inn but available to the public at times when the inn is not at full capacity.
Widening the lot means, among other things, tearing down Denison Gate House, currently home to Lickety Split ice cream. Art told the ZBA that the college has offered the building to anyone interested in relocating it, but the school has had no takers.
While the parking lot is being reconfigured, the college plans to install stormwater detention basins below the lot to handle runoff from the watershed to the north and west of the lot. The site of the inn, which is located to the south of the lot has a separate plan to handle stormwater.
The current parking lot is owned by the college but operated jointly by the town and college and exists under a previously issued special permit.
Art explained that the college is asking the ZBA to modify that permit and continue some of the existing nonconformities to the bylaw allowed by the existing special permit: less than required internal plantings and parking within 15 feet of the road.
"While [the new parking lot] increases the parking capacity and while it improves the compliance with some of the standards, it will still be noncompliant parking on that parcel," Art said. "There are not enough shrubs in the interior islands. The screening around the outside of the parking lot doesn't screen to what the development standards would require. The final part is there is parking on the parcel that is within the 15-foot setback from the right of way. We're very, very close to compliance [on the setback] with this plan, so it's an improvement on that, but there are still parts where it's maybe a foot or two off."
As for the planting, Art said there are plans to put sufficient planting around the outside of the lot, but there is not enough land to satisfy the bylaw requirement for internal parking and still provide the parking capacity the town needs.
The current lot has 120 spaces. After the project is complete, the lot will have 137 spaces in the sections that will be open to the public at all times. That is a net gain in 15 parking spaces total for the area, because the two temporary on-street spots just to the east of the lot (across from Tunnel City Coffee) will be moved inside the lot according to the plan.
The college plans to have four 15-minute temporary spots total in the newly configured lot. Moving the temporary spots off the street is part of a strategy to improve pedestrian safety, Art explained.
Currently, there are concerns about the speed of traffic at the corner where Spring Street turns into Latham and concerns about sight lines for drivers and pedestrians as walkers dart between the cars and across Spring Street. Getting the cars off the street will solve the latter problem; changing the width of the road will address the former.
"Right now, when you're driving down the street, it's kind of a pedestrian free-for-all," Art said.
"[The new configuration] is a traffic calming measure," Town Planner Andrew Groff told the ZBA. "There have been a multitude of studies over the years about design, and it's the way planners and engineers are going."
The college hopes to begin work on stormwater bypass drains that will ring the new parking lot this fall and begin major construction on the parking lot itself in winter 2017-18. The plan is to do the work on the lot in two phases — first addressing the back (west) end while keeping about 100 spaces available closer to Spring Street.
"In the spring of 2018, things flip and we'll work in the [east end], and this [west end] will be paved with some binder, enough to fit about maybe 125 cars, perhaps even larger than we have on the site now," Art said. "Could that extend into the summer months? Maybe, but hopefully not."
The wild card is the length and severity of the winter of 2017-18.
Either way, the college is cognizant of the parking needs of the town, especially during the summer months. In fact, Art said, the move to relocate the Williams Inn from Field Park to a new facility on Spring Street is partly an effort to help merchants in the town's Village Business District.
"The inn proposal is part of the college's efforts to add vibrancy to the bottom of Spring Street, to replace an aging and troubled current hotel situation at the current Williams Inn and also just to try provide, hopefully, a lot of extra foot traffic for Spring Street," Art said. "Williamstown is lucky to have the college as a draw and other tourist attractions as a draw to help the merchants. Having people come to town and spend a weekend at the bottom of Spring Street will help them further."
The inn project earlier this week was approved by the town's Planning Board. The college will be before the Conservation Commission on the project on Aug. 10 for a review of the stormwater maintenance plan on the inn property.
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