WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The committee that oversees the town's fire district voted unanimously Wednesday afternoon to enter into a purchase and sales agreement for a 3.7-acre Main Street parcel where officials hope to build a new fire station.
Prudential Committee Chairman John Notsley told his colleagues that the negotiated price this time around is $400,000 with the estate of Kurt Lehovec for the parcel next door to the new Aubuchon Hardware (the former Agway) on Route 2.
"The assessed value, with the buildings off of it, is $382,800," Notsley said. "That would equate to $6,833 in tax revenue between the fire district and the town. … The previous assessed value, with the buildings, was $256,300.
"What I'm looking for today is a vote to pursue a purchase and sales agreement, contingent on a two-thirds vote at a special fire district meeting in the early fall. This is step one. We need the land."
The Prudential Committee has taken this step before, twice calling a special district meeting in 2013 to approve a $575,000 expenditure for the same property. Both times, the question failed to reach the two-thirds "super majority" needed for approval.
"We just feel very strongly this is the ideal location, and we hate like hell to lose it," Notsley said. "We thought we'd lost it with the advent of the hotel going in there. … Due to the fact it did come back on the market, we didn't hesitate."
The hotel proposal in question was denied a needed special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals in the spring. Notsley said that denial prompted him to go back to the owners to negotiate a new purchase and sales agreement.
Notsley said that as a resident of the Colonial Village neighborhood, he did get involved with the efforts of many of those residents to object to the hotel proposal. But he has approached several of his neighbors about the prospect of locating a new fire house on the site.
"I have talked to a few of the individuals in the neighborhood who were vocal against that project," Notsley said. "I told them our plans — our thoughts anyway. The response I got from a few of the principals was very favorable."
Wednesday's special meeting of the Prudential Committee was attended by a few members of the community who had questions for the panel before it took its vote to move forward on the land acquisition.
Dan Gendron, who was one of the voices asking the district to slow down back in 2013, emphasized that he agrees the current station is inadequate but asked again that the fire district — a separate taxing entity apart from town government — work with Town Hall on addressing its needs.
"I think a lot can be gained by making it a point to meet with town officials, meet with the Planning Board, meet with our town planner," said Gendron, who serves on the town's Finance Committee. "There's no question in my mind that you need different infrastructure. I've always said that. I may not have liked the site or something.
"More can be accomplished this time if hands really reach across the aisle. The town has lots of resources, and there may be places you can save money."
The committee members said they are consulting with experts in the field of fire station construction, a Connecticut engineering firm involved with projects across Massachusetts, but also noted that the district intends to work with town officials where appropriate.
"We've been doing that in the background with the town people," Prudential Committee member Ed Briggs said. "There are no secrets here. Before we go to a [district] vote, we will certainly have everybody in Town Hall on board with us.
"Building a fire station is like building a church or a hospital. You need someone who has experience."
Planning Board member Amy Jeschawitz and Selectwoman Anne O'Connor also attended Wednesday's Prudential Committee meeting.
Jeschawitz reminded the fire officials that they will have to convince voters of the need for a new station in order to win the land vote this time around.
"I'm not clear on what the needs are versus what the wants are," Jeschawitz said. "I think that would be something, going forward, you should get out there to the public.
"I believe in the process of planning with community support. The more that you can get that information out there and educate the public, you'll end up with a better outcome."
O'Connor, who stressed that she was not attending as a representative of the Board of Selectmen, said that panel would be "eager" to have ideas brought to it.
"I don't question at all the idea of purchasing the land," O'Connor said. "It's more of a question of getting the word out."
Fire District Clerk/Treasurer Corydon Thurston said the Prudential Committee is prepared to do what it has to do to explain its needs to the community.
"On behalf of this group, they've learned a little from the first experience," Thurston said. "They've learned some from the town's Public Safety Study Committee.
"The opportunity to grab this piece of land was paramount, and there's some urgency because there's the potential for other suitors. I can assure you, on the contingency side, prior to purchase, the first contingency is the necessary district approval."
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