WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Conservation Commission on Thursday heard feedback from the town's consulting engineer on Williams College's application to build a new Williams Inn and decided to continue the hearing on the project for at least one more week.
The college came to Thursday's meeting hoping the Con Comm would finalize its orders of conditions for the inn and associated expansion and renovation of the Spring Street municipal parking lot.
But one of the proposed conditions left too much ambiguity in the opinion of the commissioners.
The project team had proposed that the committee approve the project on Thursday night subject to final verification by the town's consultant engineer that the project plans incorporated all of his comments.
Consultant David Nyman of Comprehensive Environmental Incorporated attended Thursday's meeting and told the Con Comm he believed the plans were being modified as he recommended, but he had not seen the final drawings that incorporated the changes.
That being the case, Commissioners Philip McKnight and Lauren Stevens each expressed his reluctance to give a final OK to the project.
"I'd recommend to the commission that whatever we do tonight as we do through these documents, we eventually get a letter from Mr. Nyman, a letter addressed to us that says he is satisfied that all the comments he has raised have been properly and adequately taken care of so we know from our expert that we can proceed to the orders of conditions," McKnight said. "You can't do that because [Nyman] can't do the letter tonight. What we can do tonight is understand how you have worked with [engineer Charlie LaBatt of Guntlow & Associates].
"We need that in writing because that's the only basis on which I'll be comfortable closing the hearing."
LaBatt, who did most of the talking for the project's team, said that the details remaining to be ironed out were things that Nyman and the team could finalize after the bulk of the inn and parking lot work is under way.
"One of the main reasons we've constructed this kind of condition is that really the only outstanding item is the stream design construction, an item that in the construction portion of it won't be started for more than a year," LaBatt said, referring to the relocation of an intermittent stream on the grounds of the inn. "That's something where it would be nice to have more conversation back and forth -- unlike other stuff that could start in a couple of weeks.
"Realistically, the foundations we are hoping to start in October, but the stream work is a next year type of thing."
But since all of the work was part of one Notice of Intent to the commission and had one file number with the Department of Environmental Protection, the board could not break it into sections for approval purposes. And it was unwilling to act on faith when it came to OK'ing the project.
"At this point, it looks like they've addressed all the comments," Nyman said. "They addressed them in the letter. What I haven't seen is the plans and the calculations in a finished form."
That was a major sticking point.
"My concern is that to put [Nyman's] sign-off into a condition we would vote this evening means it has not been obtained yet," McKnight said. "There needs to be no doubt that Mr. LaBatt … and Mr. Nyman are in agreement."
Another member of the commission asked McKnight why Nyman's verbal assurances were not sufficient.
"Because he can't say that," McKnight said. "He hasn't seen the plans.
"I would prefer we get the documents first. These things can always be changed by additional thoughts and additional research. … We can [close the hearing] if we want to and say other items can be taken care of subsequently, but 'subsequently' often leads to difficulties."
"This came with a 630-page Notice of Intent," he said. "We got 11 pages of comments on it and got two documents this afternoon. We're doing the right thing by trying to oblige this, but it's reasonable that we not act on it tonight. This is obviously a complicated project that touches on all the resource areas for which this group has jurisdiction."
The Con Comm's next regularly scheduled meeting is Sept. 28, but with the mandatory 10-day appeal process that follows the town's filing of conditions with the state Department of Environmental Protection, that would delay construction until the middle of October. In order to accommodate the applicant, the commissioners pressed Nyman to see how quickly he could review the updated plans and tentatively scheduled a Sept. 21 special meeting to close the hearing.
Meanwhile, LaBatt and Nyman walked the commissioners point-by-point through the consultant's comments and how the applicant planned to address them. In the end, it was apparent there were no issues left to resolve, other than the consultant's final signoff.
"The one thing I think we need is, when this process is completed, Mr. Nyman has done all the reviews, and we receive from him a document saying that he's satisfied," McKnight said. "We are his client. We need that assurance. You don't want that appended to an order of conditions agreed to before he gives us that document, and he won't be able to give us that document for another week or so.
"To do [the orders of conditions] in advance of receiving that, we're making the assumption he'll be happy off the bat or be happy later on, and now we'd have orders of condition that [the applicant] can act on when we're not completely satisfied."
Nyman's firm, CEI, is hired by the town and paid by the applicant. The Con Comm requires independent third-party review of large scale projects like the new Williams Inn.
The Conservation Commission's approval is the final regulatory hurdle for the inn and parking lot project before the college can break ground.
In other business on Thursday, the Con Comm did issue orders of conditions and close the public hearing on another project helmed by Guntlow's LaBatt, the relocation of a foundation drain at the Clark Art Institute's Manton Research Center. The existing drain at the 1973 red-brick building has failed, causing occasional flooding in the Manton Center's basement, according to the project's NOI. Relocating the drain line involves placing it near bordering vegetative wetlands on the southeast section of the Clark's grounds.
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