Jeffrey Thomas conducts his first meeting as chairman of the Williamstown Select Board.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The on-again, off-again bicycle trail project through the Village Beautiful is back on again.
Town Manager Jason Hoch told the Select Board on Monday that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation once again has broken the Williamstown leg of the trail off from the North Adams project, reversing a course the state agency announced this spring.
Town officials credited public pressure, including dozens of letters from concerned Williamstown residents, with prompting the change.
"It had been Syndicate Road to the Spruces and a separate project from the edge of the Spruces to the airport in North Adams, and the state opted to put them together, now they've decided to separate them," Hoch said. "This is due in part to the strong support of the [Berkshire Metropolitan Planning Organization]. Thanks to them and everyone in the area who reminded DOT how important this project is."
"The MPO's letter said they had received 87 letters from this community, more letters than they ever received on a matter," Select Board Chairman Jeffrey Thomas noted.
"Democracy worked," said Select Board member Andrew Hogeland, who serves on the MPO.
Hoch said the town now needs to line up a series of rights of way that will allow for construction of the trail. He anticipates a narrowly focused special town meeting in the fall to accomplish that objective.
"It's technically a town meeting, but it's here [at Town Hall] and no one comes," Hogeland said, referring to past single-item special town meetings on technicalities.
"If 80 people are writing letters, someone will come," Hoch joked.
Williamstown has been coordinating its efforts to build a trail through the former mobile home park with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which holds a conservation restriction on the Spruces property.
But Hoch noted that North Adams has its "own FEMA" to deal with, in the form of the Federal Aviation Administration, which has jurisdiction at Harriman & West Airport.
"There's a federal process that has added some delay," Hoch said, referring to the North Adams leg. "They're going full steam ahead. They have more regulatory hurdles and design to finish related to the regulatory hurdles."
Hogeland said the MPO had heard it could take a couple of years to get FAA sign-off on the North Adams portion of the trail that will run about a mile from the town line at the Spruces to the new terminal building at the airport.
While the Williamstown bike trail moves toward "shovel-ready" stage, two other major projects in town are nearing completion.
Representatives from Williams College and the Williams Inn were at Monday's meeting to give the board an update on progress at the 64-room inn at the bottom of Spring Street.
General Manager Kevin Hurley of the Waterford Group told the board that the inn is on track to be receiving guests on Aug. 15 and that he hopes to have an open house for the community prior to that opening day.
The inn will have two full suites among the 64 rooms. Thirty-eight of the rooms will have two queen beds, and 20 will have one king bed. A couple of smaller rooms will have one queen bed, and there will be four suites: two "junior king" and two "king suites."
It also will have a 62-seat restaurant and bar and a 2,800-square-foot ballroom that will seat 180 people or 150 with a dance floor, Hurley said.
Outside the restaurant, which will be located in the red barn-like wing on the east side of the inn, there will be 3,500 square feet of green space that will be available for outdoor functions, Hurley said.
"I'm really proud and excited to be here representing the Waterford Group and the Williams Inn and honoring the legacy of the Faulkners," Hurley said, referring to Marilyn and Carl Faulkner, from whom the college purchased the business in 2014 after a period during which the school owned the land that houses the current inn but not the name Williams Inn.
The town's other high-profile opening this year will be ready for "guests" in July when the Williamstown Police Department moves to its new station on Simonds Road (Route 7). Hoch told the Select Board that first of two "punch list" walk-throughs are scheduled for this Thursday, June 13, and that a July 9 move-in is scheduled.
In other business Monday, the Select Board: supported a resolution continuing the designation of the town's Cultural District with the Massachusetts Cultural Council; appointed Robert Matthews to a position on the Zoning Board of Appeals; approved a one-day all-alcohol license for the Trustees of Reservations for an event at Field Farm on July 25; recognized the town's Employee of the Year, Sam White from the Milne Public Library; approved an easement on the Williamstown Fire District's property on Main Street; approved a Hazard Mitigation Plan for the town that already has passed muster with FEMA officials; and discussed what worked and what didn't about the town's first foray into use of a "consent agenda" at the annual town meeting in May.
One takeaway from the last conversation was an intention to reorder the articles on the town meeting warrant for more effective bundling. Another was to provide more explanation to residents about the meaning of each article within the bundles.
Also, following up on one of the few items "held" by the meeting members at the May 21 meeting, Hogeland and Hugh Daley suggested that the Mount Greylock Regional School District budget appropriation be kept outside the consent agenda.
Daley said someone from the district should present the budget to voters from the floor of the meeting.
"Almost nobody goes to School Committee meetings," Daley said, referring not only to the meetings where the budget is constructed but to the annual March or April public hearings mandated by state law. "Present it to the School Committee as an opportunity to tell your member town how the district is doing. … It's 60 to 70 percent of the [town's] budget. Our expectation should be that you show up and tell us how you got to this number."
The Select Board also heard from a group of concerned senior residents who questioned what they characterized as inconsistent and incomplete posting of town meeting notices at the Harper Center.
Speaking for the group, Joan Fitzpatrick Diver told the board that a survey of senior centers across the commonwealth found that most of them post agendas for public meetings and indicated that the users of the Harper Center were not being given adequate access to postings.
Hoch explained that the town has one legal requirement for posting meeting — on the bulletin board outside the front door of Town Hall — and that it is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The town also provides "convenience postings," including at the Harper Center and on the town's website, which usually also includes a trove of supporting documents on agenda items.
Hoch said he understands that postings on the bulletin board at the town's senior center sometimes have had to "compete" with other notices. To address that problem, the town recently acquired a locking cabinet with a clear front designated only for meeting notices.
"Again, these are convenience postings, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do them," Hoch said. "We have every intention of continuing to do that."
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