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The Board of Selectmen referred a citizen's petition about a hotel at Waubeeka back to the Planning Board for a public hearing.

Petition Puts Waubeeka Question to Williamstown Town Meeting

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The voters of Williamstown will have a chance to decide whether an overlay district is created to accommodate a new hotel in South Williamstown.
 
Michael Deep, the owner of Waubeeka Golf Links, has submitted an article for the annual town meeting warrant by citizen's petition after the town's Planning Board decided on a 3-2 vote not to generate a zoning bylaw amendment proposal.
 
Deep came to the Planning Board last summer to ask it to help generate a proposal for the 2016 town meeting that would allow him to explore the possibility of a hotel to create another revenue stream for the failing golf course.
 
After five sometimes contentious meetings, the board decided not to take any further action.
 
On Monday, Deep's citizen's petition was presented to the Board of Selectmen, which voted 5-0 to refer the matter back to the Planning Board for a public hearing. By law, the board did not have much choice but to do just that, Town Manager Jason Hoch explained. The citizen's petition is an automatic avenue to the town meeting warrant.
 
The bylaw amendment that the town will consider on May 17 is generally the same as the last proposal considered by the Planning Board, Deep's attorney told the Selectmen on Monday.
 
"I'd say it is 98 percent what was last in front of the Planning Board with minor refinement," Parese said.
 
Included in the proposed bylaw that will go to town meeting is the requirement that at least 80 percent of the Waubeeka property be maintained as open space if and when part of the property is developed with a new hotel and that said hotel "shall be of a form, style, and scale that maintains and enhances those qualities and historical traditions of the Five Corners National Registered Historic District in order to protect the historic and scenic character of the adjacent district."
 

Planning Board Chairwoman Amy Jeschawitz discusses proposals the board is making to town meeting.
The language was developed over the course of five months through discussion at Planning Board meetings and consultations between Parese, Town Planner Andrew Groff and Planning Board Chairwoman Amy Jeschawitz. Jeschawitz, who voted in the minority against tabling the idea at the Planning Board level, attended Monday's Selectmen's meeting but did not address the citizen's petition.
 
The next step for the proposal is the public hearing hosted by the Planning Board, which can choose to make a recommendation to town meeting. Likewise, the Board of Selectmen will have a chance to weigh in on the question when it considers the annual town meeting warrant articles in the spring.
 
There will be several zoning bylaws on the town meeting warrant, most generated by the Planning Board itself. One is intended to allow for a different hotel: Williams College's planned replacement for the Williams Inn.
 
The college's representatives were at Monday's meeting to speak to the proposal, which was generated by the Planning Board in 2014 but shelved at the request of the college so it could do further study.
 
That study is now complete, and the college has asked the town to put the question to the voters in May.
 
The proposed bylaw would expand the Village Business District some 550 feet west of the center line of Spring Street and 550 feet west of the center line of Latham Street, creating a building envelop to the southwest of what is currently allowed.
 
College counsel Jamie Art said the envelope created would allow the college to develop a new inn either close to the road or set back, in the vicinity of the current storage barns on land already owned by the college.
 
"Regardless of whether it's closer to the street or farther back where the barns are, it looks like the full zone is necessary to support parking, stormwater management and accessory uses," Art said.
 
Williams' vice president for public affairs also addressed the board, saying the forward movement on the college's inn project could be part of an "exciting spring" for Williamstown.
 
James Kolesar noted that soon the first residents will be moving into the Highland Woods senior housing project on the north end of town and the Cable Mills apartments on Water Street. The college soon will be starting work on a new Spring Street bookstore. And the town, as part of the Mount Greylock Regional School District, has "once in a generation opportunity" to move forward in the Massachusetts School Building Authority process to replace the district's dysfunctional junior-senior high school.
 
"The Williams inn project ... would bring more life to Spring Street and, by the way, add to the tax base, as does The Log and bookstore," Kolesar said, referring to the college's recently renovated tavern and planned retail outlet.
 
Other zoning amendments on the May town meeting warrant include changes designed to make it easier for residents to have home offices and home-based businesses that do not impact neighborhoods, a change that was recommended by the town's ad hoc Economic Development Committee last year.
 
All zoning bylaw changes would require a two-thirds majority of voters at the annual town meeting.
 
In other business on Monday, the Board of Selectmen decided to issue a request for information to find out what the town needs to know if and when it decides to pursue a broadband plan for Williamstown.
 
"The goal is to get experts in the field to give us information that would help us organize to make a decision," Selectman Andrew Hogeland said.
 
Among the questions Hogeland listed: should a broadband system be town-owned or privately owned, how might it be financed, and whether the town should engage a consultant to help guide it through the process.
 
Hoch reminded residents that the Council on Aging again is offering assistance in preparing tax returns on Tuesday evenings at the Harper Center.

Citizens Petition for Zoning Change


Tags: business district,   golf course,   motels, hotels,   town meeting 2016,   village business district,   waubeeka,   

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Williamstown Playground Project Nearing Completion

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — After more than a year of planning, fund-raising and advocacy, efforts to rebuild a town playground are in the homestretch.
 
Last week, the poured rubber surfacing was scheduled to be laid at the new playground at Linear Park, off Water Street, and one of the volunteers helping lead the project said the hope is that the site will be ready for youngsters before the end of the fall.
 
"It's starting to look like a playground," Amy Jeschawitz said as she surveyed the partially installed equipment that will be finished off once the rubber padding and wood fiber infill are installed.
 
The brightly-colored, modern play pieces are a far cry from the dated equipment at the park just a couple of years ago, when a safety inspection found deficiencies at the town facility.
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