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Williamstown Planners Looking at Possible Bylaw Amendments

by Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Planning Board used its monthly meeting on Tuesday to continue its ongoing discussions about potential proposals for bylaw amendments to bring to town meeting.
The board hopes to have at least one proposal ready to go in time for a prospective special town meeting in November to decide whether to expand the Mount Greylock Regional School District to include Williamstown Elementary and Lanesborough Elementary.
Among the topics the panel is considering: creating more options for assisted living and amending the "mother-in-law" apartment bylaw town meeting passed in 2012.
Although the town has one assisted-living facility, Sweetwood, there are other models for such facilities that are not allowed under the town's bylaw, Town Planner Andrew Groff told the board, as broadcast on public access station WilliNet.
"[Developers] call our office and want to figure out what's possible," Groff said. "After having multiple conversations over the years with folks interested in this type of business, it's clear our bylaw is very specific to one business model defined by the state, and there are all sorts of models out there now."
The so-called "mother-in-law apartment" bylaw, which allowed creation of a second dwelling unit on a residential building lot, has been little used since it was passed because, the planners believe, it is too restrictive.
"The biggest problem is on pre-existing non-conforming buildings and lots, you cannot convert a structure," Groff said. "That takes out a whole section of the heart of the walking part of Williamstown."
Much of the town's General Residence zone consists of homes that predate zoning and that are built too close to one another — i.e. non-conforming — per the bylaw.
"Since this passed in 2012, we get about five or six [requests] per year," Groff said. "Those numbers have been going down because some of the askers of that question are local contractors, and they know the rules now. They see it in the field and say, 'Nope, you can't do it.' "
In addition to those prospective zoning changes, the Planning Board on Tuesday heard an appeal to amend the bylaw to allow co-housing developments like the Blackinton Village project in neighboring North Adams.
One of the developers of that project, Williamstown resident Jane Shiyah, told the Planning Board that there is strong interest in the town for the housing model, which allows residents to cluster together in individually owned units that share amenities and green space.
"The problem with our zoning laws for multifamily housing ... is they demand you have a certain large amount of road frontage per unit and a large amount of land per unit," Planner Ann McCallum said. "When you put eight units together, you get no benefit from the cluster approach."
Shiyah noted that the co-housing model is growing nationally and could address one of the town's current priorities: housing that allows residents to age in place.
"There are close to 200 [projects] in the country," Shiyah said. "Northampton has three now. Amherst has two. … The biggest growing space in co-housing is age-in-place housing.
"If a co-housing development was built in Williamstown, we'd have a waiting list."

Tags: bylaws,   Planning Board,   town meeting,   zoning,   

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