image description
Paul Austin of Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity follows Thursday's discussion.
image description
Affordable Housing Trust Chairman Tom Sheldon leads Thursday's meeting at Ruth Harrison looks on.

Williamstown Housing Trust Decides on Two Houses at Cole-Maple Property

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
Print Story | Email Story

Trustee Anne O'Connor, who fills the Select Board's seat on the Affordable Housing Trust board, made the case for building three houses on the property.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The trustees of the town's Affordable Housing Trust on Thursday told Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity to proceed with a plan to build two houses on a Cole 
Avenue lot the trust purchased for the purpose of creating subsidized housing.
 
The non-profit asked the trustees for direction after Habitat generated a proposal that would have sited three single-family homes on the half-acre lot — in keeping with the trustees' previously stated desire to maximize the number of units on the site.
 
That three-house plan — which would have required subdividing the existing two building lots on the property — met considerable opposition from the neighborhood.
 
Abutters first expressed their concerns to a community forum hosted by Habitat for Humanity in January and then brought the same objections before the trustees in their Feb. 1 meeting.
 
On Thursday, the trustees voted, 5-1, to direct Habitat for Humanity to proceed with a two-house approach in recognition of the concerns from abutters.
 
Trustee Anne O'Connor cast the dissenting vote after explaining that she felt it was important the body hold true to the principle of maximizing home ownership opportunities for income-eligible families.
 
Stan Parese, who voted in the majority, reminded his colleagues that neighborhood concerns were on their mind from the day they started the process of developing the lot at the corner of Cole Avenue and Maple Street.
 
"In our [request for proposals] as a trust, which predated in any formal way Habitat's response … we explicitly, as part of our criteria, set forth that we wanted density on the site while being sensitive to the neighborhood," Parese said.
 
Trustee Ruth Harrison, who attended the Jan. 19 public forum along with O'Connor and Trustee Patrick Quinn, remarked that she thought the process had gone well because the board had listened to the residents of the neighborhood.
 
Several of the trustees, including Chairman Thomas Sheldon, said they were surprised when Habitat for Humanity was able to develop a plan that fit three houses on the lot.
 
"Initially, I was very excited about the three-houses idea," Trustee Liz Costley said. "It seemed like a cool community within the larger community. Having heard other points of view, I'm excited about the idea of two houses on that lot."
 
Last week, the trustees appeared on the verge of making their decision about whether to go with two or three houses, but they were persuaded that another public meeting was needed to get more input from neighbors who did not understand the purpose of the Feb. 1 agenda item. One resident said if that purpose had been more clear, the Town Hall meeting room would have been filled with concerned citizens.
 
On Thursday, no residents who did not address the trustees on Feb. 1 rose to address the panel. The only comments from the floor came from a resident who had previously made his arguments at the Jan. 19 forum, in a letter to the trustees and at the Feb. 1 meeting.
 
Though she knew her vote was destined to be in the minority, O'Connor laid out her reasons for standing by the trust's intent to make maximum use of the property.
 
First, she reminded the meeting that, by right, the two building lots in the AHT-owned parcel could have held two duplexes, according to the town's zoning bylaw. So three three-bedroom homes on the site would not be to a stretch.
 
Then, she offered her main reason for voting against the two-house plan.
 
"I'm in favor of three houses," O'Connor said. "I know that makes me unpopular with the neighbors who are in the room. … However, I think it's a measure that's needed for the future of the community. What this speaks to is changing housing practices, changing needs in our community. We have a need for more rental properties, more small homes, more opportunities for families and seniors to have housing they can afford in this community."
 
O'Connor noted that she lives in Church Corner, a town-supported affordable housing project at the corner of Cole Avenue and Church Street, not far from the parcel in question. The Church Corner apartments, in the former St. Raphael Catholic church, have the capacity to house up to 20 people with "no ill effect on the neighborhood," she said.
 
"I feel for some of the neighbors, there's a concern: This is change, and who are these people who are going to be coming in [at Cole and Maple]?" O'Connor said. "Well, they're the same as all of us. They're going to work in our community and build their lives in our community."
 
Sheldon thanked O'Connor for offering her point of view and sharing her perspective as a resident of Church Corner.
 
"I personally prefer a two-home solution here," Sheldon said. "I do so because I do understand and respect the viewpoints of the neighbors here."

Tags: affordable housing trust,   habitat for humanity,   

If you would like to contribute information on this article, contact us at info@iberkshires.com.

SVMC Recognized for Excellence in Emergency Nursing

BENNINGTON, Vt. — The Kendall Emergency Department at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center has been selected as a recipient of the Emergency Nurses Association's 2024 Lantern Award for demonstrating excellence in leadership, practice, education, advocacy and research performance.
 
The Lantern Award showcases emergency department's (ED) accomplishments in incorporating evidence-based practice and innovation into emergency care. As part of the application, EDs are encouraged to share stories that highlight a commitment to patient care, in addition to the well-being of nursing staff. The award serves as a visible symbol of a commitment to quality, safety and a healthy work environment.
 
"Being on the front lines of patient care in our community comes with unique challenges and triumphs," said Pamela Duchene, chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services at SVMC. "For our ED team to be recognized among just 94 departments, nationwide, demonstrates the level of excellence and commitment that has been fostered here."
 
The Kendall Emergency Department at SVMC is also the first ED in Vermont to receive the award.
 
"This honor highlights the collaborative decision-making and shared governance within our ED," said Jill Maynard, director of emergency nursing at SVMC. "This leadership model is a key attribute of our success, giving our team the tools and support they need to provide skilled and compassionate care to our patients."
 
In addition to influencing care within the organization, SVMC emergency staff are empowered to be leaders beyond the health system, impacting nurses and other health-care providers throughout the state and country. In the last three years, SVMC's ED nurses have presented at local, regional and national conferences on topics including cultural humility, harm reduction, design considerations for emergency psychiatric care, and orientation strategies for new emergency registered nurses.
 
SVMC President and CEO Thomas A. Dee congratulated the ED team on receiving the 2024-2027 Lantern Award, and noted that this honor is all the more impressive for being earned during a multiphase renovation of the ED space, part of the VISION 2020: A Decade of Transformation capital campaign.
 
View Full Story

More Williamstown Stories