WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Planning Board on Tuesday debated some of the thorny issues that likely will define its conversation about a potential proposal to amend the town's zoning ordinances.
In the spring, faced with intense opposition from a vocal group of residents, the board abandoned a proposal to implement changes that would have eased zoning restrictions and created more flexibility in residential zones.
At the time, the members of the board committed to continuing the conversation after May's town election, and, joined by two new members, it has done just that this summer.
On Tuesday, the planners spent two hours going point-by-point through a model ordinance from the state that, if adopted, could conceivably make it easier for Williamstown homeowners to add accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, to residential properties in town.
But reaching consensus on how to implement such a bylaw promises to be no easy task.
A particular sticking point was section 4.3 of the state's model bylaw, which deals with the question of owner-occupied homes.
As drafted, ADUs are only allowed if the home's owner occupies one of the dwelling units — either the "main" or the "accessory."
And the model ordinance goes a step further, requiring that if a home with an accessory unit is sold, "the new owner(s), if they wish to continue to exercise the Permit, must, within 30 days of the sale, submit a notarized letter to the Building Commissioner stating that they will occupy one of the dwelling units on the premises as their primary residence ... ."
"Looking back at the some of the questions we had about the zoning articles we did in the spring, that issue came up," Chair Amy Jeschawitz said of the owner-occupied question. "It's something that might be good to get some feedback on before we make a decision.
"I'm for less restrictions, for sure. Going through the  Master Plan and the  Economic Development Committee report, you'll find one of the things outlined was having fewer hurdles for people."
Alex Carlisle, who was elected to the board in May, was quick to disagree.
"It's just the question of having an owner occupy one unit," Carlisle said. "It may be restrictive, but it's part and parcel of what an accessory dwelling unit is."
Susan Puddester noted that the state model bylaw's own definition of an ADU, in section 2, makes no reference to owner occupation.
"An Accessory Dwelling Unit is a self-contained housing unit incorporated within a single-family dwelling (not within accessory structures, except with a Special Permit) that is clearly a subordinate part of the single-family dwelling and complies with each of the criteria stated below."
The criteria then go on to specify things like the presence of "cooking, sleeping and sanitary facilities" in each dwelling unit.
"I just think this is an essential concept in trying to build out a neighborhood," Carlisle said.
"I disagree 100 percent," Puddester responded.
Carlisle explained that the owner-occupied provision preserves the notion of what the ADU bylaw attempts to allow: "an owner who adds an apartment."
"It is a separate concept to have a two-unit dwelling where two different people live there," Carlisle said. "I'd be happy to think separately about two-unit or three-unit buildings, and we may come to the conclusion that they're allowed everywhere."
Chris Winters sided with Puddester.
"I think when we start to stipulate forms of ownership, we get into weird and uncomfortable territory for me," Winters said. "Let's say my elderly mother decides to add an ADU to her big house. That's fine, if she wants to live in half. But she dies, and I inherit the house. Now, all of a sudden, I have no choice but to sell the house."
"I don't think anyone is saying that," Carlisle answered.
"That's exactly what it's saying," Puddester replied.
At another point, Carlisle and Winters debated the "owner-occupied provision in reference to section 4.1(c) of the model bylaw.
"If someone wants to buy a house and turn it into an apartment building, that's a separate issue than this," Carlisle said.
Winters responded that there might be "political expediency" to an incremental approach to less restrictive zoning that only allows ADUs in owner-occupied residences.
"I don't think it's politically expedient," Carlisle said. "It's an identified housing type.
"We're not going to fix all the housing issues with one rewrite. We'll have to do it piecemeal."
Making any fixes to the zoning bylaw could be an uphill task for the Planning Board.
Despite a year-long study conducted with Mass Housing Partnership that found a shortage of variety in the town’s housing stock and oft-stated concern among town officials about the lack of housing available to potential low- and moderate-income residents, the first question the planners received from the floor on Tuesday showed not everyone agrees with the need for change.
“We have a premise there’s a need for more housing,” resident Roger Lawrence said. “I’m not dead sure who we’re providing housing for.
“It’s going back to the root of what we’re trying to accomplish.
“I think the emerging phenomenon of Air BnB and landlords is cutting into the housing stock. You can’t blame people for doing it. But if we as a community need to address some of the lack of housing that comes about as a consequence and need to sacrifice the existing character of our community in order to do it, that hurts all of us.”
iBerkshires.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue; please keep comments focused on the issues and not on personalities. Profanity, obscenity, racist language and harassment are not allowed. iBerkshires reserves the right to ban commenters or remove commenting on any article at any time. Concerns may be sent to email@example.com.
iBerkshires.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue. Name-calling, personal attacks, libel, slander or foul language is not allowed. All comments are reviewed before posting and will be deleted or edited as necessary.
The way is being cleared for the Hodgepodge Living Spaces, historically referred to as “neighborhoods”. Alternative: transform some conservation hayfields into Asin motif mobile home parks, away from any possible water intrusions.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The new Williams Inn is positioned to be a catalyst for the town's retail center on Spring Street as well as a bucolic retreat for guests — as exampled by the deer grazing near the patio this week.
"We really want to be an indoor/outdoor experience," said Kevin Hurley, the inn's general manager, during a press preview just days before the hotel's opening on Thursday. "We will see a lot of those features, again with the windows, and just the way the hotel feels is really connecting ourselves to the outside."
The $32 million, 64-room hotel at the bottom of Spring and Latham streets replaces the 100-room original hotel at Field Park that closed on July 31. The older inn, purchased by Williams College in 2014, was considered outdated and energy inefficient for an institution that's committed itself to sustainability.
That commitment can be seen throughout the 58,000 square-foot three-story New England-style structure — from its reclaimed wood to its high-performance facade and solar PV array.
The $32 million, 64-room hotel at the bottom of Spring and Latham streets replaces the 100-room original hotel at Field Park that closed on July 31. The older inn, purchased by Williams College in 2014, was considered outdated and energy inefficient for an institution that's committed itself to... click for more
The Mount Greylock School Committee Thursday considered questions that have been raised about a plan to install an artificial turf field at the middle-high school — including concerns raised by members of the committee itself.
But one committee member and strong advocate for maintaining the... click for more
Sarah Currie, the executive director of the Williamstown Historical Museum, said she was thrilled with the large crowd and beautiful day for the fair, which serves as a fundraiser for the museum’s mission of preserving Williamstown’s history. click for more
The committee is charged with gathering input from residents and organizations and compiling a list of recommendations to report back to the Select Board, which created the ad hoc committee earlier this year.
click for more
Johnson was joined by Town Manager Jason Hoch, members of the construction team, two members of the town’s select board, a representative from Williams College, Rep. John Barrett III and Sen. Adam Hinds to celebrate the creation of a facility that was long needed but relatively quickly delivered... click for more