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The site plan for the two homes at the corner of Cole Avenue and Maple Street.

Williamstown Zoning Board OKs Habitat for Humanity Project

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Andrew Hoar conducts Thursday's hearing.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday OK'd the construction of two homes on a pair of lots owned by the town's Affordable Housing Trust.
Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity requested a comprehensive permit for the development of the adjacent lots at the corner of Cole Avenue and Maple Street. The non-profit intends to build two small single-family homes that will be owner-occupied and deed-restricted to remain affordable in perpetuity.
The permits were sought under the commonwealth's Chapter 40B provision, which allows relief from certain local zoning bylaws for the construction of Affordable Housing.
Specifically, Habitat for Humanity sought relief from three dimensional standards in the town code: the setback for the home at the corner of Cole and Maple, the frontage for the home to be built on Maple Street and the lot size for both properties.
Those were the only jurisdictional matters before the board on Thursday, but a frequent critic of the project used the hearing as one last opportunity to enter his concerns into the record.
Paul Guillotte, who has in the past argued that the infrastructure of the neighborhood which already is subject to brownouts cannot support two more homes, told the zoning board that the design for the Habitat home will negatively impact his family's home, which abuts the property on Cole Avenue.
Guillotte questioned the stormwater management home for the Cole and Maple properties and said runoff from the new homes will inevitably spill over to his aunt's home to the north. He argued that the driveway for the "upper" lot on Cole and Maple will be cleared with snow blown north, over the property line, into a longstanding garden. And he challenged the safety of the placement of the home on the upper lot, asking whether it will be properly anchored so that someday it doesn't slip downhill and into the neighboring lot.
Although the issues Guillotte raised were not the purview of the ZBA, Chairman Andrew Hoar facilitated a dialogue between Guillotte and the development team about his objections.
John Dupras of Trinity Engineering told the board that a drainage swale on the property is adequate to handle runoff and direct it to the storm drain on the property line between the two new planned homes.
Some water from the Cole and Maple lots will find their way to the north, but water from the lot goes toward Guillotte's family's home now, Dupras said.
"The standard is to not make it worse," Dupras said. "You make sure you don't give them more water than they're currently getting."
Williamstown Community Development Director Andrew Groff, who advises the ZBA, concurred.
"It's not that you have to keep every drop of water from leaving the site," he said. "It's that post-development conditions can't be worse than pre-development."
Hoar said it was not the place of the zoning board to second guess the stormwater management plan commissioned by Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity.
"I don't think we should be second-guessing a professional who spends his life engineering projects," Hoar told Guillotte. "I assume he knows more than you or I."
Hoar told Guillotte that if the residents who one day move into the upper residence blow snow onto the adjacent property, Guillotte would be within his rights to ask them to cease and, at some point, seek enforcement from the town.
"It's not something this board can address before it happens," Groff said.
Groff also clarified that the anchoring of the house on the new pad will be subject to Massachusetts building code and the inspection of town's building inspector.
The five-member board voted unanimously to grant the permit need to proceed with the the project, which will be phased in with up to one house built per year, hopefully starting this spring.
In other business on Thursday, the ZBA denied the request of a Moorland Street resident for a variance that would have allowed the homeowner to build a two-car garage within the setback required for the district.
Architect Martha Montgomery explained that the homeowners had looked at every other possible location on the property and found this was the only location that would work without taking the costly step of reconfiguring the home's driveway.
The applicant submitted a letter from a neighboring property enthusiastically supporting the application and cited the fact that most other homes in the area had similar nonconforming garages.
The ZBA members sympathized with the applicant's situation but noted that the other garages in question predated zoning and would not be granted variances for construction today. The board ultimately voted 4-1 against the variance with member Vince Pesce casting the dissenting vote.
Hoar explained that the application did not meet the criteria for a variance under the commonwealth's law, most significantly that condition that, without a variance, the property owner would face "substantial hardship."
"The hardship is economic," Montgomery said. "Right now, they don't have to change the driveway at all. [With a different garage location], they'd have to reroute or extend or demolish part of the driveway. It would be great if they didn't have to disturb the existing driveway."
Hoar disagreed.
"Extending the driveway is not a financial hardship," Hoar said. "A financial hardship is not being able to use a piece of property [without a variance]. The cost of 13 feet of driveway is not a financial hardship."

Tags: affordable housing,   ZBA,   

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Williamstown Select Board Recommends Social Justice Articles to Town Meeting

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Select Board on Monday recommended to town meeting passage of two warrant articles designed to address issues of racial equity and diversity after reconsidering an earlier decision to make no recommendation on one of the measures.
The last two items on the 37-article warrant for Aug. 18's outdoor annual town meeting at Weston Field were generated by way of citizen's petition.
The first asks town meeting voters to commit to the "Not In Our County Pledge" generated by the Great Barrington-based group Multicultural BRIDGE. The second, titled "Equity," calls on all agencies and committees of town government to re-examine their policies, demands the town train board members and employees about issues of systemic inequities and requires quarterly reports on these issues to the recently formed Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity (DIRE) Committee.
Board members expressed support for the intent of both articles but raised technical issues about each, though the panel took no action on the warrant's final measure, the Equity article, before Chair Jane Patton realized there were members of the audience who wanted to speak to the articles from the "floor" of the remote meeting.
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