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Williamstown Planning Board Plans Wednesday Info Session on Bylaw Proposals

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Planning Board will hold an information session to discuss its proposed zoning bylaw amendments on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the elementary school cafeteria.
 
After months of debate and public input at its regular monthly meetings, the panel has crafted two proposals that allow more flexibility to homeowners who want to put a second or third dwelling unit on a residential lot.
 
Specifically, the proposals would: eliminate a maximum square-footage requirement on second units within an existing home; allow conversion of a single-family home to a two-family home on a non-conforming lot with the approval of the Zoning Board of Appeals; increase the square footage allowed when converting an existing accessory building (like a garage) into a dwelling unit; allow conversion of an accessory building on a nonconforming lot, again with ZBA approval; and allow for the construction of new accessory dwelling units, or ADUs.
 
The last piece, the construction of new dwelling units on a lot, would be allowed by right on conforming lots and be subject to conditions, including ZBA approval, on non-conforming lots, i.e., lots that don't meet the existing code's setback requirements.
 
The board's stated purpose in proposing the changes is to allow greater flexibility and, it hopes, the creation of housing choices that are accessible to a wider range of residents. Planners also believe that increasing the potential for ADUs will allow residents to age in place by staying in their home and creating secondary units either for extended family or as income generators.
 
What the current draft bylaw does not do is require that a home with an ADU be owner-occupied. That omission has been the subject of extensive discussion by the Planning Board throughout the summer and fall and has one member of the five-person panel on record opposing his colleagues.
 
Opposition by a vocal group of townspeople to a more comprehensive bylaw change last year forced the Planning Board to pull its proposal before it was put on the warrant for the Annual Town Meeting, where all bylaw changes require a two-thirds "super majority" for passage.
 
After running into that opposition, the Planning Board this year — which has three remaining members from 2017-18 — has been especially cognizant of the need to include as many residents as possible in developing its proposals. The board has held a series of twice-monthly "community conversations" where two members have made themselves available away from Town Hall on afternoons or Saturday mornings to answer questions and accept comments.
 
And Wednesday's information session is in addition to the more formal public hearing required by law that the board would hold in late winter or early spring if it decides to proceed with the bylaw proposals.
 
"What's most important is that [the Jan. 23 session] is early enough in the season of getting proposals to town meeting that people can come with their comments," Planning Board member Stephanie Boyd said at the board's Jan. 8 meeting.
 
"The official time clock hasn't started," Chairwoman Amy Jeschawitz agreed. "But this will be the best opportunity for people to weigh in."
 
That official time clock, including the deadlines for a public hearing, will be a topic for discussion on Wednesday, as will the statewide perspective on the issues the Planning Board is addressing.
 
Chris Kluchman of the Massachusetts Housing Choice Program will be a guest speaker.
 
"Chris is really knowledgeable on these sorts of things," Town Manager Jason Hoch told the Select Board on Monday. "She's one of the best state government officials I've worked with in years. It's great to have her come here that night as a resource."
 
The main focus of the meeting will be the bylaw changes that the board is proposing, and, depending on the number of residents who attend, Jeschawitz plans to include a breakout session where individual board members can moderate small group discussions to gather input.
 
"Then we'll gather back together and go through the questions [from the small groups] in a question and answer period," Jeschawitz said.
 
The Planning Board information session is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 23, at Williamstown Elementary School. Information about the proposals is available on the town website.

Tags: community forum,   housing,   zoning,   

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Williamstown Student Recognized in Letters About Literature Awards

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Sabine Guerra of Williamstown, a fifth-grader at Pine Cobble School, wrote a thoughtful and personal letter to author Raina Telgemeier about her book "Guts" as part of the Massachusetts Center for the Book's "Letters About Literature" reading and writing initiative that invites students from grades four to 12 to write letters to authors about the books that have had profound effects on them. 

The center received thousands of submissions from all corners of the state, continuing its tradition as one of the most robust LAL programs in the country. In fact, this year the program saw a 25 percent increase in participation, a fitting way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of LAL in Massachusetts. 

Sabine's letter was recognized as an Honors letter in the Level 1 category.

Sharon Shaloo, executive director of the center, thanked the students for sending their "personal and reflective explorations of the literary imagination."

"We are proud to administer this program in collaboration with the many teachers and parents throughout the commonwealth who support book culture among young readers," she said.

Rep. Paul McMurtry, House chairperson of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, joined Massachusetts Center for the Book in a virtual commendation of the students.  

"I'm pleased to congratulate all the students on their outstanding achievement," McMurtry said. "I'm grateful to the Mass Center for the Book for offering an imaginative cultural program that combines the joys of books, reading and writing and opens the minds of students, allowing for a small glimpse into the thinking of the next generation. Our future looks bright."

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