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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 Trust OKs Emergency Mortgage Program; O'Connor Won't Seek Re-Election

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The board of the town's Affordable Housing Trust on Wednesday decided to move ahead with an emergency mortgage assistance program for residents impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, approved a solution for a problem vexing a different town committee and learned that one of its members will be rotating off after May's town election.
 
The board member in question is Anne O'Connor, who made her colleagues on that panel the first to learn that she will not seek another three-year term on the Select Board this spring.
 
O'Connor, who occupies the trustee position designated for a member of the Select Board, noted that she brings a particular perspective to her work with the trust and all her town service: that of a resident who is a lifelong renter and who lives in Williamstown housing that was created to be affordable.
 
"Hopefully, I've also brought some reflections and useful comments as much as possible," O'Connor said.
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