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Williamstown Sets Mid-August Outdoor Town Meeting Date

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — There will not be any football at Williams College's Weston Field this fall.

But there will be some action there this August if the town stays with the current plan for its annual town meeting.
 
On Wednesday, the Select Board approved Town Manager Jason Hoch's proposal for an outdoor town meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 18, at 7 p.m. The planned location will be the college's football field, which has a seating capacity of 1,400 in its permanent bleachers, not counting temporary seating that can be added on the east side of the field.
 
This will allow the town to take advantage of the facility's lights and sound system while maximizing the potential to give attendees an opportunity to participate in a socially distanced manner.
 
The meeting, normally held in mid-May, was postponed in April because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
If there is a resurgence of the novel coronavirus locally, the same state law that allowed towns to postpone their meetings past the end of the fiscal year on June 30 would allow Town Moderator Adam Filson, in conjunction with the Board of Health, to postpone the meeting after the warrant is finalized.
 
Since the date was set just 47 days prior to the meeting, the Select Board in a separate vote Wednesday decided to override a town bylaw that sets a 45-day deadline prior to town meeting for submitting a warrant article by citizen's petition.
 
Town counsel advised the board that the bylaw in question is meant to bind the select board as a requirement for the earliest date it can decline to accept citizen's petition-generated warrant articles. Therefore, moving the date closer to the town meeting date is not a problem.
 
The board decided to set a deadline of 4 p.m. on July 24 for delivery of citizen's petitions to the town manager's office.
 
Hoch at Wednesday's meeting reminded members of the town that he is available to review the language of any citizen petition prior to the collection of signatures and submission to the town.
 
“Everything that comes out of town meeting … the [Massachusetts] attorney general has to approve it,” Hoch said. “I'm available to help on all the technical pieces. It's not a filter for whether I agree or disagree. My job is to make sure you get it in the right legal frame.
 
“I'd hate to see anything expire on a technicality.”
 
Hoch has joked in the past that if a citizen came with a petition to ask town meeting to abolish the town manager position, he is duty bound to give that article the best chance for success if passed by the meeting.
 
Wednesday's step continues a series of returns to normalcy after the long-delayed town elections were held on June 23.
 
“It feels good to finally get this on the calendar,” Select Board Chair Jane Patton said of the annual town meeting. “In terms of holding it outside in the time of COVID, I try to remind myself on days when it's really hard that I'm living history.”
 
The town already took a historic move on Wednesday when it began fiscal year 2021 with a 1/12th budget approved by the Department of Revenue. Municipalities and school districts across the commonwealth were forced to employ a month-to-month spending plan when town, city and school budgets were delayed by the pandemic.
 
Municipal number crunchers across Massachusetts are anxiously eyeing Beacon Hill for long-delayed state budget and the local aid numbers it will include. With state revenues expected to fall due to high unemployment and lower sales taxes due to the novel coronavirus, municipalities are bracing for reductions in that aid.
 
As for Williamstown's town meeting, barring any further citizen's petitions, there are two dozen articles on the warrant that was in the works back in March before the pandemic.
 
Most of those articles are standard, but many of the fiscal measures likely will be reworked between now and August due to the altered funding climate.
 
The Planning Board this winter developed three zoning bylaw amendments, at least one of which has the potential to generate significant discussion at the meeting and spurred a competing amendment via citizen's petition.
 
The Planning Board draft for a new bylaw on marijuana production prohibits outdoor cultivation in all parts of town. A competing warrant article, backed by the town's Agricultural Commission, would allow outdoor commercial cultivation in two zoning districts, Rural Residence 1 and Rural Residence 2, by special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
 
“The Agricultural Commission, representing the Williamstown farming community, unanimously supports the continued right to outdoor marijuana cultivation, which can be a financially profitable crop to help support farming operations,” the warrant article reads.

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Williamstown Nonprofit Seeks CPA Funds for Agricultural Restriction

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation plans to ask the town for Community Preservation Act funds to support an Agricultural Preservation Restriction for a property on Green River Road.
 
WRLF Executive Director David McGowan was before the Agricultural Commission last week to ask that body for a letter of support for the application he plans to bring to the Community Preservation Committee next month.
 
Rural Lands is working with the owners of Fairfield Dairy Farm to secure an APR from the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture for "approximately 20 acres" McGowan told the commission, which voted unanimously to support the application.
 
"It's surrounded by APR land that Fairfield Dairy Farm had previously put into an APR," Ag Commission Chair Sarah Gardner said in describing the parcel under consideration. "What's different about this land is it's kind of the missing piece of the puzzle. It's between other APR land."
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