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Kenneth Kuttner and Carin DeMayo-Wall participate in a candidates forum sponsored by the Williamstown chapter of the League of Women Voters.

Williamstown Planning Board Candidates Differ on Bylaw Proposals

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Whoever wins a Planning Board seat in Tuesday's town election will not have a say in the zoning bylaw amendments that go to town meeting one week later.
 
But they had some things to say about those proposals in a forum hosted last month by the local chapter of the League of Women Voters.
 
Carin DeMayo-Wall and Kenneth Kuttner each have spoken before the Planning Board directly to argue for and against some of the most discussed bylaw amendments the board has proposed.
 
On Tuesday, voters will decide whether to give Kuttner or DeMayo-Wall a five-year term on the five-person Planning Board.
 
Not surprisingly, several of the questions at the hourlong forum, viewable on the town's community access television station, WilliNet, gave each candidate a chance to address the biggest land-use issue in town this spring.
 
Kuttner, who is running for the office for the second straight year, has repeatedly pressed the current board members for evidence that the changes on the table will achieve the desired results.
 
The economics professor at Williams College at one point said the Planning Board has not done the "homework" that he would require of students.
 
"Zoning should be intentional, a well thought-out strategy," Kuttner said. "I'd like to put planning back in the Planning Board. Policies must be grounded in fact.
 
"Shrinking lot sizes in town, there's no evidence that sort of change leads to more infill [development]."
 
DeMayo-Wall countered that the current proposals on the May 17 annual town meeting warrant are "well thought out" and are ideas that "have been discussed for decades."
 
DeMayo-Wall's father, Richard DeMayo, was a former member of the town's Planning Board and Select Board. She talked about her lifelong connection to the town but also highlighted her life experience working at the State House and with an architectural planning firm in Boston.
 
"As a community, we've been looking for decades at housing in Williamstown," she said. "I think that we are in an interesting position that so many things brought forward this year to town meeting will give us direction as to what the town is really committed to doing. Are we committed to providing further housing options in town or not.
 
"I think it will dictate a lot of what happens in the community."
 
In a nutshell, the most talked about bylaw amendments proposed by the Planning Board would scale back the dimensional requirements (lot size, setback, frontage) in residential parts of town; advocates say it will allow for the creation of more housing lots and that increased supply will have put downward pressure on home prices. Other proposals on the warrant would relax the rules for multifamily dwellings, again with the intention of stimulating development of more such residences.
 
Kuttner said he wants to see the Planning Board to address the need for more "small a" affordable housing (as opposed to subsidized housing, which he also supports) with more targeted solutions like zoning overlay districts.
 
Current Planning Board members who support the proposals going to town meeting later this month have said they too would like to explore overlays but see the current proposal to address the town's current, exclusionary zoning as a first step.
 
DeMayo-Wall and Kuttner were asked at the forum about whether they agree with another step the Planning Board took on the housing front in recent years: 2019's bylaw allowing accessory dwelling units.
 
"My take is the effect [of the bylaw] has been very small," Kuttner said. "I have mixed feelings about ADUs. Growing up, my grandmother lived in what we'd now call an ADU. On the other hand, I have the impression that ADUs in our town are being used for Airbnbs. I'm not sure that's a good thing.
 
"Ultimately, it's the market that decides what will actually happen."
 
DeMayo-Wall was more definitive, arguing that even an ADU created as a short-term rental can serve the community by, for example, helping older homeowners remain in their homes.
 
"Ken brings up a good point about Airbnb, but it's a source of income," DeMayo-Wall said. "Not everyone has the ability to maintain and pay taxes on a house that they may have gotten through family. I know a case where a gentleman outlived his income, never thought he'd make it into his 90s. I thought [the bylaw] was something we did right."
 
One point of agreement between the two candidates was that the Planning Board needs to engage more with residents and bring more voices into the conversations about changes it proposes to town meeting before they get to town meeting.
 
"Meaningful community engagement is essential, especially in the early stages of the planning process," Kuttner said.
 
"If [Article 45] is voted down ... I'd engage people and say, 'What kinds of development would be compatible with what you want in South Williamstown while being compatible with our environmental priorities."

Tags: election 2022,   Planning Board,   town elections,   


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