Williamstown Planning Board Adopts Comprehensive Plan

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A little more than two years after appointing a committee to write the document, the Planning Board last week formally adopted the updated town comprehensive plan.
On a vote of 4-1, the five-person board endorsed the 70-page final draft of "Envisioning Williamstown 2035," which replaces the planning document previously known as the town master plan, last drafted in 2002.
Ben Greenfield was the lone dissenting vote in approving the wide-ranging document, which discusses the current conditions in the town and lays out a wide range of municipal aspirations in areas ranging from housing to conservation to transportation.
Shortly before casting his "nay" vote, Greenfield talked about what he saw as shortcomings in the document.
"I'll echo what others have said in the last week about economic development being not being as fleshed out as it could be," he said. "I was especially disappointed the town has twice, two years in a row, by more than two-thirds, voted to establish a municipal light plant to provide municipal broadband, and I cannot believe that a vision for Williamstown in 2035 doesn't have any sort of provision for the need for 70 percent of knowledge workers here or the need for municipal broadband or the equity that could provide. That's just an incredible missing opportunity.
"I feel that, as a resident, I commented on this multiple times and I wrote on pink Post-It notes, and they didn't make it into the document. As a Planning Board member, I mentioned that I thought it was a missed opportunity. And it still went nowhere.
"But that's just the way it goes in a democracy."
Town meeting approved the municipal light plant enabling legislation at its June 2020 and May 2021 sessions. Passage by secret ballot in two separate town meetings was required to allow the town to pursue the creation of a public utility if at some point it chooses to do so. Neither the 2020 nor 2021 vote committed the town to spend any money on the endeavor.
Greenfield was one of two current members of the Planning Board who did not serve on the 13-person Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee.
The other, Cory Campbell, expressed concerns at the November meeting about two of the final revisions the steering committee made to the document before sending it to the Planning Board on Nov. 7.
One was on Page 11, in a section that discusses "community priorities for future planning." The steering committee changed a sentence that had read, "Understanding infrastructure needs to guide capital improvement planning and strategically accommodating future growth," to instead read, "... capital improvement planning and support future growth."
"To me, the original statement of, 'strategically accommodating future growth' seems to be more appropriate to the letter of the law from the state of Massachusetts and the spirit of trying to balance lots of different interests," Campbell said. "It seems to me it's more geared to a case-by-case evaluating and balancing the different interests and goals of the town."
Ken Kuttner, one of the Planning Board members who did serve on the CPSC, replied to Campbell's critique.
"There was a lot of discussion at last week's [steering committee] meeting about accommodating versus supporting future growth, and I think the points made had to do with, obviously, a balance," Kuttner said. "'Accommodating future growth,' I think people thought that was passive. The rationale for using the word 'support' was to create a sense that we are actually happy about having some additional growth and would want to implement policies to contribute to that effort."
Campbell also questioned the CPSC's insertion of the word "growing" on Page 14 in a sentence that now reads, 'Our thoughtful land use planning and land protection policies balance environmental values with the growing housing needs of our community."
"Even if it's true that it's a 'growing housing need,' which seems to be debatable for a market as small as Williamstown,' that may not be true next year," Campbell said. "Or it may be excessively true next year or 10 years from now. So that would change significantly."
Kuttner said that while it is true neither the Planning Board nor CPSC knows what the future will bring, a lot of the work the planners have already are doing is focused on creating opportunities for additional and more diverse housing stock in the town. And numerous public bodies, including the steering committee, have talked at length about a desire to encourage more people to move to town.
"I'm perfectly happy with 'growing housing needs' to the extent it motivates what we're trying to do in terms of providing more housing supply," Kuttner said.
Before the vote, Community Development Director Andrew Groff, who serves as the town planner and advised the CPSC, told the board that the comprehensive plan is a living document that can be amended after adoption.
"You have a wide open door to adopt and amend as you see fit over time," Groff said.
In other business at its November meeting, the Planning Board made a parking determination for the planned fire station on Main Street and continued to fine tune a zoning bylaw amendment on "cottage court" developments that the board is on track to bring to the annual town meeting in May.

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Williamstown Decides to Clear Out Water Street Lot

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A long-time de facto parking lot on Water Street will be closed to vehicles as of March 1, the town has announced.
The 1.27-acre dirt lot that was most recently the site of the town garage has been used to park cars for decades. But the town has never formally considered it a parking lot, and it is not paved, lined or regulated in any way.
The town manager Thursday said that concerns about liability at the site led to a decision to place barriers around the lot to block cars this winter and for the foreseeable future.
"Over the fall, we kept an eye on it, and what we were seeing was upward of 160 or 170 cars on any given day," Bob Menicocci said. "It got to the point where, because of its unregulated nature, the Police Department was getting calls for service saying, ‘I'm blocked in. Can you tow this car?' that kind of thing.
"It was becoming an untenable situation."
The town's observation of the lot found a high percentage of the cars belonged to people connected to Williams College, mainly students who used it for overnight parking. That conclusion is borne out by the way the lot tends to be a lot emptier during college breaks.
In the fall, the school's student newspaper ran an article describing the lot as, "a perfectly legal spot to stash a car, and thus, [where] it seems that College students have lucked into a free, convenient parking lot."
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