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The former Grange Hall at 584 Water St. in Williamstown.

Developers Drop Williamstown Housing After Threat of Appeal

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — In June 2022, Hicks Stone began talking publicly about a proposal to construct two-family homes on a Water Street parcel.
 
The development called for higher density than allowable under the town's zoning bylaw but might be allowable under the provisions of the commonwealth's Chapter 40B law, which provides for relief from local zoning if developments include some income-restricted, or affordable, housing.
 
Stone asked the board of town's Affordable Housing Trust whether it thought Williamstown was free of the provincial concept known as "NIMBY-ism."
 
"Largely, but not totally," he was told by the chair of the board.
 
It appears the "not totally" part of that response was prescient.
 
Eighteen months later, Stone, an architect, and his partner, a Connecticut-based developer, have abandoned their plan for the site of the former Williamstown Grange Hall, citing an organized opposition mounted by members of the neighborhood who did not want to see a 16-unit development that would have had a percentage of the homes designated as affordable housing.
 
"One problem with 40B is it's easy to appeal and costs almost nothing to file an appeal," Stone said last week. "It takes a few hundred dollars to appeal a comprehensive permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals. It's probably one of the central flaws in the legislation, because many projects are basically frozen in their tracks because of the ease in appealing comprehensive permits.
 
"We got wind through a number of sources that a group of abutters and neighbors had retained an attorney to stop the process. At that point, we just said we're not interested in protracted legislation."
 
Although the development proposed by Stone and Bill Freeman received multiple votes of support from the Affordable Housing Trust board, it was not without its critics.
 
Some residents turned out to raise their concerns at a July 2022 meeting of the AHT trustees, and at least one, a former trustee who owns a home at 630 Green River Road, four doors down from the former Grange proper, told the body, "The concept is great, … My feeling is this is not the site for that."
 
Then there was the anonymous flier that started showing up around town that summer. Stone said he knows someone who lives as far away from the Water Street site as White Oaks Road who received a copy of the flier, which Stone characterized as, "filled with distortions and falsehoods."
 
Alexander Carlisle, who owns the former Grange site and was collaborating with Stone and Freeman, agreed that misinformation was used by opponents of the project.
 
"Although I can understand a certain amount of NIMBYism over a project on Water Street, the criticisms and complaints were almost completely unfounded, and I take issue with some of the public comments and behaviors of the group," Carlisle wrote in an email to iBerkshires.com.
 
"One of the myths that seems to make the rounds is that I had received an offer to buy the property for a single-family home or two, and turned it down. In fact, the offer, considerably less than the asking price, came after an agreement had already been made with Stone and Freeman. Although the offer eventually met the price agreed upon with Stone and Freeman, it did not exceed that offer and it was submitted after the formal purchase and sale agreement was already in process. 
 
"Other claims such as impacting natural water movement were based on the existence of an illegal drainpipe moving water across the Grange property from near Ide Road, not natural water flow at all. Claims for additional traffic pressure are unwarranted as the much larger Cable Mills development has received no complaints, that I am aware of, for the intended expansion, much larger than the Grange development."
 
All of that said, Carlisle indicated he can empathize with people who were concerned about the prospect of denser development in a neighborhood characterized by single-family homes on relatively large lots.
 
"I didn't really think there was going to be pushback because I thought the sentiment of the town was more open to new housing options," Carlisle said in a telephone interview. "But when it started, I realized I could have been one of those neighbors. No one wants a big project next to a set of residential homes. I get that."
 
Carlisle, who lived in the neighborhood when he purchased the Grange Hall site in 2005, said he knows a few names of people in the area who were behind the push to block the project, but he does not know all of them.
 
"They were all neighbors of the Grange property," Carlisle said. "It wasn't a distant protest. It really was NIMBY [not in my backyard] sentiment."
 
Under the rules for development in the commonwealth, a small group of opponents can have a lot of power, Stone said.
 
After he became involved with the Water Street property, Stone became aware of a 2008 paper prepared by the advocacy group the Citizens' Housing and Planning Association.
 
In it, the authors report that appeals to Chapter 40B developments had delayed at least 81 developments involving 9,700 units of housing (2,500 affordable units) from 2000 to 2007 in Massachusetts.
 
Of 28 projects during that period that went all the way through the litigation, all but one was resolved in favor of developers. Another 22 were settled out of court, some after minor changes from developers and 10 after the project was reduced in size, "including five where the developer settled after winning in the lower court," the authors wrote.
 
Delays due to litigation ranged from six months to six years with an average delay of two years, the authors found.
 
"The delays inherent in litigation mean that even as appellants have consistently lost their court cases, they have succeeded in postponing almost every project and reduced the likelihood that projects will ultimately go forward," they wrote.
 
"We have no appetite for that type of protracted litigation," said Stone, a practicing architect for 35 years. "It's time-consuming, and who knows where the market will be in a couple of years after the complaint runs its course.
 
"We're considering other options for the site, but at this point, we've decided on nothing. What we were doing, we thought, would be a credit to the community: combustion-free, passive houses, LEED-certified building, in large part for the workforce. I would have thought in a progressive community with an overarching progressive academic institution, it would have been well received."
 
Carlisle said he originally purchased the 584 Water St. property because he was concerned it would be used for "a cookie-cutter development of upscale houses," and he explored ideas like converting the former Grange hall for a community center and the land to a community-supported agriculture farm site.
 
The hall itself, Stone said, is virtually unusable with only two good exterior walls; that's why earlier plans to use it for apartments in the housing development went by the wayside. Carlisle said the local farming community had concerns about the potential of "subsidized competition" on the 6.6-acre parcel.
 
Carlisle said he was skeptical about commercial development at the site, but he was convinced that the net-zero housing with pollinator gardens and open space would have added to the neighborhood.
 
"I do see both sides of this coin," Carlisle said. "I'm one person who strongly believes we need housing expansion. But I don't back the 'in any place, of any type' philosophy. Housing needs to be strongly considered — what type, where it's built.
 
"This was a good project that could have been supported."

Tags: affordable housing,   

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SVMC Recognized for Excellence in Emergency Nursing

BENNINGTON, Vt. — The Kendall Emergency Department at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center has been selected as a recipient of the Emergency Nurses Association's 2024 Lantern Award for demonstrating excellence in leadership, practice, education, advocacy and research performance.
 
The Lantern Award showcases emergency department's (ED) accomplishments in incorporating evidence-based practice and innovation into emergency care. As part of the application, EDs are encouraged to share stories that highlight a commitment to patient care, in addition to the well-being of nursing staff. The award serves as a visible symbol of a commitment to quality, safety and a healthy work environment.
 
"Being on the front lines of patient care in our community comes with unique challenges and triumphs," said Pamela Duchene, chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services at SVMC. "For our ED team to be recognized among just 94 departments, nationwide, demonstrates the level of excellence and commitment that has been fostered here."
 
The Kendall Emergency Department at SVMC is also the first ED in Vermont to receive the award.
 
"This honor highlights the collaborative decision-making and shared governance within our ED," said Jill Maynard, director of emergency nursing at SVMC. "This leadership model is a key attribute of our success, giving our team the tools and support they need to provide skilled and compassionate care to our patients."
 
In addition to influencing care within the organization, SVMC emergency staff are empowered to be leaders beyond the health system, impacting nurses and other health-care providers throughout the state and country. In the last three years, SVMC's ED nurses have presented at local, regional and national conferences on topics including cultural humility, harm reduction, design considerations for emergency psychiatric care, and orientation strategies for new emergency registered nurses.
 
SVMC President and CEO Thomas A. Dee congratulated the ED team on receiving the 2024-2027 Lantern Award, and noted that this honor is all the more impressive for being earned during a multiphase renovation of the ED space, part of the VISION 2020: A Decade of Transformation capital campaign.
 
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