Williamstown Select Board Gets Update on Climate Action Plan

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The leaders of a Net Zero Task Force in town updated the Select Board last week on a climate action plan that the annual town meeting authorized in 2021.
Wendy Penner and Nancy Nylen told the board that a group of two dozen volunteers plans to have a plan ready to present to attendees at the upcoming annual town meeting May.
The goal of the plan is help the town achieve a goal of net zero carbon emissions by adopting, "multi-pronged strategies including energy efficiency, renewable energy, zero waste, and nature-based solutions to CO2 removal, such as the protection and restoration of forests, wetlands and other ecosystems," in the words of the 2021 resolution.
"About two-thirds of our emissions are from buildings," Nylen said. "One third are from residences, a third are commercial and institutional buildings. One third is vehicles.
"As we go forward with all actions, that's what we're focusing on: residential buildings, commercial buildings and vehicles."
To that end, the group has developed a list of "priority actions" in each of the three sectors. 
For example, under buildings, it is calling for a "transition to clean heating and cooling, including electrification of space and water heating wherever possible."
In transportation, it is calling on the town to promote ride shares, increase access to walking and biking for transportation needs and install more electric vehicle charging stations, among other steps.
The plan also calls for the installation of more renewable energy systems, a reduction in waste and protection of trees and woodlands.
To implement parts of the plan, the town already has begun securing grant funding through the commonwealth's Green Communities program, including $56,832 for weatherization of municipal buildings and $86,000 to install heat pumps and mini splits at the Milne Public Library. In all, the town recently has received nearly $200,000 in grants to leverage more than $300,000 in investments in municipal projects, the task force reported.
Much of the Select Board's biweekly meeting last week was devoted to discussions of the town's dog leash bylaws and an appeal by residents to pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
The board also wrapped up a conversation it began earlier this winter about a plan to rebuild the municipal skate park on Stetson Road.
Bill MacEwan of the New England Mountain Bike Association was back before the board to ask for its consent to a memorandum of understanding between the town and the NEMBA that will allow the non-profit to proceed with design work and raise funds for the estimated $750,000 project.
The skate park advocates already have in hand a recommendation from the Community Preservation Committee that town meeting approve $75,000 in Community Preservation Act funds for the project.
"The current park is in disrepair," MacEwan reminded the board last week. "It's dangerous given some of the cracks in the asphalt. There still is an opportunity to create a beautiful space for kids and the community to enjoy the park.
"We believe this project is in alignment with studies done by the town previously indicating a need for open space, specifically for teenagers."
Select Board member Stephanie Boyd agreed that a renewal of the out-of-date park would address an identified need in the town.
"We have a number of recreational facilities in town that focus on team sports and very few that allow kids to have more unstructured play," Boyd said. "Having been a participant in our recently adopted comprehensive plan, this is the type of facility we've noted is missing.
"I'd love to get you guys working on this as quickly as possible."
A motion to authorize the town manager to sign the MOU on behalf of the town was approved, 5-0.
In other business:
The board reappointed Kurt Gabel to serve as the Republican appointee to the town's Board of Registrars, appointed Russ Howard to serve on the board of the Hoosac Water Quality District and named David Levine, Cheryl Shanks and Susan Puddester to serve on the newly revitalized Rent Control Board.
• Jane Patton and Andrew Hogeland showed their colleagues a questionnaire that they developed to send out homeowners who have properties registered as short-term rentals with the Department of Revenue. The questionnaire seeks information on whether a whole residence or just part is available for rental, whether the rental is owned by a Williamstown resident and how many nights the space in question was occupied either as a full-time residence by the owner or by a short-term renter in 2022 and 2023. Some board members have said they need more data before they can consider proposing a town bylaw to regulate short-term rentals, as several other Berkshire County communities have adopted.

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Summer Street Residents Make Case to Williamstown Planning Board

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Neighbors of a proposed subdivision off Summer Street last week asked the Planning Board to take a critical look at the project, which the residents say is out of scale to the neighborhood.
Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity was at Town Hall last Tuesday to present to the planners a preliminary plan to build five houses on a 1.75 acre lot currently owned by town's Affordable Housing Trust.
The subdivision includes the construction of a road from Summer Street onto the property to provide access to five new building lots of about a quarter-acre apiece.
Several residents addressed the board from the floor of the meeting to share their objections to the proposed subdivision.
"I support the mission of Habitat," Summer Street resident Christopher Bolton told the board. "There's been a lot of concern in the neighborhood. We had a neighborhood meeting [Monday] night, and about half the houses were represented.
"I'm impressed with the generosity of my neighbors wanting to contribute to help with the housing crisis in the town and enthusiastic about a Habitat house on that property or maybe two or even three, if that's the plan. … What I've heard is a lot of concern in the neighborhood about the scale of the development, that in a very small neighborhood of 23 houses, five houses, close together on a plot like this will change the character of the neighborhood dramatically."
Last week's presentation from NBHFH was just the beginning of a process that ultimately would include a definitive subdivision plan for an up or down vote from the board.
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