Saturday, April 23, 2016

VIDEO / TEXT: Williams administrator circulates email pitch and video link for college's Spring Street inn proposal

Here is a copy of an email circulating around town from Williams College spokesman Jim Kolesar which links to a March 29 video featuring three college officials talking about the school's proposal to build an up-to-100 room hotel -- near Christmas Brook -- at the foot of Spring Street.
VIDEO LINK: http://willinet.org/content/town-meeting-preview-williams-inn-project
From: Jim Kolesar [mailto:jkolesar@williams.edu]
Sent: Friday, April 22, 2016 8:30 AM
To: Various recipients
Subject: Williams Inn Project

Am taking a moment to share background information on the approaching Annual Town Meeting vote on expanding the Village Business District for construction of a new Williams Inn near the bottom of Spring Street.

The expansion has been recommended unanimously by both the Planning Board and Select Board, in votes that followed a year and a half of analysis and public discussion.

But since many people have time to pay close attention to such issues only as the votes approach, I'm sending the attached Q&A and this link to a Willinet presentation on the project.

If you have any questions about any of this, please let me know. And feel free to share this with anyone you think might appreciate seeing it.

Town Meeting is Tuesday, May 17, at 7 p.m. in the elementary school gym. As usual, many important votes are on the warrant, so I hope you can be there.

Best,
Jim
READ KOLESAR'S Q&A PITCH FOR THE SPRING STREET INN PROPOSAL (which includes lines two two siting proposals, one alongside Spring Street and the other set back.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Noted environmentalist/author Lauren Steven encourages Planning Board to ask "hard questions" of Deep

Subject: To the Editor:
Date: Sun, 3 Apr 2016 14:46:50 -0400
From: Lauren Stevens 
To: Bill Everhart

Those favoring a zoning change to permit an inn and accessories on the Waubeeka Golf Links in Williamstown bridled at the scrutiny the Planning Board gave the project. They might want to look farther north on Rte. 7, where a defunct race track sits. I can remember the beauty of the Pownal Valley, billed as "The Gateway to Vermont," before the construction of what is euphemistically called Green Mountain Park. Originally designed for horse racing, later used by greyhounds, occasionally for concerts and now by a few model airplane enthusiasts, the decrepit stables and kennels have fortunately been replaced by solar panels, but the huge, vacant grandstand remains an unproductive eyesore.

Waubeeka guards the "Gateway to Williamstown," attractive in ways similar to the Pownal Valley. A small inn might be just the thing, but I'm glad the town's Planning Board has asked harder questions about scale and viability than did Pownal or Vermont, apparently, before the construction of Green Mountain Park.

Lauren R. Stevens
Williamstown

Deep granted time by Finance Committee the night before election to pitch his 40-acre Waubeeka timeshare development in South Williamstown

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. -- The night before a contested election, the Williamstown Finance Committee is scheduled to hear a pitch from developer Michael Deep at its next meeting for his proposed timeshare hotel development at the 200-acre Waubeeka Golf Links site in South Williamstown.

Deep purchased the 18-hole public golf course two years ago for $1.2 million and is now seeking permission to use 40 acres to build what he terms a New England Country in with "fractional" units under the state's timeshare law.

The Finance Committee posted on Thursday a notice showing the presentation by Deep and his attorney, Stan Parese, at its Monday, May 9, meeting, starting at 7:30 p.m. in the Town Hall.  That is the night before the town election, in which six people are vying for two open seats on the Planning Board, with which Deep has tussled.

Finance Committee Chairman Michael Sussman, in an email, said Deep had requested the time, and invited other interested parties to present views about the Deep proposal to the Finance Committee.  Deep does not have any specific proposal before the Finance Committee. But he has been running advertisements on local cable television which make assertions about its financial benefits to the town and now he apparently wants a forum to backup his assertions.

RELATED LINKS:
http://newshare.com/planning 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Help for the college-bound who excel at music or journalism: The Daniel Pearl Fellowship

If you are a college-bound senior who lives in or near Berkshire County and excel at either music or journalism,  it's time to apply for the Daniel Pearl Fellowship.  (LINK)

After Stanford University, Pearl began his journalism career in The Berkshires at The Transcript and Berkshire Eagle, moving on ultimately to The Wall Street Journal. His life ended with his beheading by extremists in Pakistan. After his death, his family, the publisher of The Eagle and others established a small scholarship to encourage brilliant youth with similar talents.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

VERBATIM: Williamstown resident Jamie Bairstow reflects on Deep Waubeeka proposal and conduct of March 12 planning board meeting

This is the third of a series of posts on the text-archive site of GreylockNews.com addressing issues which will be before Williamstown voters at the May 17 annual Town Meeting.  The following text was submitted by Williamstown resident and  bed-and-breakfast operator Jamie Bairstow, and was also circulated by email by Town Planner Andrew Groth on March 23.  She reflects on Mike Deep's concept for a multi-room, time-sharing hotel in South Williamstown, as well as the conduct of a March 12, 2015 planning-board meeting.You can read two news accounts of the meeting on iBerkshires or in the Berkshire Eagle.



Author: Jamie Bairstow

To: Town Manager Jason Hoch, Town Planner Andrew Groff , and to members of the Planning Board, Selectmen, Conservation Commission, Agricultural Commission, and ZBA ...

Good Morning!

I've lived in Williamstown for 30 years, and I've watched a lot of municipal meetings -- but I've never seen a meeting like the recent Planning Board Public Hearing, held at the Williamstown Elementary School on Tuesday evening, 15 March 2016.   Planning Board Chair A. Jeschawitz made a withering opening statement, an unforgettable Ode to Williamstown,, which set the tone and "framed the debate", as iBerkshires'  Stephen Dravis chose to put it.

 ( VIDEO: http://www.willinet.org/content/planning-board-meeting-31516 )

The Chair of the Planning Board delivered a stunningly myopic and deeply offensive critique of Williamstown, and I could hardly believe my ears.  From her perspective, "our streets are filthy", "littered with empty storefronts", "defunct buildings", "defunct restaurants", "overflowing trash bins", "old faded signs", sad little parks, things that need a face lift - "a town whose vitality has waned", making her "sick of it", where she says "nothing happens" and "nobody cares"...  and it is the fault of some complacent NIMBYs "who think everything is good, nothing needs to be anything but."

I couldn't tell where this might be going, unless it was a complaint to the DPW.  In her capacity as chair, (but not representing the majority opinion), and failing to cite ANY of the various larger forces at work -- economic or otherwise -- she firmly placed the blame for all of our troubles where she thinks it belongs.  At the feet of . . . the NIMBYs.  It's rather simplistic, but always convenient to blame the mythical NIMBYs -- nobody wants to be one, right?  

Her complaint referenced "no new businesses or homes, and only limited non-Williams construction".   However,  Highland Woods has 40 affordable and subsidized units, and was built in record time.  Cable Mills is about to be occupied.   PhoTech, snarkily christened "Our Monument", waits in the pipeline for affordable family housing.  Are we living in the same town?

She closed with a patronizing lecture on how we all need to make sacrifices. "You want to live on an island? Go find one."   She says our Planning Board and selectmen have an "increasing agenda".  (is that a conspiracy theory?)   And inspirationally . . . "We're better than this.".

What's all this about?

The public hearing began, and all three Planning Board-sponsored bylaws were expeditiously recommended to Town Meeting. Then came the citizens' petition regarding the zoning bylaw amendment for Waubeeka.  Things got even weirder.  Despite the known fact that the Planning Board could not legally amend the citizens' petition, the chair allowed Mr. Deep and his attorney to put on quite a performance. They've been before the board many times in the past six months, but this time they belatedly tried to bargain with the board, and their presentation was oddly reminiscent of "Let's Make a Deal!".  As the meeting wore on, the chair's objectivity wore off even further, to the point where she rudely dismissed a fellow Planning Board member, as if she was a dog at the dinner table.    Ouch!  That was hard to watch!  (Like watching "The Apprentice").

During the discussion, Planning Board member C. Winters opined that his fellow board members were "sending a chilling message" to just about everybody.  This was intoned with grave solemnity.   It was pointed out to him that "careful consideration doesn't mean a chilling message", but that didn't seem to resonate.   Before the meeting was adjourned, he gave a little pep talk to the audience about how their votes matter and they can vote on this citizens' petition at Town Meeting, and ... you know... vote for Planning Board members...    It was a grossly transparent appeal to change out the board members he doesn't like.

What is going ON?  Scolding and finger-pointing?  Trashing the town, the voters, and fellow board members?  Pandering for votes and politicking at a public hearing?

Apparently, all of this howling and chest-thumping is an effort to get the Planning Board and the selectmen to recommend passage of the citizens' petition/ zoning bylaw to Town Meeting, so let's look at that.  

It was presented to Williamstown by the attorney for a real estate developer.  It is not a zoning bylaw amendment forwarded by our elected Planning Board, (as is usually done), but by a citizens' petition with less than 25 signatures.  The Planning Board DID try to accommodate Mr. Deep, for several frustrating months.  They tried to do their job:  careful, sensible, forward-thinking planning.  They tried to write a zoning bylaw amendment.  They were amenable to the idea of a "country inn" at the site, until the "country inn" turned into a "high-end luxury destination golf resort", with a 40-acre building envelope, and an additional 67 acres of (open space) photovoltaic array.  

Mr. Deep, his attorney, and Planning Board member C. Winters have repeatedly insisted that if this bylaw amendment isn't passed this year by Town Meeting, then the project is dead and the golf course is doomed.  Failure to recommend would "kill the project".  Three members of the Planning Board have asked many times for a defined building envelope, some strong open-space protection, more market specifics -- but no such helpful information was ever forthcoming, and a conservation restriction was a "non-starter". Over a period of four-five months, the rambling verbal-only sales pitch for the project changed and changed, and then changed some more.  The drawings and the market report only appeared at the eleventh hour after the Planning Board had finally tabled the matter, and after the citizens' petition had been drafted and presented to the Selectmen.   The STR market report could not be viewed by the public or even by the Planning Board in open session -- and was therefore useless from a planning perspective.

Why has there been so much evasion?  We've been told that this matter is URGENT, in order to save the golf course.  We all want to save the golf course.  They ran out the clock on the Planning Board, but then cynically tried to appeal to the voters at the public hearing, and were allowed to do it.  They're giving us nothing, and then berating us for our lack of trust.   Why have Mr. Deep and his attorney allowed their own apparent lack of candor to jeopardize their own project in this way?    Is there something they don't want us to know?  This whole thing is very... erratic.

Planning Board member C. Winters has repeatedly stated on the record that his colleagues and the rest of us are "crazy" for wanting to know so much -- but I think it's WAY more crazy to write zoning legislation on the floor of Town Meeting without knowing anything at all.

This citizens' petition represents a dangerous, amorphous piece of spot zoning (overlay district) for our treasured scenic gateway.  The open nature of the southern gateway has been maintained for hundreds of years, and it would be irreversibly altered by careless commercial development.  Will we be the ones who allow it to be ruined?    Or will we insist on sensible, sustainable, reasonably scaled proposals?    Two members of the Planning Board appear to be vigorously cheerleading the citizens' petition.   In effect, they are ADVOCATING an end run around our democratically elected Planning Board's majority decision to table the matter -- a decision made after six meetings and a site visit.  This maneuvering might be technically legal, but is it wise?    

Their advertising meme is . . . "This is investment, it's ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT!  What's the problem?"

There are many potential problems.  The bylaw was put together by an attorney, for a real-estate developer.  Now it is being rammed through the process.  That's not in our best interests.  The scale of what could be allowed, and the lack of any meaningful open-space protection are especially worrisome. The timeshare element of their zoning amendment, with its potential ramifications for Williamstown, is another troubling aspect.  It hasn't been discussed much, and appears to be riding piggy-back into Williamstown on this bylaw amendment.

There seems to be a disconnect here, a big one.   I'm can't help but wonder . . .do my elected and appointed officials know anything of Mr. Deep's history in the area?  His track record?   Say we were writing an RFP -- wouldn't we be interested in that?   It's part of the planning and decision-making process to assess a developer's track record.  We have a fair amount of new blood in town government.  To be fair, it's conceivable that -- as relative newcomers -- some of you might not actually KNOW what Mr. Deep's track record actually IS.

Please read this highly informative piece written just six years ago by Scott Stafford of The Berkshire Eagle.

LINK:  http://www.berkshireeagle.com/ci_14122971

And then this recent article by Stephen Dravis of iBerkshires:

http://www.iberkshires.com/story/48951/Williamstown-Con-Comm-Blasts-Waubeeka-for-Tree-Cutting.html

There's much more out there in the public record.  It should help to illustrate why the majority on the Planning Board and so many of the community are having serious doubts about allowing a zoning bylaw amendment which would allow commercial development of FORTY ACRES along our scenic gateway.

Reasonable, thinking people are justifiably concerned about what might happen with the Waubeeka property, and yet I have not heard even one NIMBY say that Mr. Deep should be denied a thoughtfully revised zoning plan to allow him a modest "country inn".   We want him to do it right.   We don't want to carelessly allow a potentially massive luxury destination golf resort project with timeshares -- which can only realistically serve golfers on the days when our New England weather permits golf.  We don't want to carelessly allow anything that will be to the detriment of the town, and that is one of the reasons why we have a Planning Board. To make sure that we don't.  Most importantly, Williamstown needs to be able to trust a developer -- if we're going to change zoning for him, there has to be a standard.

We should really try to have an orderly conversation about whether residential development would be a better choice for Williamstown (10 lots on 200 acres, by right), but that's a matter for another day.


Let's all calm down and think about the future of the community as a whole, rather than the future of just one aggressive agenda.  Economic development is always best served by smart growth, and smart growth is never accomplished "on the fly".   Let's go back to the drawing board and do it right, if we're inclined to do it.

Developers and speculators are always looking for opportunities, as all land-owning farmers know.  By nature, they see something in every open field, but can hopefully be held to a reasonable, sustainable standard of development with PLANNING AND ZONING.  This matter can come back to the Planning Board again, if Mr. Deep so chooses -- that's his decision.   The Planning Board has made it clear that it will favorably consider some development in South Williamstown, bearing in mind that it is at the bottom of a river valley, and is cherished by the townspeople.  We don't need to panic and take the first (somewhat dubious) offer that comes along.

Can we have civility and respect amongst our elected and appointed officials?   Can we strive for open, rational dialogue and objectivity?  Can we LISTEN to the concerns of the community, without broadly labeling them as NIMBYs?  I think we can.  Our boards are supposed to work in our best interests, not the other way around.

I have always found the voters of Williamstown to be informed, intelligent, and discerning.  We care about this beautiful place, and we'll fight for it.

We ARE better than this.

Sincerely,

Jamie Bairstow
175 Blair Road
Williamstown, MA 01267

TEXT: Proposed zoning-change article initiated by Mike Deep's lawyer for Deep's Waubeeka Golf property permitting a time-sharing hotel development

Below is text, as provided by the town manager's office, of an article to appear on the May 17 Williamstown Town Meeting Warrant, in behalf of developer Michael Deep,which asks voters to approve a zoning change for 40 acres of the Waubeeka Golf property in South Williamstown so that Deep, its owner, can pursue construction of what he is calling a "country-inn" lodging project. The petition allows residential time-shares to be part of such a development and references "New England resort hotel properties." The Williamstown Planning Board voted, 3-2, on March 15 not to recommend approval of the change.  The petition was signed by Stan Parese, Deep's attorney, and 19 other Williamstown residents, the minimum required to initiate a citizen warrant article to Town Meeting. Deep is not a resident of Williamstown.



CITIZEN’S PETITION
ZONING BY-LAW AMENDMENT - WAUBEEKA OVERLAY DISTRICT
Article 35. To see if the Town will vote to amend the Williamstown Zoning By-Laws, §70 of the Code of the Town of Williamstown as follows, or take any other action in relation thereto:

Amend §70-2.1.B by adding the following;
Waubeeka Overlay District (WOD)

Amend §70-2.3 by adding the following;

F.     Waubeeka Overlay District is composed of land shown on the Williamstown Assessor’s Maps, as of the date of the passage of this chapter, Map 303, Lot 51 and 17, and Map 304, Lot 30.

Amend §70-7.4 by adding the following;

F.    Waubeeka Overlay District

(1)   Intent. The Waubeeka Overlay District is intended to permit and encourage redevelopment at the Waubeeka property in a manner that:

a)        Preserves the majority of the area within the district as an important community recreational and open space asset.

b)        Is consistent and in keeping with the historical context of the adjacent South Williamstown Historic District and the greater community.

c)        Promotes the public welfare by encouraging the reuse and enhancement of an existing economic asset; encouraging much needed expansion of Williamstown’s commercial tax base; and encouraging much needed expansion of broad and inclusive employment opportunities in Williamstown.

(2)   The Waubeeka Overlay District is superimposed over the underlying Rural Residence 2 district. Land in the district may be used for such uses as are permitted by right or allowed subject to special permit approval in the underlying district, subject to the same requirements as in the underlying district. Within the WOD, requirements of the underlying district shall apply except where superseded by the special requirements of the WOD in connection with WOD special permits. In the event a WOD special permit lapses pursuant to §70-8.4.B., is permanently revoked, or is permanently surrendered the special requirements of such WOD special permit shall expire.  

(3)   Permissible Uses. The following primary and accessory uses are permitted in the WOD upon Special Permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

a)   Primary Uses.

          i.      Hotel
          ii.     Restaurant
          iii.    Membership Club
          iv.    Golf Course

b)   Accessory Uses.

          i.     Uses customarily accessory to New England resort hotel properties.
          ii.    Agriculture and related uses as described in §70-7.2.D.

(4)   Development and Standards.

a)   Height Requirements: Buildings shall be limited to three stories in height, and no higher than 40 feet. The exterior design will reduce the apparent height and bulk of the building. Design features should have architectural elements that divide the building into smaller pieces Applicants are required to present plans that demonstrate consistency with this objective. 


b)   Landscaping. Landscaping should reduce the apparent height and bulk of the building. Landscape design will include trees, singly or in clumps, arranged to break up the mass of the building and provide a more human scale and shall be oriented in order to reduce massing from adjacent properties and preserve existing distant mountain viewsheds to the maximum extent practicable.

c)   Dimensional Requirements: The underlying dimensional standards with the exception of open space requirements, of the Rural Residence Two District shall apply.

d)   Parking Requirements: Subject to parking determination from the Planning Board as an unlisted use.

(5)   Open Space – Building Envelopes.

In connection with any WOD special permit, the entire WOD shall be divided into open space and building envelopes:

a)   Open space means areas left substantially in a natural or landscaped state. No less than 80% of the district shall remain open space as a condition of any WOD special permit.

              i.    Permitted Open Space Improvements: Open Space shall be inclusive of golf course area, subsurface infrastructure, accessory use solar photovoltaic infrastructure and panels, and such accessory buildings reasonably necessary to support the operation of such permitted open space improvements provided no such accessory buildings shall have an area in excess of 600 square feet. Examples of such accessory buildings include pump houses, equipment shelters, control technology shelters, rain shelters, rest rooms and snack sheds.
               ii.   Prohibited Open Space Improvements: All structures other than those permitted under subsection (5)(a)(i) above.

b)   Building envelopes means areas other than designated open space.

                   i.    Permitted Building Envelope Improvements: Structures, infrastructure, improvements, 
and landscaping related to Permissible Uses.
                  ii.      Prohibited Building Envelope Improvements: Dwellings.
                  iii.     Access to Building Envelopes shall be from New Ashford Road frontage.

c)   Infrastructure in the district need not be located on the same parcel, premises, or Assessor’s Map Lot as the structures or uses it supports. Building envelopes and the structures, infrastructure improvements and landscaping within them may span parcels, premises, or Assessor’s Parcels within the WOD.

d)   Plan Requirements: Any applicant for a WOD special permit shall submit a plan defining open space areas and building envelopes in accordance with this section. The plan shall be prepared by an engineer, architect, or registered surveyor.

e)   Any special permit under this section shall include a condition approving and referencing the Open Space / Building Envelope Plan. The building envelope or envelopes for the uses listed in subsections (3)(a) above shall be located within 500 feet of New Ashford Road and in the northeast quadrant of the district.

(6)   Special Permit Criteria: Any proposed development shall meet the following criteria in addition to the Special Permit criteria of 70-8.3.D

a)   The development shall balance development with preserving open space and view sheds on the remainder of the property.

b)   The overall development, including architectural design, shall be of a form, style, and scale that maintains and enhances those qualities and historical traditions of the Five Corners National Registered Historic District in order to protect the historic and scenic character of the adjacent district.

Amend §70-9.2 by deleting the following:

HOTEL OR MOTEL -- A building or portion thereof, or a group of buildings on a single lot, providing transient sleeping accommodations to the general public in guest units without kitchens, plus not more than a single accessory dwelling unit, but not including a tourist home or boarding or rooming house.

And replacing with the following:

§70-9.2 Definitions

HOTEL: A building or part thereof, or a group of buildings on a single lot, providing transient sleeping accommodations in guest units, not dwelling units, to the general public or, in whole or in part, in accordance with Massachusetts General Law Ch. 183B. Hotels may include a single accessory dwelling unit but shall not include a tourist home or rooming house.

MOTEL: A building or part thereof, or a group of buildings on a single lot, providing transient sleeping accommodations to the general public in guest units, not dwelling units, that are accessed from the exterior only and front upon parking lots. Motels may include a single accessory dwelling unit but shall not include a tourist home or rooming house.  

The Planning Board, by a 3 to 2 vote does not recommend the adoption of this article.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

VERBATIM: The three things Williamstown's planning-board majority seeks from Mike Deep | Anne McCallum

This is the second of a series of posts on the text-archive site of GreylockNews.com addressing issues which will be before Williamstown voters at the May 17 annual Town Meeting.  The following is the text of a statement provided by Ann McCallum, an architect who is among the three members of the Williamstown Planning Board who voted at a March 12 meeting not to recommend voters approve a zoning change for Michael Deep's proposed multi-room lodging development at the Waubeeka Golf Links in South Williamstown. You can read two news accounts of the meeting on iBerkshires or in the Berkshire Eagle.


"We on the Williamstown Planning Board heard a petition about six months ago from Mike Deep, who owns the Waubeeka golf course. The following is an account of subsequent events.

"Mr. Deep claimed the golf course is losing money and that a new hotel might keep it afloat. Would the PB be behind rezoning the site to allow a hotel (presently not an allowed use in Rural Residence zones)? This was an unusual request, and one generally frowned on as “spot zoning” meaning that it would benefit not a swath of town but just one owner of one lot. The Planning Board agreed that in this case, enabling most of the golf course to stay as open space could also benefit the whole town, as it would keep the important southern gateway to the Town with its gorgeous mountain views, so important to all of us residents as well as to our tourist industry.

"The agreed upon idea was that he would take part of the property to develop as his hotel, and in return he would ensure that the rest of the property would be left as open space never to be built on.

"Over the course of several meetings, we tried to hammer out a by-law that would satisfy both parties, but there remained intractable sticking points such as how many acres the development would cover and how to ensure the open land would stay as open land, Eventually it was clear we could not reach consensus.

"With the open-ended by-law Mr. Deep wanted, the Town would run the risk of a disaster: an inappropriately sized development for this crucial part of town, or worse still one that would start with enthusiasm and then run out of money and be abandoned after just a few years. So we passed a motion saying the Planning Board was enthusiastically behind the idea of a country inn on the golf course (to help assure potential developers) and asking Mr. Deep to provide three items before we went any further:


  • "A market study studying the hotel needs for North Berkshire County
  • "A schematic plan of his proposal
  • "A potential developer/partner, with whom we could discuss issues that would be important in ensuring a hotel that the Town would feel was worth the unusual trade-off.

"Once we had that, we could craft the appropriate by-law to accommodate his needs.

"Not willing to provide the Planning Board’s requests (though he provided partial answers at the recent Public Hearing), Mr. Deep is going for an end run around the Board, with a citizen’s petition that will be voted on at Town Meeting, by-passing the Planning Board. The opinion of a majority of the Planning Board members remains opposed to this petition.

"Development at any cost is not good Planning."




VERBATIM: An appeal for jobs and development in Williamstown | Amy Jeschawitz


This is the first of a series of posts on the text-archive site of GreylockNews.com addressing issues which will be before Williamstown voters at the May 17 annual Town Meeting.  The following is the text of a statement read by Planning Board Chairman Amy Jeschawitz at the start of a meeting on March 12, 2015.  You can read two news accounts of the on iBerkshires or in the Berkshire Eagle.


"I am currently in my 2nd year on the Planning Board. I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity of being Chair of this Board in my 2nd year. I moved to Williamstown 10 years ago. I have lived in Williamstown 8 while spending 2 years in Great Barrington.

Thinking about Williamstown. The vitality that was here in 2006 when I first moved to town has waned. Our high school is in disrepair, the closest hospital has closed, our Police and Fire Stations are antiquated and our business districts are littered with empty storefronts.

Let’s take a walk down Spring Street. Tomorrow take this walk on your own and REALLY look. First off the street itself is filthy…last night’s solo cups and beer bottles outside establishments, trash and leaves litter the curb the length of the street. I believe there are three empty store fronts along with the vacant lot in the middle which some people like to refer to as a park. I remember when there was a building there with shops…not a so called park. What really drives me nuts are the overflowing trash bins after a busy College weekend…or for that fact even during the weekend.

"Moving over to Water Street…two more empty store fronts in prime locations. And let’s not forget the old town garage site which has been empty for at least 20 years. What about Linear Park…antiquated playground equipment.

"Now let’s take a drive along Rte 2. How long has the Agway Complex been for sale? At least the condemned houses next to the Agway complex have been torn down – again another vacant lot. Do you know there is another Linear Park #2 behind this lot? There is no sign along the road, the sign that is there once you drive in is old & faded from 14 years ago. Continue to Colonial Shopping Center…the center is old and tired – in dire need of a face lift along with empty storefronts as well. Across the street are the remnants of the Four Acres restaurant which has been empty since I moved to town.

"Turn around…drive down Cole Ave – you have the defunct Women’s Exchange building and of course our monument PhoTech.

"Next find your way to Rte 7 South…there is the defunct Taconic Restaurant which has been for sale 8-9 years. (The brown buildings…) Ignore the high school as you go by – what we have been doing for years. Finally you reach 5 Corners. Green River Farm…a complete shame. The large hoop barn – gone, that happened a couple years ago. Now the plastic on one of the greenhouses flaps in the breeze.

"Williamstown sure is an attractive place. Have we become complacent? Is this our new normal? Part of me says we have and the other screams I can’t stand it anymore.

"I try very hard to not use the words “change”, “grow”, “development” as people’s heads start spinning and fire comes from their mouths. I believe I used the word “fix” a couple meetings ago and that was bad too. Our community has become Anti – EVERYTHING. We have decided that life is good here in W-town and absolutely nothing needs to be anything but.

"Do you realize NOTHING is happening in Williamstown. Rarely a new business opens, no new construction of any kind (excluding Williams College) – and that includes business and homes. Yet still we are thinking everything is OK.

"I attended the WES school budget meeting last week in this very same room. I came not because I have children in the school district because I do not. I came to see who showed up and hear their thoughts. The room was full of emotion as this one is tonight. I sat and listened to parents, the school committee and the superintendent agonize over the budget and how to NOT reduce a program WES has had for over 25 years yet balance a budget that has been out of line for years.

"What I heard was concern and fear – how could we do this. We are a community. The other thing I realized is we “cannot see the forest for the trees.” As a community we have become obsessed and too involved in details of a problem to look at the situation as a whole.

"How do communities sustain? Mostly by increasing their tax base. Taxes pay for schools, roads, parks, water/sewer, etc. They pay for what communities need and want. Our taxes in Williamstown have stayed relatively flat over the years…minimal growth while the world around us continues to become more expensive. We need to face reality. Our taxes are going to increase. We have a high school to pay for one way or another among other things. We have hard choices ahead of us all.

"As a community we need to make the best decisions for us as a whole. We should not be NIMBY’s. If you want to live on an island then go find one…run your own school, your own police and fire, haul water etc. You run the show. Otherwise, we all need to make sacrifices. It has become clear to me over the past few months that there is an increasing Agenda being put forth by members of both the Selectboard and members of this Planning Board. It is politics, I understand that…although I do not agree. Our commitments as Board members are to consider the community as a whole – NOT to promote individual agendas. To borrow words from a friend of mine…”I think we are better than that.”

"Williamstown is a community of approximately 8,000. We are struggling as many others are in our area. We have an opportunity right now to move our community in a better direction with several of the zoning amendments we are here to discuss tonight. Most significantly the items for the Expansion of the Village Business District and the Waubeeka Overlay District.

"Both articles are significant and hold long lasting implications for us as a town. Implications we can use to improve our tax base, provide more jobs and restore two community assets…Waubeeka Golf Course and the Christmas Brook area.  I encourage all residents to be thoughtful and make a well informed decision with accurate information for their vote at town meeting. Do not rely on rumors or “I think” statements from friends and neighbors.

"As a Board tonight we are going to vote on each of the articles as to our recommendation for town meeting. Now let’s get started."

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Town manager Hoch's comments to Williams about proposed 100-room inn on Spring Street -- Problem with Option B seen; concern about Main / Water streets intersection congestion

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. -- Major changes in parking at the bottom of Spring Street could occur if a plan by Williams College to erect a 100-room hotel is approved by Town Meeting voters in May, according to an analysis by Town Manager Jason Hoch.

In a Nov. 13, 2015, email to James Kolesar, a college official, Hoch commented on a "pre-regulatory" filing of plans for the hotel as drawn for the college by its architects, Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc. -- the same firm which has designed a new bookstore building for which construction is about to begin.


UPDATE: In a presentation to the town's planning board on Tuesday, March 15, Williams said it is currently considering submitting "Option A" (image above right).  The planning board voted, 5-0, to recommend that the town's voters approve, at May town meeting, a zoning change to allow Williams to proceed with formal planning of the hotel project.


The "town parking lot" at the bottom of Spring Street is actually on land owned by Williams College. Hoch suggest the relocation of Walden Street if a hotel is built in order to create a single, four-way intersection at the bottom of Spring Street.  "Option B seems very problematic from a traffic perspective with congested drop off and bus loading areas," he writes.

There is no suggestion in the "pre-regulatory" filing that Cambridge Seven consider any other locations for an inn in town other than the two sites at the end of Spring Street. Williams has said that it would close and raze the current Williams Inn if it gets voter permission for a zoning change to build an inn on Spring Street.

Here is a text of the email. To view the details "pre-regulatory" filing submitted last year by the college to the town, click HERE.

Town Review Comments – 13 November 2015
From: Jason Hoch
Date: Fri, Nov 13, 2015 at 9:18 AM
Subject: FW: Inn site study
To: Jim Kolesar

Jim –

Thank you for the opportunity to review the site study for the Inn. Our staff has reviewed the report with an intent of offering general observations about findings and potential areas for further study before finalizing. We did not review it as a full pre-regulatory type filing as we understand this is a draft and there is ample time for formal review later.

The most notable issue of concern is the further deterioration of service at the Water/Main intersection.

I am happy to discuss the items noted below in greater detail with the project team or to provide additional clarification. Further, please feel free to attribute any of these comments and subsequent analysis that may be added to the report as resulting from the Town of Williamstown’s informal review if it is helpful to differentiate from the College’s initial plans.

Land Use

One of the key recommendations of the 2002 Master Plan is that the Village Business District needs to be gradually expanded to accommodate more business space as this is lacking in town. Additionally, tourism should be pursued as a major avenue of economic development. Option A seems to accomplish these goals more effectively than Option B as it preserves the Town Parking Lot as a future site for mixed use development once the parking situation is addressed by using another site in the future for parking. A mixed use building at the Option A hotel site would be less ideal than on the Town Parking lot site as a mixed use building would more heavily rely on pedestrian traffic. A hotel on the other hand is an ideal anchor institution and generates its own pedestrian traffic and is ideal for the Option A site as long as steps noted in the report to ensure pedestrian connectivity are taken into account.

Both Police and Fire Departments expressed concern about fully restricting the existing Denison Park Drive such that the hotel has only one main access in Option A. They would prefer having a secondary access. This can be a bollard protected emergency only lane similar to the installation at Weston Field. The same observation holds for the Annex as shown in Option B.

The Fire Department notes that access to two sides of the buildings is necessary for appropriate fire protection. In both options, the annex shows little to no accessibility for fire lanes.

Traffic

Placing the hotel at the Option A site preserves more of the existing traffic pattern and does not force as any vehicles towards the Hoxsey Street intersection which will be difficult to improve from a LOS perspective.  ased on the report, one can surmise that the proposed Walden Street extension to South Street could  enhance LOS at all area intersections.

The Town needs to consider methods of improving upper Water Street due to the serious LOS at this area.  itigation might have to be considered during a hotel permitting process, as this LOS will decrease further.

A roundabout could be a major improvement to the Water Street intersection. Traffic volumes at this  ntersection however, are near the upper limit for capacity of a single lane urban compact roundabout on a  eak hour basis. This should be studied further. From a design perspective, a significant amount of pavement  lready exists at the Water/Main/Waterman intersection and could likely be reconfigured without significant  oss of additional land or existing parking on Water Street.

Option B seems very problematic from a traffic perspective with congested drop off and bus loading areas.

The report notes that the existing Latham / Denison/ Spring / Parking lot intersection is problematic, and  angerous for pedestrians. Serious design attention must be paid to this site in the development process. If site A is selected the College could consider relocating Walden Street during the process of reconstructing and expanding the Town parking lot to create a 4 way intersection with significantly improved site lines. This approach, when combined with the separate Walden Street Extension could provide one continuous through street from Water Street to South Street which could offer an overall reduction of volume on Main Street.

Wetlands & Site Technical Analysis

Guntlow’s wetlands report is excellent and captures the concerns shared by the Community Development ffice and he Conservation Commission when the project was discussed last year.

We have no comments on the geotechnical work.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

More anonymous advocacy re the MGHRS renovation vote -- this time from the proponents

Update: Wendy Penner reports:
The mailers were sent out by the Build Mt Greylock ballot question committee which has filed with both towns. Led by Cheryl Sacks and Valierie Hall, Treasurer Jim Majhon. The group has been holding and promoting outreach events and asking for donations from supporters. You can see the FB page here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1172847762733072    Hope this helps! 

Large postcards were delivered by U.S. mail to residents and businesses in Williamstown (and probably Lanesborough, too) promoting the renovation of Mount Greylock Regional High School. The postcards say only: "Preparation and postage paid by the Build Greylock organization."  Who's that? Speak up, please.