Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Candidates for state Senate debate publicly on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at MCLA's Church Street Center

Downing -- not seeking re-election
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. -- The third in a series of debates among the candidates for Massachusetts State Senate for the Berkshires takes place tomorrow (Wednesday, Aug. 17) at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA).

Democratic contenders are  Andrea Harrington, of Richmond, Rinaldo Del Gallo, of Lenox and Adam Hinds of Pittsfield.  The last faced-off on Aug. 11 at Berkshire Community College.  The primary election is Sept. 8.  Also participating at MCLA on Wednesday will be Republican candidate Christine Canning, of Lanesborough.

North Adams City Councilor Lisa Blackmer has put together the format on behalf of the city's Democratic committee, with moderation provided by the Williamstown League of Women Voters -- so the gathering is non-partisan and will include the GOP candidate as well as three Democrats.  Blackmer says that with the candidates espousing similiar positions on some key issues, she hopes this gathering will focus a bit on how they plan to represent the county.

The event begins at 7 p.m. sharp in the Church Street Center at MCLA and will run until 9 p.m.  Questions will come from the audience and from three blogger-reporters -- Tammy Daniels, managing editor of iBerkshires.com; Jason Velazquez, owner-editor of TheGreylockGlass.com and Bill Densmore, who blogs at greylocknews.com.

Technically the race is for the First Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden District for a seat being vacated by Benjamin Downing, who decided not to seek re-election.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

AN INVITATION: Stick your neck out -- and be prepared to collaborate -- on Aug. 11 at the Greylock Economy Working Group circle-round idea forum


This note is an invitation to join a unique gathering from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Thurs., Aug. 11.  It's at the Greylock Mill, the big old factory halfway between Williamstown and North Adams on state Route 2. It's free and it's open to the public.  But you do have to register to attend. And registration is easy.

Just click here:


Many of us have lived a long time in the Greylock region. We've seen profound change over 30 or 40 years -- but the change is not unlike much of America and it is change that is very much at the center of this year's presidential race.  Fewer manufacturing jobs, changing demographics, yet an increasingly diverse and interdependent world due to amazing technology and communications.  
In the last few weeks, you may have read about a gathering organized by state Rep. Gail Cariddi at MCLA, and one organized by The Eagle at Seranac, in Stockbridge. Both have been remarkable efforts -- drawing together some of the region's key thought leaders -- to start discussions about the future of our environment, our economy, and our artistic, social and community lives. 
Mahatma Gandhi said: "You must be the change you want to see in the world."  And Margaret Mead said: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."  
Now its time for each of us to lead.  Won't you please join us on Aug. 11 for a facilitated, open, circle-round discussion about the Greylock economy, environment and communities?  Leaders emerge, they are not annointed. You may have a simple idea you want to put on the table to make our region more just, more inclusive, more stable, more innovative, more attractive or more healthy. Bring it to the circle, please. We'll be gathering ideas and publishing them online after the gathering.

If you come, I am convinced you will meet new, committed neighbors and hear fresh ideas that excite you about or region's future. Don't miss out.
Register today.  Space will be limited.  By registering, you will be letting our participating communities know you are willing to make a difference, willing to reason and work together as part of the ad-hoc Greylock Economy Working Group. 
Thanks.  If you have questions our suggestions about the format, or want to submit papers, ideas,documents or multimedia before we gather -- please email.
Please forward this invitation to a friend or colleague who you think can bring an important, catalytic idea to the circle on Aug. 11. 
And thanks for sticking your neck out to join us!
Bill Densmore
​co-Founder and member, Citizen Media Inc.,\
 non-profit publisher of ​The Greylock Independent ​

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Fwd: BerkShares in the Northern Berkshires

From: "ralph.brill" <ralph.brill@verizon.net>
Date: June 15, 2016 at 6:28:22 PM EDT
At last  summer's Adams Anthony Meeting, I challenged Adams Community Banks's Charles O'Brien to bring South County's BerkShares to the Northern Berkshires.  I put Charles together with BerkShares Susan Witt and they agreed to try to make it happen.  It was supposed to happen by last Xmas.  It didn't.  But this week, it is Official (www.berkshares.org).  Locally Owned Businesses can participate with this World Famous Local Currency.  Residents and Visitors can Purchase BerkShares at any Adams Community Bank.  So, maybe Adams Anthony should take some credit for providing the forum to let this happen.  It now needs to be promoted to Regional Businesses and Residents and Visitors like has happened with our cousins in Great Barrington.  -  Ralph
Ralph Brill, President
413.664 4353

Thursday, May 19, 2016

TEXT: Ex-planning board member asserts "clear pattern of bias" by moderator Adam Filson at Williamstown Town Meeting

The following is the full text of an email sent by Williamstown resident and former Planning Board member Patrick Dunlavey to Adam Filson, an attorney who serves as the town's current Town Moderator. A copy was also emailed to all selectmen, so it is a public record. The note refers to conduct of the May 17, 2016 town meeting. Full video of the meeting, captured by volunteers at staff at WillinNet.org, the town's public-access cable service, can be viewed HERE.


Dear Adam,

I have lived in Williamstown for 28 years and have attended at least that many town meetings. I've seen meetings more contentious than the one Tuesday night, but I've never witnessed one where the way the meeting was moderated so directly contributed to the outcome.

As you know, or should know, a moderator should only vote to break a tie (or to tie - if by doing so the motion is defeated). I was far in the back of the room for most of the meeting, so did not observe this myself, but I'm told that you participated in the standing vote on the Waubeeka article, voting yes. 

But that is not what prompts me to write you. Rather, it is the way you managed the debate on this article. 

A zoning change requires a supermajority (for good reason). A minority controls the outcome, and that minority needs to have an opportunity to present its arguments, in an atmosphere that may feel overwhelmingly hostile to them. Your job is to ensure that both sides can present their arguments, and to fail or succeed on the merits of those arguments. 

But that's not what happened Tuesday night. As Ann McCallum tried to present her prepared remarks, laying out the reasoning behind the square-footage amendment, you repeatedly interrupted her, admonishing her about the time she was taking and the tone of her comments. This completely rattled her, leaving her to frantically figure out what to say and what to leave out. She was booed by some yahoos in the audience, but instead of sternly correcting the offenders and granting Ms McCallum extra time, you urged her to wrap it up. 

The result was a fiery train wreck for that proposal. Yes, she definitely should have edited down her presentation, and the tone was blunt, shall we say. But you made a decision as chair that what she had to say and what that might mean for the outcome of this vote was less important than how she said it.

You did not apply these same standards to Stan Parese, who seemed to have the microphone whenever he wanted it, for as long as he wanted it, to say whatever he wanted to say, in whatever tone he wanted to use. You permitted a re-vote on the sunset clause and clean CR language just voted moments before. (Town Counsel did not opine on whether you should permit the re-vote, just whether as moderator it was within your rights to do so.)

Everything I'm describing adds up to a clear pattern of bias in your conduct of the meeting. It almost certainly changed the outcome. This is unprecedented in my memory, and inexcusable. 

Pat Dunlavey
Oblong Road

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

An "EDITORIAL" -- the owner of GreylockNews.com offers advice on the Waubeeka rezoning

A fellow town resident emailed GreylockNews.com asking for advice about how to vote at tonight’s Town Meeting regarding Michael Deep’s “citizen petition” effort to create commercial zoning in South Williamstown only for the Waubeeka Golf Links property.

 There is lots of background below and at http://www.greylocknews.com that doesn’t need repeating and an unofficial “Voters Guide” too that is here:


 GreylockNews.com (Bill Densmore) has tried to present reportorial-style information about Mr. Deep’s proposal. But we are not a news organization and, like a newspaper, which publishes editorials, we have formed some opinions.

 It strikes us that our readers might like to know those opinions, in order to filter how you interpret our reportorial-style information.

 One take is here: http://greylockindependent.com/2016/03/personal-view-citizens-petition/ 


One fellow townsperson asked if voting tonight will be by secret ballot. My reply: To do it by secret ballot, someone will have to make a motion and we will have to vote on it. I am certain someone will make that motion. I know from talking to Town Clerk Mary Kennedy that she is anticipating secret ballot(s) and has set up the infrastructure and people to handle it.

 As a point of information to individuals who work for Williams College, we posted this blog entry last night:


 A Williams College official replied to a query from GreylockNews.com, asking the school to comment on worries that its employees might feel concern at town meeting in voting contrary to the college's interests or positions. Said James Kolesar, a college spokesman: " . . . [C]olleges, including Williams, are by no means in short supply of public criticism from their employees, and that's how it should be." Williams is appealing to voters to approve an up-to-100-room hotel it proposes for the bottom of Spring Street, to replace the Williams Inn, which would be razed. 

 Here is the advice we offered today to that fellow town resident: 

 On Tue, May 17, 2016 at 10:53 AM, xxxxxxxxxxxxx wrote:

 Hi Bill - thanks for keeping us up to date on the important but shifting & confusing situation about Deep's request to change zoning at Waubeeka. I have a couple of last minute questions: 1. Why hasn't anyone objected to Parese as lawyer representing Deep serving as moderator at Town Meeting? Seems like a conflict of interest.


 But here’s is Stan’s view about the essential value of Town Meeting: http://www.newshare.com/pdfs/democracy.pdf 

 2. For people who think this proposed zoning overlay is too unspecific, too rushed and too fishy and for people who just this Deep is an untrustworthy sleazeball, any advice on how to approach the meeting tonight? 

  1.  Restrict the square footage of the hotel to an appropriate size that won’t impair other hotel/motel businesses in town, costing us tax revenues.
  2.  Define the 120 as "rooms" not "units" (units could be multiple rooms as in a timeshare) and
  3.  Adjust the Conservation Restriction language as needed to make its intent and application clear.
  4. Include language which states the clear intent of the voters is to save the golf course (that’s not anywhere in Mr. Deep’s requested language at present). 
 I believe Ann will make her motion to amend (as representing the majority of the outgoing Planning Board), AFTER Stan Parese moves the Deep-favored amendment.

 If the meeting fails on a simple majority vote to attach Ann's amendment to Stan's amendment (which would replace Stan's amendment), then I recommend that you first:

 (a) Support a motion to send the whole thing back to the Planning Board to start over again (which also requires only a simple majority), or

 (b) Defeat the zoning overlay article on its merits (which at that point will be bad). Only one-third of the meeting has to vote NO on the overall article for it to fail (it needs a two-thirds majority approval). This would be the worst outcome for Mr. Deep; a better outcome for him would be a vote to send it back to the Planning Board without a definitive defeat.

 - if there's a motion to table the vote to give the townspeople & the Planning Board more time to assess the proposal, should we vote yes or try to defeat Article 35? 


 - I guess there are 2 proposed amendments that I assume will be voted on first. Should we vote yes for the better (Planning Board's ) one or vote no on both and hope that the unamended article is so threatening that the people will vote it down? 


Sunday, May 15, 2016

A FRESH PERSPECTIVE: Read what a smart outsider has to say about the Waubeeka zoning proposal

(Posted by Bill Densmore)
On Friday, while visiting at my mother's house in Worcester, I shared the "Unofficial Voters Guide" document with a smart Worcester friend in his 70s who has spent most of his career in health care, but at one point in his life was in real-estate sales for a year or so -- in Britain.  I asked him after he had read the guide, and with no additional information from me, to describe the situation as he understood it.  This is what he said: 
Somebody has a special interest, the seem to want to avoid the normal procedure, which is going through the planning board. Because the citizenry needs the information from the planning board to be able to evaluate it -- and this is completely bypassing what would normally be a town procedure for a project, especially one that is reasonably large.

My other concern is the 67 acres bordering the golf course which is wetlands.  That wetlands would probably be threatened by the development.

It almost seems like they are in a hurry. Usually it is marry in haste and repent in leisure.  Whenever they do shortcuts there is somebody on the inside who is going to make quite a bit a money and it is just a matter of looking at who benefits from this, and I don't think it is going to be the citizenry.
The charm of a town like that is they don't have these big, almost semi-convention centers.
I did commercial real estate many years ago so I know how developers work. You can do a lot of damage changing zoning and you might not expect it. You may not see down the road, you can look at the way the zoning was as say it has worked this way for 50-100 years, why risk changing it? 

Sherwood Guernsey circulates one-page flyer asserting Waubeeka "myths"

South Williamstown resident Sherwood Guersney has prepared and is distributing a one-page flyer asserting "myths" about a zoning-change proposal supported by Waubeeka Golf Links owner Michael Deep.   The flyer may be read here:

Friday, May 13, 2016

Waubeeka resort lodging proposal: A lawsuit waiting to happen, says Langston

David Langston, of Williamstown, a retired Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts professor and former member of the Mount Greylock Regional School District writes to GreylockNews.com

When explaining the Waubeeka hotel proposal, Mr. Deep and his attorney have repeatedly deflected questions about the precise character of their plans by saying that such details will only emerge after they sign up a developer to build and operate the hotel -- business deals they say can only take place once Williamstown has amended its zoning bylaw authorizing the project.

It is difficult to think that any real
estate developer with sufficiently deep pockets for such a project would sign a contract unless there were powerful financial incentives that the investment would pay off.   It seems reasonable to think that a developer will direct a skeptical eye toward the prospect of building a very large hotel in a remote location where the already existing hotels are in constant financial difficulty;  it could  lead to driving hard bargains to justify the investment, and the incentives for that sort of development often take the form of  tax concessions and the elimination of limits on the scope of the project. 

The limits for the project prescribed by the zoning overlay district would be the obvious target that a developer would want to set aside.  And the well-worn path in Massachusetts for eliminating the constrictions of zoning laws is a lawsuit against a town with the  charge that the restrictions in the zoning code are illegal.  

Massachusetts courts have a notable track record of overturning zoning codes that unfairly restrict growth for some projects while permitting growth for other similar enterprises.   Whatever reasons the town might have for authorizing a development does not constrain the court in settling a developer's lawsuit.  

When  towns establish zoning that limits the character of development, those codes need careful scrutiny and drafting to ensure that the law meets standards of equal treatment for everyone and that conform to the often convoluted laws and legal precedents that govern land development.

The proposal to change the zoning code as a special case just for Waubeeka carries several notable risks.  This particular warrant article was drafted by a self-interested petitioner, not by a neutral or disinterested agent, and if the town amends the zoning law for a specific project, it opens the door for lawsuits that could set aside the town's motives and wishes, whatever they turn out to be.   And the ramifications might not apply just to Waubeeka but to zoning everywhere in town.  

Once the zoning laws are changed by town meeting or by court judgment, the Zoning Board of Appeals is constrained by the new terms of the law;  it cannot set limits that are not authorized by the statute.

In the 90s, when Williamstown overhauled its zoning code, one principle that shaped the revision was "greater density of development in the center of town in exchange for more open space on the periphery."  The Waubeeka proposal abridges that principle

So ​
whatever the merits of the Waubeeka idea, the  amount of time in town meeting (the final article on a very long Warrant) will not likely produce sound legislation;  there has been too little research on the possible consequences and legal ramifications for development in the town as a whole and the potential impact on the pocket books of the taxpayers.  

With a new generation becoming our governors and with new people moving to town, perhaps the  time has arrived for changing those principles on which the zoning code is based, but making that move in response to the citizen's petition whose wording carries the potential for a chain of lawsuits seems ill advised.

Fwd: Letter regarding Waubeeka from Stephanie Boyd: We need to know scale

May 13, 2016

To the Williamstown Community, 
It comes down to uncertainty.
When we don't quite know how the future will unfold and we need to make a decision that will have long term impacts, we inevitably seek advice from trusted friends and colleagues; we read published materials; we attend meetings; we gather evidence; we reflect on our experiences and knowledge; we talk in a effort to understand the potential implications of the uncertainty. 
Today, the issue at hand is what to do with the proposed rezoning of the Waubeeka property. As a community, we have a lot of common ground. 
• We would like to have a viable golf course. 
• We would like to see some economic growth. 
• We would like to shore up the Town's coffers with additional tax revenue. 
• We would like to maintain our open space and unparalleled natural beauty. 
• We need a 2/3 vote at Town Meeting to revise the current zoning plan. 
• And we need a zoning plan that allows for enough flexibility for a profitable development. 
But the route to getting there isn't clear. We fear that if we make the zoning by-law too restrictive the developer will flee, and perhaps worse, we will send a message to others considering Williamstown as a base for business that they are not welcome. We fear that if we make the zoning plan too loose, a monstrosity will be created that will damage the natural environment we value and negatively impact our existing businesses. 
For months, our town's elected bodies have been discussing and negotiating with the current property owner of Waubeeka to determine if we can find a way to rezone the property from a single family home zone (with the golf course grandfathered in) to one that would allow for commercial development. We've made progress. The developer has conceded a conservation restriction, albeit with strings attached, and has defined some boundaries around the scope of the potential future development. 
It is important that we understand the implications of this proposal if we are to make an informed decision on Tuesday. Do we adopt Deep's revised Citizen's Petition as is? Do we amend it at Town Meeting? Do we defer our decision so we can reduce some of the uncertainty? 
What do we need to know so that we can proceed rationally toward an effective solution? 
1. The Scale: Deep's revised Citizen's Petition that will be presented at Town Meeting states that the development will occur on 10 acres of land, and be limited to 120 units and 3 stories tall. Since there is no square footage limitation, (and there is no description of what comprises a unit), the building size is virtually unrestricted. The developer argues that he can't provide the square footage because that would limit the flexibility and dissuade future developer interest in the property. Repeated requests for a building size estimate have gone unanswered. But 120 units is a limit of sorts, 3 stories high is a limit. 10 acres is a limit. And there is nothing inherently wrong with defining the building size too. It would help us better visualize the scale of the allowed development and provide clear guidance to future developers. 

2. The Zoning: All parcels of land come with restrictions on how they can be used. There are rules concerning uses (residential or commercial or industrial), there are guidelines about property boundaries, and height restrictions. There are rules associated with watersheds and surrounding land and vegetation. As much as individual may own a property, we recognize that the property is part of a community (local and global) and the community has the right to have a say in how it can be used. When a change is proposed, we also have a right to weigh in. Changing zoning can have significant long-term impacts, and we should take the time to consider those impacts. Recent zoning changes in Williamstown include Cable Mill property, and the proposed change at the foot Spring St to allow for hotel development. In both those cases, a concept plan for the development was available which facilitated understanding of the long-term impacts. This is not the case with the Waubeeka property. There is not a conceptual plan available to facilitate understanding and thereby reducing the uncertainty of what we are agreeing to. 

3. The Tax Revenue: At this point, we can't say what the tax revenue implications of a hotel development will be. At the recent Finance Committee meeting, the committee decided not to vote when asked to support the Waubeeka zoning proposal. It was unclear to the Finance Committee whether the proposed zoning change would lead to increased revenue or not. This is partially due to the fact the tax revenue for hotels is based on a complex net income revenue formula. Increased revenue at one hotel could lead to decreased revenue at another, with the net result being no increase in tax revenue to the Town. Without a business plan that supports the proposed (but undefined) development, the finance committee decided not to weigh in. 
4. The Details: There are clauses in Deep's zoning proposal that put limits on the conservation restriction – allowing for wells to be constructed, photovoltaicsto be installed, and forestry to be undertaken. These caveats then affect how the 'conserved' land can be handled legally in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It wouldn't fall under typical legal definition of Conservation Restriction and will be more difficult to manage in the future. And the developer has stipulated that if the hotel fails, he could decide to surrender his permit and the land would revert back to residential zoning. This type of decision should be left for future Town boards to decide. 

5. The Town Officials' Advice: We elect people to represent us on town boards. We ask them, and are grateful to them, for taking the time to delve deeply into issues; to research current topics; to deliberate; to represent us; to advise us. This particular issue is difficult and there is not a consensus among our community's boards or among our elected officials. The Planning Board is leaning against Deep's Citizen's Petition 3-2, the Select Board is standing on the side of the petition 4-1, and Finance Committee has declined to take a stand. The only thing we can conclude from our elected leaders is that this proposal is not ready for adoption as it currently stands. It doesn't clearly support the principles of smart growth or move us toward sound economic development. It doesn't, in its current state, support the needs of our Town. 
Let's work together to make any changes to the Waubeeka property zoning express our desire to welcome developers to our town, while also reflecting our collective desires for balanced growth and a long-term sustainable vision for our town. 
With best regards, 

Stephanie Boyd 
26 Waterman Place, Williamstown, MA