Wednesday, July 05, 2006

TEXT: Letter to selectmen from from Nancy Nylen supporting Gardner appointment

Here is the text set to selectmen by environmentalist Nancy A. Nylen in support of the reappointment of Sarah Gardner to the Williamstown Planning Board.

June 20, 2006

John Madden, Chair
Board of Selectmen
Town of Williamstown
31 North Street
Williamstown, MA 01267

Dear Jack,

I am writing in support of Sarah Gardner.s reappointment to the Williamstown Planning Board. I have worked with Sarah in various capacities over the years, and most recently we worked together on 2006 Earth Week activities and the kick-off of the COOL campaign. I always find that Sarah is conscientious and passionate about her work and the local community.

As Williamstown continues to implement the Master Plan that challenges us to balance development pressures with preserving the wonderful character of our community, it is important to have someone on the Planning Board who is experienced and dedicated. We are fortunate to have such a person in Sarah.

Thank you for your consideration. Please let me know if you have any questions.


Nancy Nylen
1214 Northwest Hill Road

Cc: Robin Malloy

TEXT: Sarah Gardner reply to Berkshire Eagle reporter re non-reappointment

Here is the text of an exchange between ousted Williamstown Planning Board
member Sarah Gardner and a reporter from The Berkshire Eagle. The exchange
was supplied to by Gardner.

Dear Dr. Gardner,

I'm writing to find out a bit more about the Selectmen's decision on Monday. Is there a precedent from not re-appointing members of the Planning Board who want to return? Also, is there a precedent for the involvement of a figure such as Charles Fox in the decision?

Do you think the Selectmen based their decision on the vote you cast on the Foxwood Lane project? In addition, do you have any final thoughts about serving on the board.

Thank you for your help.

Patrick Rheaume


----- Original Message -----
From: "Sarah S. Gardner"
Sent: Friday, June 30, 2006 12:55 PM
Subject: Planning Board responses

Hi Patrick,

Here are my comments. I'm out of town and using a public computer in a library! So if you want to follow-up, please call my cell phone: 413-281-0478.

1. I've lived in Williamstown since the summer of 1999. Since that time, the only board member not reappointed was Anita Barker, and I believe that was because some selectmen and town officials disagreed with her approach to planning, which they felt was too pro-environmental and they wished to compose a board that would be less scrupulous about fostering development.

There was another instance last year when the select board appointed a less qualified candidate over an environmentalist with stellar credentials, Phil McKnight. They offered no substantive explanation for their decision.

2. Again, since I've lived in W'town, this is the first land use decision that has been appealed to land court. There may have been previous appeals in the history of the town, but I have no knowledge of them. It certainly seems irregular for a developer whose case is in land court to be lobbying for and against planning board appointments. However, he has such a clear conflict of interest in this matter that one hopes his views were taken with a healthy dose of skepticism.

3. It certainly seems that the selectmen must have voted against my reappointment because they were displeased with my disinclination to grant waivers from Williamstown's zoning bylaw, a decision based on a careful review of the proposal, which I concluded posed a hazard to public safety (based on the expert opinion of the board's consultant). I was also opposed to the proposed water main along the Route 7 corridor, which many of these selectmen vigorously supported. I can only guess that their decision was motivated by their preference for someone who would be more of a rubber stamp for development proposals.

But this is only speculation. Because these three failed to explain their reasons for voting me off the board, one cannot know for certain. And this strikes me as the crux of the situation. The real tragedy here is not a personal one: there's plenty of land use planning and policy work to be done in the Berkshires, and not being on the planning board will not prevent me from continuing to work in this area.

Rather, the real tragedy is the absence of transparency in local decisionmaking. At the meeting these three selectmen declined a request from the audience that they account for their decision. The reason for this is not hard to guess: their pattern of action over the past few years suggests that they do not appear to represent the preferences of the voters on land use issues. This was demonstrated in the battle over the water main (which the selectmen supported but which was voted down at two town meetings), and in the recent town meeting, in which voters approved a number of land use measures that the selectmen opposed. It would appear that their recent planning board appointments may be a way of undermining public opposition to their particular agenda, which again does not appear to represent the will of the majority.

The lack of transparency in the select board's vote and their reluctance to engage in open debate seems antithetical to the spirit of democracy. The voters of Williamstown deserve to know what their elected officials stand for, in order that they may decide if they agree. We would all be better served by public deliberation on the needs and interests of the town.

Sarah Gardner, Ph.D.
Center for Environmental Studies
Williams College, Williamstown, MA 01267
phone: 413-597-4209 fax: 413-597-3489

TEXT: Letter from Sarah Gardner to editor of The Berkshire Eagle

Williamstown resident Sarah Gardner supplied below, at the request of Bill Densmore, a text of letter she has sent to The Berkshire Eagle responding to an Eagle editorial published Monday, July 3.

Here is the text of The Eagle's editorial, followed by Gardner's reply:

Right choice in Williamstown
Published: Monday, July 03

The majority of the Williamstown Selectmen made the right decision in replacing Sarah Gardner with Chris Winters on the Planning Board. Any member of a town board should make some pretense of objectivity, but Ms. Gardner was consistently anti-development, and the board's violation of the Open Meeting law in mustering opposition to a proposed water main extension put Ms. Gardner, who was board chairman at the time, on shaky ground. This was a board in dire need of a change, and those unhappy with the decision should consider making a change in the Select Board by running for office. Williamstown has more than its share of critics and Monday-morning quarterbacks, but town offices go uncontested year after year. Rather than just complain endlessly about how the town has been run, why not do something about it?

----- Original Message -----
From: Sarah Gardner
Cc: Sarah Gardner
Sent: Monday, July 03, 2006 10:26 PM
Subject: To the Editor: Re: Williamstown Planning Board Conflict

To the Editors:

Whoever drafted Monday's editorial maligning me ["Right Choice in Williamstown"] should have investigated the facts. No one who read the minutes of the Planning Board meetings can call me anti-development. I have consistently voted in favor of projects that conform with state regulations and local bylaws. I have only voted against development proposals that have requested waivers from these laws that would endanger public safety. The Foxwood Lane subdivision proposed by Charles Fox and Joan Burns on Bee Hill Road falls into this category. An independent consultant engaged by the Planning Board issued a report, in agreement with the abutters' consultant, which stated that the access road to the subdivision was inadequate to serve a 9-lot housing development. Planning Board Chair Robin Malloy and I voted against the proposal because we felt it was our duty to follow the recommendations of the Board's independent consultant. Developers Fox and Burns have made the denial!
of their subdivision application into a political issue.

As for the allegation of an Open Meeting Law violation around the water main issue of two years ago, several points of clarification are warranted. First, I was not singled out: following the delivery of a conflicting build-out analysis by a town employee to the Board of Selectmen, four members of the five member board issued a press release to clarify the build-out analysis that was approved by the Board at an earlier meeting. The Planning Board did not appreciate that the release would be controversial because it was a restatement of information that had been discussed at a public meeting. An anonymous person contacted the District Attorney alleging that the Planning Board had violated the Open Meeting Law. While the allegation was made, there was no official investigation by the DA, and the board was never formally charged with violating the law. The District Attorney sent a letter of reprimand to the board members and asked that they attend a seminar on Open Meeting!
Law. I attended such a seminar on March 17, 2005 at the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.

It is disappointing that the Eagle's Editorial Board takes allegations made by angry town officials as gospel truth. In the future I hope that the paper will take the time to investigate the facts before endorsing injurious statements about the good clitizens of Berkshire Country.

Sarah Gardner

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

SOURCE DOCUMENT: Planning-board majority's November 2004 email

Here below is a copy of an email sent by Bill Densmore to an editor and reporter of The Transcript on Nov. 28, 2004, (at a time when Densmore was not a columnist, reporter or editor) advising of an email announcement sent by Sarah Gardner to him. The email figures in a current controversy over failure June 26 by the board of selectmen to reappoint Gardner to a second, five-year term on the Planning Board.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 28 Nov 2004 19:40:49 -0500 (EST)
From: Bill Densmore <>
To: Karen Gardner <>,
Noah Hoffenberg <>
Subject: NEWS: Planning Board opposes water line

Four out of five members of the Williamstown Planning Board announced on Sunday their opposition to the Cold Spring Road water line. In a statement, they said the line will inevitably lead to development inconsistent with the town's master plan. They said Building Inspector Michael Card acted without their knowledge in presenting a build-out analysis to selectmen which different from the planning board's calculations. They said so long as other water options exist for Mount Greylock Regional High School, the line should not be built. Their full statement is below.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 28 Nov 2004 17:27:26 -0500
From: Sarah S. Gardner <>
Subject: W'town Planning Board press release

Press release from W'town Planning Board is attached and pasted below.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Williamstown Planning Board, Nov. 28, 2004

Planning Board Opposes Water Main

Four of the five members of the Williamstown Planning Board today announced their opposition to the proposed Cold Spring Road water main extension. They are James Haskins (Vice Chair), Freda Bennett, Sarah Gardner, and Robin Malloy. The four said they were concerned that water main would undermine Williamstown's land use plans as stated in the Master Plan, and reiterated their confidence in the build-out analysis they presented to the Board of Selectmen last month.The four members of the Planning Board issued their statement in response to a revised build-out analysis presented at the November 22nd meeting of the Board of Selectmen by Williamstown’s Building Inspector, Mike Card.

Mr. Card's analysis is inconsistent with the analysis previously presented by the Williamstown Planning Board. While Mr. Card's analysis was limited to the development potential of lots with direct frontage on Cold Spring Road, the Planning Board took an approach that recognizes the full potential for development by including in its analysis the potential for subdivision development of those parcels. Although lots without frontage on Cold Spring Road cannot hook up to the sewer line as a matter of right, development of those parcels could be achieved by means of septic systems or the granting of an exception to the frontage requirement. Accordingly, the Planning Board determined that there is a potential for development of 54 additional residential lots along Cold Spring Road between the Captain's Table and the high school (this number does not include the potential lots to be created on Woodcock Road which were included in the original analysis).

In addition, the Planning Board thought it prudent to consider potential development beyond MGRHS, because the water main could be extended at private expense with Board of Selectmen approval. Examining the limited Five Corners area (extending to the southern and eastern boundaries of Waubeeka Golf Course and along a portion of Sloan Road) we determined that the potential of an additional 100 lots. It is important to note that in considering the potential for build-out along Cold Spring Road and the Five Corners Area, the Planning Board made reasonable concessions to its calculations to account for wetlands and topographical constraints that could affect the development. In addition, while Mr. Card considered only the potential subdivision of lots in the Tourist Business District pursuant to the ANR process, the Planning Board, at TownMeeting, presented an analysis of the potential for expansion of tourist-based businesses on the existing lots.

In that analysis we determined, with Mr. Card's concurrence, that one of the existing parcels, specifically the parcel that houses the 1896 House, could reasonably be built out to accommodate a 100 room motel/hotel (4 times the size of the existing structure) and that similar commercial development could occur on other commercially zoned lots if under common ownership. Finally, as we have previously stated, we cannot begin to speculate on the potential for development by 40B affordable housing projects, educational or religious uses, which are exempt from local zoning ordinances and therefore permitted in any zoning district.

In undertaking its analysis, the Planning Board strove to be objective and non-partisan on the issue of the proposed water line. Indeed, Mr. Card was present as an advisor during all of the Board’s discussions and deliberations and never advised the Board that our methodology was inaccurate in any way. We are, therefore, confused as to why Mr. Card felt it necessary to present another analysis and are further unclear about what assumptions he used to reach his conclusions. It is particularly disturbing to us that the Planning Board was not consulted and was not advised that Mr. Card would be submittinghis own calculations to the Selectmen. The Planning Board continues to support the build-out analysis that it unanimously approved and presented to the Board of Selectmen on October 25, 2004.

Our build-out analysis is objective and replicable by anyone using the same assumptions and methods. It is not a scare tactic. We reiterate that the Board's analysis reflects development rights that exist today in the absence of a water line and with the existing limited capacity sewer line. We believe the provision of municipal water services to the area will increase property values and therefore the likelihood of maximum build-out.

Most significantly, it must be understood that the Planning Board's analysis was based on the existing 2.5 acre minimum lot zoning requirement along Cold Spring Road. When challenged, Massachusetts courts have invalidated large lot size zoning requirements (specifically 2.5 acres) when water and sewer lines are present. It is not unreasonable to be concerned, therefore, that Williamstown's bylaw could be invalidated in a similar challenge that couldrequire rezoning for higher density (e.g. smaller lot) development, possiblyresulting in double the number of building lots along the Cold Spring Road corridor. Courts have consistently held that the preservation of a scenic view or preserving land in its natural state is not a valid basis for maintaining large lot (e.g. 2.5 acre) zoning. Neither the Planning Board nor the Zoning Board nor Town Meeting has the power to limit unwanted development in the face of such a court challenge.

For the foregoing reason, and based on the results of the build-out analysis, the following four members of the five-member Planning Board are concerned that the construction of and, as a result, based on the information currently available, we oppose the proposed water main extension:

James Haskins, Vice Chair (phone: 458-3459)
Freda Bennett (home: 458-5410, office: 662-5000)
Sarah Gardner (home: 458-1829, office: 597-4209)
Robin Malloy (home: 458-2607)

Quote from Sarah Gardner (other board members may be called for quotes).

"Under state law, Planning Boards are responsible for long range planning, including updating and adopting master plans. Planning is an important way for towns to develop a future vision for the town and to find ways to achieve that vision. But many towns never have the time or resources to plan. Williamstown, however, undertook a two year, thorough, and expensive master planning process that resulted in its 2002 master plan. It is the duty of the planning board and all town officials to use that master plan as a guide to decision making. I find it regrettable that so many town officials have already forgotten the goals of the plan in their rush to embrace development. And it is sadly ironic that the two big development projects that want this water main -- the Clark and NBHS developments -- are at the rural periphery of town where the plan calls for open space protection, not for development. New construction, according to the plan, should be in town where infrastructure such as water mains and sewers already exist. As long as alternatives exist to supply water to the high school, the town should install a water main only if it seeks complete development along Cold Spring Road because that is the inevitable eventual result."

Sunday, July 02, 2006

COOL events are taking place in Williamstown

On Wednesday, July 5th, the Williamstown COOL (CO2 Lowering) Committee and Images Cinema are co-sponsoring a Community Conversation in connection with "An Inconvenient Truth," the global warming documentary starring Al Gore. The discussion will take place at Images from 6:05 - 7:00 p.m and will be hosted by Betsy Kolbert, author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change; Nancy Nylen, Associate Director of the Center for Ecological Technology (CET); and other members of the COOL Committee.

"We are finding that many people who see the film are concerned and want to take immediate positive action,” explains Nylen. “We are also finding that they want to talk about what they've seen and heard because it has such far-reaching implications at home and across the globe. The '‘Community Conversation'’ is an opportunity to learn from each other about positive actions that we can take on the local level and beyond."

On Wednesday, July 12 at 6:30 at the Milne Public Library, the COOL committee is sponsoring a workshop to help people save energy in their homes. The Town of Williamstown received a grant to purchase "Kill-a-watt" meters that individuals can check out of the library. Mike Tillou will lead the workshop, teaching people how to use the meters to learn how much their appliances and electronic devices are using energy-even when they're turned off-and what to do about it.

CO2 emissions attributed to burning fossil fuels for electricity, transportation and other energy use are the major cause of climate change. Williamstown is a member of Cities for Climate Protection. The town has pledged to reduce its emissions by 10 percent by 2010. An Inconvenient Truth is playing at Images through Thursday, July 6th.
For more information, contact Wendy Penner at or Sandra Thomas at