Sunday, April 14, 2013

"Tweets" with questions about Spruces solution; eight points to consider

The following is an email sent today by Bill Densmore to Peter
Fohlin, town manager in Williamstown, Mass.

Hi Peter:

Please forward these comments to appropriate town boards/officials as you consider warranted.

At last week's forum on the Spruces housing situation at MGRHS, I shortened my remarks and said I would submit questions after the fact. I tweeted them later in the meeting, and have posted them here:

It's of course easy to drop in as a sidewalk superintendent, sweep one's hands and say here's the solution. Given that, here' what I've been thinking about:

1) As I did say at the hearing, we all want to avoid this turning into an either/or decision between affordable housing and agricultural open space. These are both vital values.

2) First, what would it take to make ready a portion of the Spruces property for quality agricultural use -- for growing food, or grazing cows?

3) Build the cost of No. 2 into any proposal.

4) Commit by amendment to any pending Town Meeting motion to replicating any land taken on the Lowry property for housing with an equivalent amount of land for growing and grazing on the former Spruces site. We're reclaiming that. Think of this as "replicating wetlands" as developers were once allowed to do when of practical necessity they needed some wetlands.

5) Second, if this hasn't already been done, identify a neutral rsearcher to conduct a survey of former Spruces residents who still wish to relocate back to or remain in Williamstown. Identify their preferences in terms of **types** of desirable housing -- mobile home, detached single family, congregate, appartment, co-operative, walking-distance to services, rental, ownership,

6) Respecting No. 5, it's important that we not have an emotional debate around creating types of housing that some former Spruces residents don't even want. Similarly, it's important not to have emotional debate about housing-types creation that is out-of-bounds expensive or otherwise not supportable by regulation or funding.

7) Based on the results from No. 5, and the realities documented for No. 6, let's work to create as much diversity as possible in housing options, with an eye toward **minimizing to the greatest degree possible** any use of Lowry land, while still **meeting the desires of Spruces residents still in transition.**

8) Once we have accommodated the needs of Spruces residents still in transition, then let's try to create the most innovative, energy-efficient, earth-friendly, resource-re-using housing possible within economic realities. My impression is that this would likely not be single-family dwellings on the Lowry property, but I'm no expert.

I rent office space next to the old Town Garage site. Nevertheless, I would strongly favor reuse of that site for housing of any kind, in a mixed use including a little office space and a little retail.

Also, are their various single-family lots open around the town which could be taken for infill affordable housing? Would land costs make this completely prohibitive? I wonder.

-- Bill Densmore
1182 Main St.
Williamstown MA 01267

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

TEXT: WE NEED YOU TONIGHT for Lowry Land Discussion

This text was supplied by the author.

From: "Sarah S. Gardner" <>
Date: April 10, 2013 1:39:23 PM EDT
Subject: WE NEED YOU TONIGHT for Lowry Land Discussion

Dear Friends,
and we also want to save our precious ag land, which is in short supply.  Please read below for reasons to support
affordable housing in the town center (instead of on farmland).

There is an informational session about the Lowry land and affordable housing with panelists at MG tonight at 7. We need
supporters of agricultural land at this meeting!  The Aff. Housing Committee and the Selectmen have been out in force and
this panel is heavily weighed in their favor.  Ann McCallum (Planning Board) and Beth Phelps (Ag Comm) are quite
outnumbered by the supporters of the Lowry subdivision.  Hank Art from Cons Com willl also be there.

PLEASE COME and show support for saving Lowry and to support the development of affordable housing on the several sites in
town that are better suited to housing and that can easily accommodate over 100 units of attractive, connected-cottage
style housing units. Ann McCallum has drawn up site plans for the Photech site, the Town Garage Site, and Cable Mill
South. There are also plans for the Southworth Site (commissioned by Higher Ground) and Proprietors Field, existing
elderly housing on Church Street, that seeks to expand by 15-25 units. These other 5 sites (and others in the town center)
are far superior for housing for several reasons:

(1) They are in the town center and accessible to town services, sidewalks, and transit. This meets state guidelines and
best practices for affordable housing. Single family homes in farmland does not conform to any planning or funding

(2) Despite what some may say, these sites are clean and basically ready to go right now. This is well known but

(3) Affordable housing should not be segregated up on a hill as Lowry would be; affordable housing should be built in
existing neighborhoods, not hidden away. That aspect of the Fohlin plan is offensive to many and is counter to state
guidelines for affordable housing.  Further, the plan for single family houses is outdated: there has been no such
affordable housing built in Massachusetts in the past 30 years. It is highly unlikely public funds could be secured to
built the project they want. The cost for hte 40 proposed units is about $8 million--the FEMA grant will cover only a
small fraction of the development costs.  

(4) The town center sites are much less expensive to develop (the site development costs for in-town housing is $10-15K
per unit, as opposed to $45-50K per unit on Lowry);

(5) Using the FEMA  funds to redevelop our blighted sites in town (and to leverage additional public funds, which will be
needed to build any housing) is an opportunity to redevelop these sites, remove blight, and revitalize our downtown. If we
built the housing at Lowry, we destroy productive farmland and leave our 3 blighted sites to remain as eyesores in the
town center.  This is very bad planning and a lost opportunity.

(6) Spruces was a 50 plus community,with many residents elderly. Affordable housing guidelines for elderly housing are
quite specific: they are NEVER single family houses, which the Fohlin plan calls for.  

(7) If we want an agricultural future in our town, we should preserve all the prime farmland possible. We have already
lost about half of our farmland to development. There is NO NEED to develop on prime farmland soils when there are vacant
NEED TO CHOOSE. We are lucky that we have so many vacant sites in town that we can build on.

Many on the Affordable Housing Committee, the Housing Trust and the Board of Selectmen have said or suggested that Lowry
land supporters do not care about poor people: "if you don't want to develop Lowry you do not care about poor people or
affordable housing." This assertion is hostile and erroneous; that statement is inflammatory and the tactic is divisive.
Every Lowry Land supporter that I have spoken with is also a big proponent of affordable housing--but we believe in smart
land use, and that means saving ag land and building housing in town. This is basic common sense planning. Please see the
Williamstown Master Plan (2002), Land Use section, which state's the town's goals clearly.

at the meeting this evening.

Please also mark your calendar for the Special Town Meeting to decide on this: April 24th at 7:25 sharp. All must arrive
early in order to be present for the most important vote at 7:25: whether or not the vote to take Lowry out of
Conservation Commission management will be a 2/3 or simple majority vote.  

STATEMENT ON AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND THE LOWRY PROPERTY, by Ann McCallum, (who has designed many Habitat for Humanity
houses in North Berkshire)

We think it is wonderful news that the Town got the FEMA grant. We understand that half of the $6m will go to buying the
park, payments to the residents, and cleanup of the site. The question we have all been discussing is what to do with the
remaining $3m.

In spite of the fact that our legal commitment to the residents of the Spruces is satisfied with their individual $22,500
payments, and our help in finding them new housing, we feel a moral commitment to do more. And while we have many
constituencies who need more housing, the Spruces residents should have high priority in the Town's consideration of what
sort of housing to build. At the same time, we all know this grant is the big kick in the pants we've been needing to
finally get serious about increasing Williamstown's stock of affordable housing, and we want to get the most units of the
highest quality we possibly can from this once in a lifetime windfall.

If we think small single family houses on small individual lots is the only acceptable option, then building on the Lowry
property makes sense, as this is where we can find a town owned property large enough to fit a good number of houses.

If we can imagine other types of housing that would also give residents their own front door and a plot of land to call
their own, two characteristics that the Spruces residents hold dear, and that is more compact than the 1/3 of an acre lots
of the current Lowry plan, then we can begin to look at other smaller sites closer to town that may have additional
benefits not shared by the Lowry property.

We often look to our excellent Master Plan for guidance on issues such as this, and the Plan says that we should be
increasing the density and life in the center of Williamstown, that we should encourage infill housing, that we should
discourage housing in the outlying parts of town, and that we should preserve our farmland. Building on one of the several
large empty lots around town that have been unproductive and eyesores for many years would fit the bill on all counts. Two
of these sites are already owned by the Town: the old Town Garage site on Water Street, and the Photech site at the bottom
of Cole Avenue. A third large empty lot is privately owned: the old Cable Mills parking lot also on Water Street  to the
south of the brick mill buildings that we all hope will one day be renovated into housing.

On any of these sites, particularly the two larger ones, a compact development with a mix of single family cottages,
townhouses and flats could be built that would house the same 40 households as proposed for the Lowry site. On these
in-town sites, more houses could be built for the same amount of money, as the site development costs would be
substantially less. We would also qualify for additional grant money (single family houses of the low density proposed for
the Lowry site would not qualify), which would allow us to leverage our FEMA money to build even more housing units. We
would be helping to populate our downtown which is so in need of more shoppers.

I therefore feel the town should be able to leave the Lowry property as the productive farmland it is now, and provide
high quality community-building new housing, while at the same time breathing new life into our downtown.