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."