Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Planners advancing major Williamstown rezoning to make multi-dwelling units and apartments a "matter of right"; some neighbors concerned

Posted by Bill Densmore

The Williamstown Planning Board is preparing to seek a Town Meeting vote in May that will dramatically expand the ability of developers to replace single-family residences with muti-dwelling units and apartments in a bid to make the town more attractive to people who don't want to buy a house -- and to increase the town's core-area population.


That's the impression being given by neighbors in the email received below.   Williamstown currently has nine zoning districts.  The proposal, if approved by town meeting voters in May, would increase that to 13.

The new districts would cover Spring Street, Southworth Street, Cole Avenue  nearby areas.   For example, a new "Village Residence 3" district would encompass Southworth Street where it abuts the Williams College campus and where the college owns multiple single-family homes. If adopted, the new rule would appear to allow the college or other owners to raze and construct six-unit apartment or condominiums along Southworth without zoning approval. 
"The proposed change in zoning removes our voices from this process entirely and encourages non-owner occupied development," Dante and Kirsta Birch, of 57 Maple St., in Williamstown, say in one email. 
The Planning Board staff has posted both the proposed language -- without any layman's explanation of what it will do -- and a map showing the new districts.  The map is reproduced above.  Zoning bylaw changes must be approved by a two-thirds majority vote at Town Meeting in May.

To get the proposed changes on the Town Warrant, the Planning Board must first majority vote to send them to the Selectmen. The selectmen will then chose whether to put the changes on the voting warrant with a positive or negative recommendation, or no recommendation.  The next Planning Board when a vote could be taken is scheduled for April 11 -- but the board can hold a meeting at any time with 48-hours public notice.

The elected Planning Board's members are Chris Kapiloff (chairman), Chris Winter, Amy Jeschawitz, Susan Puddester, Ann McCallum and alternate member Bruce McDonald.

Writer's question: To what extend are any members with connections to Williams required to abstain from voting on these changes? If they work for Williams? If they are married to a senior Williams administrator?  

Responses to this post may be emailed to for addition to this post.

From: Dante Birch <>
Subject: UPDATE: Williamstown is rezoning your neighborhood for max density
Date: March 13, 2018 at 8:04:42 AM EDT
To: "Dante Birch @ Home" <>

Yesterday's Select Board meeting:
Views of the Planning Board as presented by Chris Kapiloff:
In summary, Chris presented the board's interest in increasing the population of the town. He cited the need for additional housing, a changing demographic of professionals that do not seek single-occupancy housing until their 40's and an interest to increase the population density of Williamstown. The Planning Board believes the best way to achieve this is that like housing should be relegated to go into like neighborhoods thus 6-8 units properties into the proposed "Mill #1", 4-6 unit properties into the "Mill #2" area and so on. What was not covered or addressed was nonresident owned properties and how the new proposed regulation would cater to commercial interests. The details of the proposal is presented on the town's website.
Views of the Select Board:
Response to the presentation was measured. It was noted that the plan, as presented, was a dramatic and radical departure from the established zoning of the town, the scope of which had not been seen in recent memory. The Planning Board was also congratulated on the significant time invested and energy expended on the scope of proposed changes.
There was some concern voiced on the part of the Select Board that the changes were maybe too dramatic and wide sweeping and that the proposed regulation, as written, did not address the issues of adaptively reusing existing properties. There was also concern that the proposal possibly favored the demolishing of existing buildings and construction of new apartment structures. There was particular concern on the part of the Select Board for Southworth Street. One member of the board stated they had been approached by Fred Puddester concerning the upcoming need of the college to house incoming new-hire professors. They also stated they encourage the townspeople to make their voices heard at the next Planning Board meeting.
Moving forward:

There was a correction that the Planning Board meeting advertised on the website for tomorrow is not relevant. The next meeting for the Planning Board is scheduled for April 10th; this can, and very well may, be rescheduled for between March 13th and April 10th, with only two days' notice. The only state requirement for public notice being it is posted aside the front door of Town Hall two days prior.
The important point is that there is limited opportunity to reshape the Planning Board proposal and to hear public input. If they (the Board) decide to vote and pass the proposal at the meeting, they can then move the proposal on to the Select Board. The Select Board may or may not weigh in on the proposal before it transitions the proposal to a warrant, then onto the docket for voting at Town Meeting on May 15. The best chance to have input on the proposal would be at the next Planning Board meeting. Traditionaly, the Select Board has voted its approval up or down and that assessment has been part of the warrant article presented at town meeting. However, just one or two meetings ago, the board chair proposed that the board retain the prerogative to pass any article along without comment, and the board agreed unanimously. 

Currently there would be 2/3rds majority vote required for town approval; however, there is currently pending state legislation that might change this requirement to a 50% majority that could be passed and come into effect in time to be relevant. I ask that if anyone becomes aware of a scheduled Planning Board Meeting they please pass it along so we can make our neighbors aware. Although I may have my own personal beliefs and biases, I truly believe the priority is to have as many stakeholders at the table when such dramatic and long reaching changes are being ushered through our local government.
Dante Birch
PS- Special thanks to Kevin Kennefick and Roger Lawrence for helping recount last nights events and fact checking.


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