WILLIAMSTOWN -- Selectmen will withdraw a request to the Conservation Commission that land on Stratton Road be removed from conservation so it can be studied for affordable housing following a 3-1 vote Monday.
In addition, Selectmen voted unanimously to explore working with several entities moving forward with a project on Southworth Street with the goal of quickly creating affordable housing for current residents of The Spruces Mobile Home Park.
Selectmen Chairwoman Jane Allen, who proposed both motions, explained she felt controversy surrounding use of the Lowry and Burbank properties on Stratton Road interfered with relocating current residents of the mobile home park ravaged during Tropical Storm Irene.
"We need to put all of our time and energy into having this come to a successful outcome," Allen said. "Right now, the [request] is a distraction that is not going to get us where we need to be."
Selectmen initially approached the Conservation Commission about the possibility of removing all or a section of the properties from conservation after being asked to do so by the Affordable Housing Committee in July. The request was met with much concern and criticism from town residents.
Allen suggested the town join forces with a project with a non-controversial site -- a collaboration between the Berkshire Housing Development Corporation, local nonprofit Higher Ground, the Williamstown Elderly Housing Corporation and the Women's Institute for Housing and Economic Development, to build housing on four acres on Southworth Street donated by Williams College.
A preliminary conversation last Thursday between Allen, Town Manager Peter Fohlin and project representatives was promising, she said.
The town has limited time to implement a $6.13 million Federal Emergency Management Agency Hazard Mitigation Grant, which the town was awarded in March to use in relocating Spruces residents. The town had previously explored utilizing the grant funds to create housing on a town-owned site, with conversation hovering on all or a portion of the 30-acre Lowry property.
Selectwoman Jane Patton supported the collaboration on the Williams College property, and said she would support the motion to withdraw the request "in the interest of time."
"I do however feel at some point we need to resolve the issues around those properties, so this doesn't keep happening," she said.
Selectman Thomas Sheldon voted in favor of the collaboration, but against the withdrawal. He expressed concern about "unresolved questions" with the two properties, including whether they are protected under Article 97's conservation status.
"Because we don't know where the discussion with [the developers] is going to go, because we don't know whether other sites will be deemed developable or not, part of me doesn't want to surrender the notion forever," he said.
Higher Ground President Bilal Ansari told the crowd that no collaboration between his organization and the town was firm.
"Right now, we're in initial conversation," he said.
To reach Edward Damon, email