WILLIAMSTOWN -- A new town group seeks to initiate a public discussion about a recent proposal from town officials to move The Spruces Mobile Home Park from its current location to a property down the road.
Friends of Williamstown Conservation Lands formed in response to a recent announcement from town officials that a $6.25 million hazard mitigation grant was being sought from the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- funds to cover the cost of demolishing and relocating the Spruces to a new site near the juncture of Adams and Stratton roads, a 30-acre swath known as the Lowry property.
Kenneth Swiatek, a former town Selectmen, has been instrumental in the group's early goings-on and spoke to the Transcript on Monday.
Swiatek said the land has been under a conservation restriction since 1987 -- one that he helped mandate by co-authoring a conservation warrant article that passed annual town meeting by a two-thirds vote that year.
"Some people are concerned with preserving town-owned conservation lands and would like to consider the merits of keeping them under restrictions," Swiatek said. "We want to hear from people in the community about what their feelings are."
The group has scheduled its inaugural meeting for Wednesday, Nov. 28, at 7 p.m. in the Orchards ballroom. They launched a Facebook page Nov. 16.
Meanwhile, Kathy Yamamoto, the town's Affordable Housing Committee Chair, says that officials have engaged town counsel in researching the process of removing conservation restrictions from a property. She added that the Affordable Housing Committee meets Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.
"We look forward to meeting with the public and encourage people to come and ask questions," Yamamoto said.
Officials want to relocate the Spruces because the 114-acre site lays entirely within a 100-year floodplain, and saw destruction due to Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011 and a scare before Hurricane Sandy earlier this month. They bargain that offering up land at the current Spruces site for conservation in exchange for the 30-acre Lowry property could shore up any conservation concerns implicit in their proposal.
Morgan Management, owners of the park, have agreed to the proposal, which says the company will be paid $600,000 of the grant's total sum if awarded.
The Lowry property was formerly part of George Lowry's Clover Hill Farms, according to a management plan for town Conservation Commission lands put together by several Williams College graduates in fall 1998. The town purchased the property from Floyd and Rachel Lowry, George Lowry's children, in 1956 for $29,000, thinking the site appropriate for a new high school. The idea never came to fruition due to a lack of funds. It was transferred to Conservation Commission management after Swiatek's warrant article passed in 1987.
In 1990, the Williams document follows, Selectmen had aimed to use 6.5 acres of the property for affordable housing, but neighbors and other nearby landowners opposed. The report also notes that if any housing were to be put on the property, it would need to be connected directly to the town's sewer system, as the soil there isn't fit for a septic system.
Swiatek called the swath an "unsurpassed" piece of town property and added that regardless of the outcome, he and others would like to open up discussion pertaining to the town's plans for the site. He said the town's grant application was initially filed in May, but town and Spruces residents weren't notified of the development until this month.
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