WILLIAMSTOWN -- Tuesday’s Planning Board meeting brought members of the board together with Affordable Housing Committee (AHC) chair Catherine Yamamoto to discuss what Planning Board member Ann McCallum referred to as the town’s affordable housing crisis.
Chair Pat Dunlavey said as authors of the town’s master plan, it makes sense for the Planning Board to weigh in on the town’s affordable housing situation, sites for such housing and the best site for creating a neighborhood like The Spruces Mobile Home Park.
"I think it’s pretty much in the vision of the master plan to be doing exactly what we’re doing," Dunlavey said. "The master plan sees The Spruces as an existing situation, not something we would encourage if we were starting over. It’s absolutely not where you’d choose to build something."
McCallum agreed. "We should have a well-considered position whether we think its a good idea or not," she said. "As far as I can see, that’s our only official role."
The ensuing conversation demonstrated just how complicated the issue at hand was.
McCallum said that while affordable housing was important, it should also be a priority to maintain the natural beauty that brings in tourism and is the reason many people choose to live in town. For that reason, she said, it’s worth pursuing other town-owned land for affordable housing besides agricultural space, such as the Lowry property.
That parcel off Stratton Road is the focus of a town plan to use a possible $6.25 million federal grant to relocate The Spruces residents into a new development of "Irene cottage homes."
But Yamamoto said the Photech and Water Street properties can’t replace The Spruces.
"Those sites don’t lend themselves to the type of community The Spruces was," she explained, adding that the AHC was trying to recreate that community.
And even if the town builds on the Lowry, Photech and Water Street sites, she said, that wouldn’t address the town’s demonstrated need for affordable housing. The town’s master plan, last updated in 2002, said the town had a need for 150 additional units. With The Spruces being flooded, that need almost doubled, she said.
Joan Rubel, a Stratton Road resident living near the Lowry property and Stratton Hill Condominiums, suggested the boards consider walkability when choosing sites and designing housing.
Walking on Route 2, she said, can be unpleasant, so she and her husband cut through the Lowry property to reach the shops on Spring Street.
"If you had a walking path that the whole community could use, you might find kids and older people and people from the condos walking through there, using the shops more and not taking their cars."
Yamamoto said that is exactly what the committee envisions.
"We’re looking at developing that into what you articulated -- a cluster development that is a neighborhood," she said.